A photo of me and my family.
Huế to the Central Valley
From Vietnam to the Central Valley: Kevin Le
Kevin Le was born in Huế, Vietnam where he lived until he was around eleven years old. Wanting to prevent them from becoming Communist soldiers, his parents sent him and his brother to escape Vietnam. Le and his brother left in 1985, leaving their parents, sister, and younger brothers behind.
This story was collected by Alexa Tran in 2022 as a part of her Girl Scout Gold Award Project.
Alexa [00:00:01] Hi, everyone. My name is Alexa, and I'm a high school student from the Central Valley of California. I'm currently pursuing my Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn, and for this project, I'm collecting and sharing the stories of Vietnamese boat people from all over the Central Valley. So today, I have Kevin Le with me, and just to do a quick introduction, can you talk a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Kevin Le [00:00:23] Oh, okay. Yeah, my name is Kevin. I'm a wholesale distributor for restaurants and markets. I live in Sacramento, El Dorado Hills. You know, I have a family of two kids, two boys, they're fifteen and seventeen. And, yeah, that's it.
Alexa [00:00:51] All right. Thank you so much. So, where were you born and where did you grow up in Vietnam?
Kevin Le [00:01:00] I was born in Vietnam and live in central Viet Nam. And then in 1985, I went to South Vietnam, and then I escape Viet Nam by boat to Thailand.
Alexa [00:01:15] So what city did you grow up in Vietnam? In Central Vietnam.
Kevin Le [00:01:22] Huế.
Alexa [00:01:22] Huế. And what do you remember about living there? What were some of your favorite things or what were some challenges?
Kevin Le [00:01:29] Oh, well, you know I was like eleven, twelve years old, so I don't remember much.
Alexa [00:01:38] All right. So you were...
Kevin Le [00:01:41] But I remember, I remember that we were, my family, my dad was a fisherman.
Alexa [00:01:46] Mm hmm.
Kevin Le [00:01:47] So we do, we eat a lot of fish yeah. I remember that.
Alexa [00:01:56] Um, so were you eleven or twelve when you left? Is that what you said?
Kevin Le [00:02:02] Uh huh.
Alexa [00:02:03] What do you remember the most about leaving?
Kevin Le [00:02:07] Oh, whoa, oh. So at the time that I, we escape was 1985 and over the South America to Thailand. And we, we went on a boat for three days, three nights. And those three days, three nights I was threw up every single day. And in my, you know, whatever I eat, threw up. Throw everything out. And so I was sick, seasick for three days, three nights on the ocean. Yep. We went on the, a small boat, with a but we have eight, nineteen people. One, one girl she was, back then she was nineteen years old. She get kidnapped by one of the Thailand pirates. First he, he saw us so he came by and throw a, throw a rope, throw a rope over to our boat and pretend that you know, he say that he want to pull us to the shore to the land. And then we excited, we're happy to do that. And then we tied the rope to the front of our boat. And then, he, he's like he told us, after a while he come back with a, he come back and demand a lady to come over and cook, cook for him. So we asked one of, one of the ladies to come over and first we asked one of the ladies come over and help him. But he denied. He asked and he chose the young and the pretty girl to, to help him. So we at that, at that moment we are, we don't have much choice. Because well, we don't have a lot of choice, so but following, following his direction. And one of the girls, nineteen years old, she went up on his boat and he take her to the front and then bring her lock, lock her up in a basement or something. But when he come back, he come back with a knife, and he cut the rope and that's it. We lost one person, he took, took her away. So we lost her. But then we continue the journey. Another day, and then we met the American people. They do, they were there doing the oil drill in the middle of the ocean. We met them and then they, they help us. They help us by take us to onto the bigger ship. The ship was so, so huge that, that they can hold a lot of families. And we met a lot of other refugees. I mean, other people like us and they live there too. So we live on, on that big ship for a week and after that, they take us to, to the land, Thailand. And yeah, and then we stay in Thailand for, for two years. We all go to America.
Alexa [00:06:07] What was the most difficult part about leaving for you.
Kevin Le [00:06:12] Leaving in Vietnam?
Alexa [00:06:13] Yes.
Kevin Le [00:06:15] Oh, wow. I have to be apart from my parents, be apart from my sister, my younger brothers, and my youngest sister.
Alexa [00:06:29] So...
Kevin Le [00:06:30] I miss them yeah. That's, yeah that's the worst part.
Alexa [00:06:36] So you left.
Kevin Le [00:06:37] But I have to go.
Alexa [00:06:38] Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Kevin Le [00:06:39] But I have to, I have to go because my dad said if I don't go, by the time I get to eighteen, I'm going to be one of those communist soldier.
Alexa [00:06:49] Mhm.
Kevin Le [00:06:50] Yeah, and I didn't want to be that. So me and my brother, we had to go. So we. Yeah, we, we were young, we don't know. I just follow my dad and, and then knowing dead or alive, we don't even know how risky it is on the ocean for three days, three nights. But we're lucky to survive those three days and three nights. Because the, the boat so small that you can, you can reach, you can get, get your hand and reach over, and you can touch the water, the ocean water. That's how small the boat is. Yep, yep. Three days and three nights.
Alexa [00:07:44] So, you came with your brother. Did the rest of your family ever come to America, or did they stay in Vietnam?
