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Samantha Vu Tran

Samantha Vu Tran

Roots Rediscovered: A Journey back to Vietnam

As Told By: Samantha Vu Tran

Born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, Samantha recalls fleeing with her family on a small wooden fishing boat, facing overcrowding, lack of food, and dehydration during a perilous three-day journey at sea.

Upon arrival in the United States in July 1980, Samantha's family settled in Oklahoma, where they encountered new challenges, including language barriers and cultural differences. Despite the difficulties, Samantha's parents worked hard to provide for their family, with her mother finding employment as a seamstress and her father pursuing further education in computer science.

Samantha reflects on her upbringing, acknowledging her initial resistance to her Vietnamese heritage and the struggles her parents faced in adapting to American culture. Returning to Vietnam as an adult, Samantha gained a newfound understanding of her family's past, witnessing firsthand the conditions they endured and the stark contrast to their life in the United States. This experience reinforced her gratitude for her parents' sacrifices and deepened her connection to her Vietnamese heritage.


  • My Name is Samantha Vu Tran
  • I am based in Oklahoma City, OK
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  • Departure Year: 1979
  • Camp 1: Songkhla (Thailand)
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  • Resettlement Location: Oklahoma City, OK, USA
  • Resettlement Year: 1980
  • My Story

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    Samantha Vu [00:00:00] My name is Samantha Vu Tran. Originally Vũ Thị Thiên Thư. When we got  married, my husband and I got married, I changed my name.  

    Interviewer [00:00:09] Okay and where were you born?  

    Samantha Vu [00:00:11] I was born in been Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Which is a. It's a smaller village  but it's also a fishing market.  

    Interviewer [00:00:19] Do you know where it's located in Vietnam?  

    Samantha Vu [00:00:21] It's South Vietnam. Okay. Yeah, south of Saigon.  

    Interviewer [00:00:24] South of Saigon. And when did you come to the United States?  

    Samantha Vu [00:00:28] We immigrated in July of 1980, and I only remember that because my  mom was pregnant with my sister when we initially left, we fled. And when we got to the refugee  camp, it was in. My sister was born. So my sister's name is actually Songkhla. That is a small  village in Thailand. And where the refugee camp that we stayed at was located. So she was after.  She was named after the refugee camp. She was born July 4th, 1980, and we left two weeks after  she was born.  

    Interviewer [00:00:59] Wow. So your family in Vietnam, how big was it? Like, how many siblings  did you have?  

    Samantha Vu [00:01:05] Well, I'm the oldest of three girls. My dad is one of ten, and my mom was  one of six. So they were a huge, huge family. My dad is only one of two boys in the ten. He still  has eight sisters in Vietnam right now. And one of the sisters have immigrated over here. But,  yeah, he still has a big family there, and we've gone back several times to visit and to take care of  them. And I know my grandfather is really sick right now too. So we, we try to communicate.  Thank goodness for FaceTime.  

    Interviewer [00:01:36] I know. Well they're good with it though? Sometimes it can be tough with.  

    Samantha Vu [00:01:40] It is, it pauses sometimes. And my grandfather right now is suffering from  dementia. And he was a key and essential part into how my family left. My dad is the oldest of  ten. And so, you know, the whole tradition of trying to get that oldest son over to the United  States so they can make, you know, provide for the family and you know.  

    Interviewer [00:02:03] Yeah, let's talk about that. So in 1980, how old were you? Samantha Vu [00:02:07] I was three years old.  

    Interviewer [00:02:09] Okay. So you don't really remember anything.  

    Samantha Vu [00:02:11] Don't so we, my family, my parents initially left December of 1979, and we  fled on a small wooden fishing boat. I mean, that boat was tiny.  

    Interviewer [00:02:23] And how many people in your family left?  

    Samantha Vu [00:02:25] It was my mom, my dad, myself and my uncle, my mom's brother, and he  was 12, 13 at the time.  

    Interviewer [00:02:34] And how old were your parents at the time?  

    Samantha Vu [00:02:36] My parents got married in. Let's see, they were 21 when they got married  and they had me, so about 24, 25 when they left. We were on that boat, max capacity of 75  people. There was over 200. There were pictures. My my dad does have pictures of my uncle  sitting at the point of the boat, because that was the only place, remember he's 13 years old, and 

    that was the only clearance there was. We were all packed in there like sardines. This is a small  wooden fishing boat. Underneath was all packed with people. There was no room for food, and  we were out in the water, for three days.  

