Sunday, February 27, 2011

Northern Refugee

Interviewed MR. DANG NGUYEN on February 6, 2011 at his home in Louisville South End. Interviewed by Thao Tran, Ngoc Uyen Nguyen, and Tuan Anh Vu.

Our oral history journey took us three interviewers to a Sunday afternoon in South Louisville with Mr. Dang Nguyen, an eager storyteller. He seemed to be at the stage in his life where he has made peace with a lot of his past. His experience is unique to our collection in that his family migrated from North Vietnam to the western region of the country during the Vietnam War, under South Vietnamese government’s protection.

His family was granted land and supplies to farm and raise live stocks while provided his services to the military. He was accommodating in answering our questions, supplementing answers with dates and historical facts that not only were of anthropological and political significance, but also of interest to us young Vietnamese Americans—a generation so far removed from this time period. Mr. Dang shared both professional and personal stories. He shared details of his military training days and battlefield experience. He shared happy moments such as that of visitation days, when high school and college girls visited the soldiers on the base, as well as more somber ones.

He spoke of danger as a guaranteed part of war, “We were sitting around talking one day when a bomb fell and killed a comrade right in front of our eyes.” When asked how he coped with moments like those and managed to stay in action without letting the trauma damaged his morale, he replied “We all did what we had to, especially if you were a leader. I was in command of others and I had to show my men the importance of keeping my spirit strong.” Like many others, Mr. Dang also suffered the hardships of the Communist Vietnamese’s “reeducation camp,” though he gave few details of the experience.

He commented that the experience was difficult, but showed little emotions, not even a trace of bitterness. Instead, he seemed to have embraced the practicality of living in the present. In parting, he left us with the advice: hard work is the vehicle to one’s success in life. He elaborated on how his family, in following this work ethics—all the adults started working within a few months of immigrating to the U.S., has managed to do secure a stable, successful life for themselves.

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