Kevin Le [00:08:01] My parents tried, tried after, after I left, we left. They tried a couple of times and they failed. And the last time my dad actually were caught by the Communists. So he's, they lock him up for and stay in a prison for one year. Yup. So after my dad stay in one year of prison and then he could not go anymore, he go back to city of Huế, Huế city and live with my grandparents, yup.
Alexa [00:08:36] Mhm. So what was the motivation for leaving was like you said, was it mainly just to not become a soldier, like the communist soldier, or were you also trying to...?
Kevin Le [00:08:53] Yeah, that's the main reason yeah. To escape and try not, get away, stay away from getting to be a soldier for communist.
Alexa [00:09:01] So when you finally came to the U.S., what year was this, and where exactly did you resettle?
Kevin Le [00:09:09] I can't tell, but I guess September 2000, no 1987, September. And then I live in initially live in San Jose with my uncle for six months before I transfer to, move me, move to Sacramento and live with my grand, grandfather family. My grandfather is, he's the younger brother of my grandpa. I live, I live with him, with his family for the middle school and high school.
Alexa [00:09:48] What was life like adjusting in a new country?
Kevin Le [00:09:53] Oh, luckily, we, we have relatives here, so it's, well, me and my brother we just like, you know, depend on them and their, their leads. And we would live with them so whatever they, I mean, they took a family value, whatever they eat, they drink we together as family we, we have to do the same thing. Yeah, we, we was kids, so we don't have, we just follow them. We are members of the family and follow.
Alexa [00:10:39] Can you remember some difficult times or maybe some good times? Any specific memories, growing up?
Kevin Le [00:10:48] Oh, can you repeat that?
Alexa [00:10:53] Oh. Do you have any, like, specific memories? They can be positive or negative about growing up and adjusting as an immigrant in the US.
Kevin Le [00:11:07] Oh.
Alexa [00:11:11] Maybe like with language barriers?
Kevin Le [00:11:17] Yeah, that's, that's a big reason is a language barrier, but luckily 1987 or 1990, we have Vietnamese people. So, so when you go to school, then we see Vietnamese people we, we, we, we stick together, we bond and, you know, talking in Vietnamese. So you know, we try to, we try to stay away and speaking English because English is not, not our strength, so we try to avoid contacting or meeting with people who speak English. So I think that's one of the big reason that I my English is not as good, fast, you know.
Alexa [00:12:12] Yeah. So would you say there was a large Vietnamese community where you live?
Kevin Le [00:12:20] It's, it's not a lot but we have, every class we, well we have a few.
Alexa [00:12:25] Mhm.
Kevin Le [00:12:27] Three, five, you know, and that's, that's enough to get together, we bond togther. Everyone stick together. And when there's a break time, our lunch, you know we, we always like you know walk next to each other.
Alexa [00:12:46] So.
Kevin Le [00:12:47] It's, it's, it's mainly because our English is, English is one of our, the big obstacle we have, that I have.
Alexa [00:13:01] So, today would you say that you have a strong Vietnamese community in Sacramento?
Kevin Le [00:13:12] In Sacramento? Yeah, I mean, this is considered strong because we have all the city of like a street, a couple of street, you know, with all the Vietnamese restaurant and supermarkets. Yeah and, yeah and it's just like a town, a Vietnam town. So it's nice, you know, that's very nice.
Alexa [00:13:37] Do you carry on any Vietnamese traditions with your family?
Kevin Le [00:13:43] Yeah, like, oh, Tết Trung Thu coming up. And then the Vietnamese Tết is the Vietnamese New Years. And the Christmas in Vietnam we don't do much but nowadays, they have more celebration now. But back then the Christmas, New Year, it doesn't have a lot impact in Vietnam. But mostly, mostly mainly the China, the China and Vietnamese New Year. That's the biggest, the biggest week. In Vietnam we take like ten days off to celebrate the Chinese, the Vietnamese New Year. But, in America, we take maybe one or two days.
Alexa [00:14:38] Mhm.
Kevin Le [00:14:42] That's it.
Alexa [00:14:42] Um, so that's all the questions I have for you. Is there anything else that you want to share about your story?
Kevin Le [00:14:49] Um, yeah, it was. It was a story of the past but the bad part is like you know when U.S. came Vietnam it's you, you run into a risk of losing people or you might get your boat might get hit by the pirates, Thailand pirates. And then your boat might get sink and people get die, kill or die from the ocean. So, escape Vietnam is one of the biggest challenge that a lot of people have to face. But they did anyway to stay away from communists. And so basically they risked their lives, don't know what's, what's ahead. But a lot of people get killed or die from the ocean. You know, either they escape from the South Vietnam or the middle of Vietnam. There's a, oh it happens all the time that people get die from the ocean, from hungry, from, from hungry because sometimes it takes six, seven day, or ten days to get onshore so then, so they don't prepare enough food. And so they might die of hunger. Or they might die from, you know, one of the bad guy, pirate, pirates. Yeah, yep, one of the biggest, biggest risks. That's a big risk, big challenge.
Alexa [00:16:36] Mhm.
Kevin Le [00:16:37] Like I'm happy, I'm happy that appreciate, you know, that I've been through, but and after that I hear a lot of horrible story, so I feel very, very blessed.
Alexa [00:16:52] Mhm. All right. Thank you so much for sharing.