    Interviewer [00:03:13] And you know this because they shared this experience with you growing  up.  

    Samantha Vu [00:03:17] Yes. And, you know, as a child, I didn't grasp the, you know, that fear that  they had and that anxiety they had. I did not grab all that when I was younger. But now, as we sit  at the dinner table, I want them to tell me. You know, a child of 5 to 12 years old, they don't really  

    understand that. But as I got older and, I really wanted to know where I came from and how we  got here, because then I started dating. When I started dating my husband, he told me about his  family's journey and that's an amazing story. I realized I didn't know mine, and so I started asking  the questions. I only knew little bits and pieces of like how my sister was born and why she was  named that way. And and so it it's really, now I have an appreciation of the struggles that some  Vietnamese immigrants had to go through. And so, yeah, it's just been wild trying to gather all  these stories and to really learn my heritage, my culture, and, you know, my parents' struggles  and what they went through to get us here. So you have an appreciation for that. And hopefully  my children now who are just, you know, was just like me when I was younger, like, really, mom,  you're going to tell the story again. But it's like, yeah, no, I'm going to tell you until your ears bleed  about what your grandparents did. It is truly amazing because my son, my oldest is 21 now, is the  same age as my parents when they got married and then started their journey to the United  States. So on this on this little boat that they traveled. It was hilarious because my dad was telling  me, you know, because we talked about taking a family cruise one time and, and we tell him how  much it was and he goes, that's cheap. Because when I had to flee Vietnam, it took two gold  bars. Two gold bars for your mom. You and your uncle to come to the United States. It took two  gold bars.  

    Interviewer [00:05:21] And did they tell you, like, how they even were able to afford two gold bars?  What was life like for them after the war?  

    Samantha Vu [00:05:29] The after the war is when everything fell, kind of fell apart because my  paternal grandfather, he owned a small convenience store, gas station and was very successful.  So, during the war, a lot of things happened. And I do remember my dad telling me that he had to  close it, just to protect. And then had, and in a way my mom kind of was forced to marry my dad.  They were dating, but it was kind of forced because he didn't like the Communist soldiers coming  around and trying to, like my my other grandfather didn't like the communist soldiers coming  around, courting my mom. So, kind of they both kind of got forced to marry young, but they knew  both of my grandparents, my grandfathers knew that there was a big picture. And so once they  married, had me, that's when the process of, and we're talking four years after the fall of Saigon,  so talking about the process of okay, how are we going to get them to the United States? So my  grandfather sold his convenient gas station store, took that money, with the help of my maternal  grandfather, to two gold bars to get, my dad, my mom, myself and my uncle over to United  States. And it's crazy because it's not a one way ticket like a cruise would be. No. It's like you  travel in the sea, waiting for help. And there, as I got older and I started researching the history of  it, there were a lot of people that did not make it. Those fishing boats like ours capsize. Ours  should have capsized, you know, with the capacity of 75 and over 200 people, we could see the  water, across the top part of the boat. So, we were level to it. So that boat should it's capsize.  And by the grace of God, whatever the miracle was, we did not. And we had the opportunity to  get picked up by the Thailand Coast Guard.  

    Interviewer [00:07:32] How long were you at sea? Three days. Okay.  

    Samantha Vu [00:07:35] Three days. Without food. 

    Interviewer [00:07:37] I also came at three. So, do your parents tell you like, what you were like on  the boat or how you reacted as a three year old?  

    Samantha Vu [00:07:45] Oh, and that's an interesting story as well. The day that we were  supposed to flee, my dad said he couldn't find me, and he knew that I love the sea. I love the 

    water. And to this day, I still love the sea and love the water. But he found me the day that we  were supposed to flee by the deck. Not next to the boat that we were supposed to get on, but by  the deck. And, he grabbed me and we fled. And like I said, we were at sea for three days with  200, over 200 people packed on that boat. There was no room for food.  

    Interviewer [00:08:18] Did everyone survive on that boat?  

    Samantha Vu [00:08:20] So what they did was this crazy thing. They would take rice, cooked rice  and chà bông (pork floss) and the dry pork and they would make little balls of food and then  everybody would have them in their pockets. And that's how my mom ate. Remember, my mom's  two months pregnant at this point. Three days without food. And I think there was some water,  but not a lot. So we were rationing water at that point because 200 people in the boat, there was  no room for any more weight. So on the the third day, as we were after we got picked up by the  Thailand Coast Guard, my mom said, as we were emptying the boat, everybody was getting off the boat. I started seizing. Because, I was dehydrated. I didn't have enough food. I didn't have  enough water. And so I don't remember any of this. You know how your mind just works? Like it  blocks out all that trauma. And so she said you were seizing so bad, and she said that I almost  died.  

    Interviewer [00:09:22] And that's so scary.  

    Samantha Vu [00:09:24] And she. To this point, my sisters and I have this running joke. Because I  was so dehydrated. What they did find was a lime, a lime or a lemon, and they were able to  squeeze it into my mouth, and the sugar and the acidity just kind of broke the seizure. So, so I  survived because of lime. So the running joke in the family now is, when when you see bác Thư (aunt Thư) if she gets a little, you know, hangry, just bring a little lime with you and just give that to  her. So that's the running family joke now. But we can laugh about it now. But at the time I, thank  goodness, I don't remember. But my mom said it was one of the scariest things that she's ever  seen.  

    Interviewer [00:10:02] I can't imagine.  

    Samantha Vu [00:10:03] Yeah, I know being at, what was it, two months pregnant, all those  hormones.  

    Interviewer [00:10:09] And then having a toddler.  

    Samantha Vu [00:10:10] Three year old seizing. Yeah, yeah.  

    Interviewer [00:10:13] So you ended up in Thailand. Do you know how long you were there?  

    Samantha Vu [00:10:16] We were there for at least seven months. And like I said, I remember that  because my sister was born in Thailand. She was named after the village, that the refugee camp  was located in Songkhla, Thailand. Songkhla. 

    Interviewer [00:10:30] Oh, that's beautiful.  

    Samantha Vu [00:10:31] So she's. There's only and we. She brags about there's only two people  in the world named Songkhla, a boy and me. So, yeah.  

    Interviewer [00:10:40] So were you sponsored to the US?  

    Samantha Vu [00:10:42] Yes. We had family here in Oklahoma. My great uncle, which is my  paternal grandmother's brother. He was here. His, wife's family was able to support us in our early  beginnings. So they found us. And I really would like to know the process of that, because. How  do you find family? You know, over 3000 miles away in a refugee camp.  

    Interviewer [00:11:09] It's incredible.

    Samantha Vu [00:11:10] In Songkhla, Thailand. And you know that and. Oh, crazy story too. My  dad, there were tents. It wasn't like a gymnasium or anything. They were tents and there were  cots in the tents. And my dad was like, there was at least 22 because we were in tent 22. And he  said the tents were so packed together, and there was really just a curtain separating the different  tents. And there were just cots in there, and it was muddy outside because it was very, very, very  close to the water. And this past summer we went to, actually not past summer, this past October,  we went to Miami, Florida, for a family vacation. And we went to a fruit farm owned by a  Vietnamese gentleman, too. And we got to talking and he asked me when we came to the United  States. I asked him when he came to the United States, and he said, well, which camp did you  stay at? And I told him Sangha, Thailand. How our paths cross. He was in tent number seven.  

    Interviewer [00:12:15] Does you remember your parents?  

    Samantha Vu [00:12:17] He said he was the leader of tent 27, of tent 7, and my dad was the leader  of tent 22. And he said, I recognize the name, but I don't know the face. And I showed him a, you  know, picture of my dad when he was younger. And he said, okay, there was a lot of men that  looked like him, so I'm not sure. But if we were to meet and talk, I bet we would. But what are the  odds of going to Miami, Florida, to this random fruit farm and connecting with the person that was  also in the same refugee camp as my family?  

    Interviewer [00:12:49] And I find that there's such a sense of pride.  

    Samantha Vu [00:12:52] It is.  

    Interviewer [00:12:52] And you do connect because there's this like shared experience that like,  unless people went through it, it's so hard to describe.  

    Samantha Vu [00:12:59] I know, and when I talked to my American Caucasian friends about our  journey, you know. I brag, well, my mom was two months pregnant when she left on a small  fishing boat and carried my sister and we were here and we had to survive on. They had food  rations. They weren't we weren't treated great at those camps. And I know that there are some  really fearful stories about that too. My husband's side of the family has told me when they were  at the camp and they were in Guam, so not the same camp we were, but and a lot of times their  families were terrorized. And so it just, you know, we were very, very lucky. Very, very lucky. I don't  know, because of the way because most of my parents were young, you know, and we're able to  handle that type of situation. But we were very, very lucky in that sense.  

    Interviewer [00:13:53] So tell me what life was like at the very beginning in Oklahoma, for your  parents?  

    Samantha Vu [00:13:59] I do have small memories of that. I do remember, my great uncle coming,  finding us a small apartment. It was a one bedroom apartment. Right down the street here,  actually, and the reason why we immigrated here. Because my family's Catholic, and there was a  Catholic church in walking distance of it. And both my parents, they give all their glory to God  because of the trek that it took for them to get to the United States. And I don't blame them, and I  give thanks to because of that. But there was a very small community of Vietnamese immigrants  that came to Oklahoma and settled around this church. So my great uncle found a small  apartment, one bedroom apartment. It's still there, actually, and I drive by it sometimes, you know,  say a little prayer and then leave. But, yeah, he found that apartment for us, and it was my mom,  my dad, me, now my baby sister, and my uncle all stayed in that. Crazy thing once we immigrated  in 1980, July of 1980, I believe. Two years later, my other uncle came. So now you're talking, you  know, six people in this house or in this little one bedroom apartment. And then my dad, crazy  man, I love him to death, decides to open our one bedroom apartment to other immigrants that  came. So I had people that I called uncle, but they weren't really my uncles. But he, he said, well,  we made it. No we're not, we're still receiving help, but we can help others while we're still  receiving help as well. So that that resonated with me. And to this day, you know, when the  community gets together, I try as much as possible to do the same. But we opened our one  bedroom apartment to different people, to lots of strangers coming to the United States seeking  the same thing seeking refuge, seeking safety, seeking opportunity. And it's just incredible to see  their stories and hear their stories so well as well. But, you know, like I said, at five and six, I didn't 

    fully grasp it. But I do know that these families that came were just like us. So never took that for  granted.  

    Interviewer [00:16:18] And, do you remember what they did for a living, like how they earned  money or what jobs they had?  

    Samantha Vu [00:16:23] So my mom, we were very lucky to have people who had already come  here before us, five years before us. That worked in a sewing factory. So there was a factory here  called Haggar. And my mom is a seamstress. She's still a seamstress by trade and owns her own  business now doing just that. And and so she was introduced to that company, and she did that  for work for a little bit. And my dad did welding, at CMI corporations, which no longer exists now.  But yeah, I drive by.  

    Interviewer [00:17:02] Did he hold that same job throughout?  

    Samantha Vu [00:17:04] No. Bless my dad. He went to tech school in the evenings and worked at  CMI, in the mornings and barely made it. And I never saw him, but he got his certification for  computer science. And so when he did that, he was able to find a different job. And here in  Oklahoma, he kept moving up and CMI. And then eventually my senior year of high school in  1994, he actually got a new job in Texas with, Compaq Computers as one of their laptop  developers. So started from nothing. And yeah.  

    Interviewer [00:17:48] And they're retired.  

    Samantha Vu [00:17:49] Now. They are retired. Well, my mom still has her shop because she's so  stubborn. It's like ingrained. Both of my parents are so resilient, you know, hard working, resilient  people. And I feel like they're that generation of men and women who had to conquer that fear of  immigrating to a foreign country and raising a family at the same time, not knowing the culture,  

    not knowing the food. I mean, Super Cao Nguyen wasn't open until 82, I believe 82 or 83, and we  were already here. You know, rices are our food and our survival. And we had to. I remember my  mom's like, I found this at Safeway. I don't know if there's even a Safeway anymore. And it looks  like rice, but we will see. And it was Uncle Ben. And then the first time she cooked it, it was so  mushy, she goes, it's not cơm (rice), it's cháo (porridge) now Oh, but yeah, what they had to go  through. And then I know that my dad loves pho and there was no way my mom was able to  make it. So the first few tries, I was like, I do not like this, mom. This this doesn't taste very good.  And now, you know, with the new businesses opening, it's like, okay, my mom's pho wasn't like  this, but it was. It was not her fault. It was a hindrance trying to find all those ingredients to make  a good pot of pho. So, yeah.  

    Interviewer [00:19:13] So tell me for you what it was like growing up in Oklahoma City.  

    Samantha Vu [00:19:17] It was strange. It was really strange for. And I'm sure you understand  coming here at three years old, trying to. So my first, language was Vietnamese. But once I  started school, my mom and dad were really strict about me speaking English. They actually  wanted me to speak English. They wanted me to succeed in school and said, we are going to try.  Because I was in ESL, English second language classes, and they wanted me to excel in school.  So they picked up English just so that they could converse with me and so that I would be  successful in school and not fall behind. Which is funny now because it's like a different way. You  know, you teach your kids how to speak Vietnamese now because you know that once you send  them to school, they'll forget everything. But, it was backwards for me because that's the goal  they had. That was the reason why they fled their beloved country. They fled because it's not the  same country anymore to them. And brings tears to my eyes when I think about what they had to  leave behind. For my sake and for my sister's sake. But, yeah, they are very resilient people and  they wanted to for us to be successful. Yeah, it's a little hard.  

    Interviewer [00:20:38] No take your time.  

    Samantha Vu [00:20:41] And the struggles and what they had to give up to get us here has sat  with me all my life. And I will always be grateful for that. And I hope that's my message to this 

    generation. I hope that they sit down with their grandparents. And learn their stories because it's a  beautiful one. It really is.  

    Interviewer [00:21:11] Is there a point in your childhood or growing up where you resisted that  history and culture?  

    Samantha Vu [00:21:21] Oh, absolutely. 100%. I didn't fit in at all. I remember middle school there  was a slumber party I wanted to go to. And my mom was like, why do you want to go and sleep  at other people's houses? You have a bed here. You have your own bedroom. Why do you want  to go over to someone else's house and sleep over there? I said, these are my friends, you know  this is what they do. This is the culture in America. I resisted, there was a lot of things, going to  dances, school dances. I wasn't allowed to do that. I didn't get my driver's license till I was 18.  And I get it now, having my own children. They were 25 when they came to the United States with  two kids, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, not knowing some of the holidays  that they celebrated. Yeah. Like to this day, we tell my when my sister was younger, she was born  on the 4th of July. Oh, look, the fireworks are just for you, so we tell her that, you know. But, not  knowing the culture, not knowing how to celebrate the holidays. The food was a different thing  too. My mom would pack my lunches and I really just wanted to eat at school because I was, like,  every time I opened it. I mean, when that show came out fresh off the boat, that was like spot on  with the lunches. That every time I opened one of my containers, I think all my friends either used  or cringe or made a face. And I told my mom, I said, I think we qualify for free food, mom. So if  you just sign this waiver, sign this application, I will be able to eat lunch at school and you would  never have to pack another lunch for me. And I remember that and I was so happy. But yeah, just  adapting to the food was different for my mom. She was not able to cook the meals that she  wanted to cook to feed her family. I remember, when she worked at, after she worked at Haggar,  she went to Anthony's. It's like kind of like a Kohl's. And she was the alterations lady there, and  she would talk to some of the women that worked there because she knew how much I wanted to  eat different foods, try different things. She got recipes from these women at the store. She made  tacos for us one night and that wasn't too bad. She made pancakes, she made meatloaf, and she  started integrating all these American foods. And then I was a little, I was like okay, so if I have my  friends over, could you make this for for them? You know, instead of eating my, our food, which is  so funny now because I'm completely opposite, when I meet new people, I say, I'm going to take  you to eat. I want you to come try pho I want you to come try bún thịt nướng (grilled meat with  vermicelli noodles) I want you to, you know, try all these different.  

    Interviewer [00:24:09] But that's like now, right? 

    Samantha Vu [00:24:10] That's now. I love my culture so much. But it took after, it took me a while  to to learn that and that my culture is so beautiful and so rich, and, you know, the struggles that  my parents had to to fight to get here is all appreciated now, you know? And it's so beautiful to  see it. I'm hoping that this generation my children especially and I think they do they do  appreciate that. I remember my son writing, an essay for his school. It was for Veterans Day, and  it was for school and how his grandparents came to this journey, like what freedom means to you  was the topic. And he said, I am freedom. And it is it's true. Our children are our freedom now,  and we live through them. And my mom and dad with their struggles, that's what they did. They  are living through us in every aspect. So yeah, it's yeah, it's just wonderful.  

    Interviewer [00:25:15] I love hearing that and I love hearing that. What we teach our children is  things that we know we took for granted. So we're trying and hopefully they're listening and not  rolling their eyes.  

    Samantha Vu [00:25:27] Oh, I still get a couple of eye rolls, but, you know, I like roll it again, roll it  again. And let me tell you the story again.  

    Interviewer [00:25:35] Have you been back to Vietnam?  

    Samantha Vu [00:25:37] I've been back three times.  

    Interviewer [00:25:39] When was your first time back? 

    Samantha Vu [00:25:41] In 1998.  

    Interviewer [00:25:44] So, I would love to hear about your experience being back to a country that  you don't remember anything about.  

    Samantha Vu [00:25:50] Oh, so it's funny because you hear the stories that your parents tell. You  know, I remember my dad. He's quite the jokester of a man. He told me when I, this is when I was  younger, had no clue, and he told me when I was younger, I used to have to walk to school and  back in the snow. Vietnam is a tropical climate, and I didn't know that. But I guess he picked that  up from someone just to let me know that there was struggle. But he didn't need to tell me that.  He just needed to tell me that he came over in a boat and had to be out in the sea for three days. I  mean, that's a struggle right there. You know, you didn't have to tell me that you walked in the  snow because that's a flat out lie. But he would describe how the country was and how healing it  was and how there weren't very many roads. And it was all, you know, cobblestone rocks, and  gravel. And so he told me all that the house don't have plumbing. There's an outhouse. Some  people just, you know, do their business out on their lawn. There's not an outhouse. And so when  my sisters and I first went, we dreaded it. We were like, there's no way we're going to do this. And  I almost feel like my dad took us three back because we were pretty spoiled at the time. And, he  wanted this to show us. No, you can't live like that. Don't take things for granted. This is how we  lived. And you need to remember where you came from. And so when we went back, and I think  that's when it all clicked for me, you know, I was like, okay, yes, I was. I have been taking things  for granted. The words I've said to my parents were pretty harsh. And so once he took us back,  he made sure there was running water, at my grandfather's houses. And he made sure that we  had AC as well, but he should've just left that. But there was only AC in the bedrooms. And so my  sisters and I were like, wow. Because we went back in July. So that is the really hot season for  Vietnam. And we were Iike, we were laying on I remember us three just laying on my grandfathers  cold tile floors and just thinking, how did they live like this for 25 years? And we were just thinking  like, oh my goodness. And when my aunts cooked too, I mean, it's already hot and they're  cooking over coal, it's not even real stove. You know, they were cooking over a gas burner and  coal and I was like, this, this is truly amazing. And every time we would try to go down there, you  know, because where they cooked the stalls in the house, you know, the pig stalls and the  chicken coops were all out there as well. And so we would go down there and we get shooed  upstairs like, no, no, no, no, you don't need to be down here, you know, stay up here. They had a  very small refrigerator. It was completely different from what we had in the United States. And so  when we looked at it, we were like, yeah, we've been taking things for granted for sure. They did  not tell me how amazing the food was. They did not tell me how amazing the beaches were. I  didn't hear that. I think their memory of Vietnam was clouded by their, you know, trek to the  United States. So they did not tell me how amazing the fruit was, how beautiful the countryside  was. They told me more of the war because that's what they saw.  

    Interviewer [00:29:16] And tell me about the people. Like outside of your extended family.  Samantha Vu [00:29:20] Super friendly. I found out I was related everybody  

    Interviewer [00:29:26] And the term viẹt kiều (overseas Vietnamese) like was that used a lot when  you were first there?  

    Samantha Vu [00:29:31] Yes. Việt kiều was used a lot. And there was also a prejudice.  Interviewer [00:29:36] I was just going to ask you, how did it make you feel?  

    Samantha Vu [00:29:39] I didn't understand, like I said, in 1998, I was, I believe eight. What? Oh,  gosh. 20. Very young, so I've never even heard of that word. I never even heard of it. And I think  that because my my parents' friends, not a lot of them have been back, so they've never really  said anything but. I remember when we got to the airport. I'm five eight. And I'm not a very small  person. So when we were in the airport and we were taking boxes, my dad. So each of us, when  you go back to Vietnam, you get two boxes and a suitcase. So we brought very minimal clothes  and the boxes held like soap, shampoo, clothes for my family in Vietnam. Different things. Games  and stuff for them. And candy. They loved candy, like M&Ms. I don't know how they got it over  there. I think they all melted, but, you know, and they love gummy bears. And so we bought a 

    bunch. Sam made tons of Sam's trips getting these, you know, super big packs of candy and  things to pack in to go back. And I remember when, my dad had to take care of our visa and our  passport and all the, you know, pertinent, you know, paperwork to get us into the country. They  were rushing us. The soldiers, the police, the Viet Cong, they were rushing us to get to get our  boxes and stuff like that. And I was like, well, my dad's getting paperwork. What am I supposed  to do? And there wasn't there weren't any carts in the airport. I mean, the airport was very  restricted at the time. This was, you know, in back in the late 90's.  

    Interviewer [00:31:16] Early on in the open, normal relations. Yeah. 

    Samantha Vu [00:31:19] Yes. So very early on. And so it was just me and my sisters were pretty  young. My, so it was me and my middle sister Songkhla, and then my younger sister was she was  too young. So here we are, two young girls, just throwing our boxes to the side. They're just  throwing them and just tossing them. And I remember the Vietnam soldier came by like he said,  "đúng là con gái việt kiều khác" (it's true that daughters of overseas Viets are different). And I  looked at him and I was like, okay. I understood about three words in there. So what are you  saying? I think that was an insult, but I wasn't sure. And so we were just tossing boxes and then  trying to move them out of the way so other people can get. And they were yelling at us, and I  was like, this is not fun at all. I thought, you know, it would be a lot better. And, you know, it's so  funny because I've never met any of my family in Vietnam. They wouldn't let the family come into  the airport. It was all very strict. There were just officers everywhere, police everywhere. And so  and there was this just a little path that kind of stood to guide you where you need to go. And so  as soon as my dad got all the paperwork done, we finally. So you can even get the you get the  boxes off the conveyor belt, but you had to move them all the way to this middle section to get a  cart. So it was like, you know, my me and my sister and my dad and my mom moving. There's  five of us. So two boxes, there's ten boxes and a small suitcase out to the middle to to get this  cart. And, and at this point, we didn't have phone, you know, that was back in the 90s. No  FaceTime, no iPhones, hardly any pictures, letters, maybe letters, but we would move down there.  And then I heard someone yell my dad's name, and it was my dad's sister. Never met her before  in my life and I just started crying really bad. And. You know, and it's just like. If you have your  heart is in one place and you just know that you're home. And that's what I felt at the moment, I  was home. And I don't know. Have you been back? Have you?  

    Interviewer [00:33:30] Yes. And now you're making me cry. Yes, I know the feeling. Very much so.  It's a place you don't remember but everything feels so familiar.  

    Samantha Vu [00:33:43] It's so familiar. I left when I was three years old. But as soon as I pulled  that cart, I don't know, maybe it was fatigue. It was a 16 hour flight, but as soon as I heard my  aunt call my dad's name, I've never. I've never heard her voice before. Something triggered. A  memory and tugged at my heart. And then I started crying really bad. And that moment we were  all crying. And that was one of the toughest welcome homes ever. And it got better after that. But.  We had a van waiting for us, and I remember pushing all that stuff out out there. And I remember  going through the city and I got sick. I got really car sick because they don't abide by traffic laws  there. Lots of mopeds. That and the noise pollution was really bad too. Oh my gosh. I was just  like, this is crazy, you know? And I did get carsick because we did a whole bunch of stop and go,  stop and go. And we came very close to running over a person on a moped. And they didn't seem  to mind. They just honked at us and went on their way. And it was. Yeah, but even when we went  through the city, every time I got somewhere because I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. Like I  said, I'm 5'8. Apparently we have a việt kiểu person that goes back home, has a different smell.  

    Interviewer [00:35:10] The way we walk.  

    Samantha Vu [00:35:12] The way we walk, the way we talk, and apparently the way we look. Even  though I'm 100% Vietnamese, my both of my parents are Vietnamese born, and my mom actually  has a little Chinese on her side of the family, and my dad actually has some European on his side,  but I'm five eight, so I did stick out as the sore thumb and I would get comments like, oh, she was  

    very well fed in America. Look at her. And I'm like, dude, I almost died off the boat, you know?  And no, not at all as malnutrition. So as my sister, my sister's five six. So it's just genetics.  

    Interviewer [00:35:46] It's funny, I'm only like five one and I get a lot of, like, why are you so short? 

    Samantha Vu [00:35:51] Really? So it's like, you can't win. You can't win. It's like, yeah, see, look  at her. She's five eight. She's very, well fed. And you know, she had all the nutrition. And now  she's very tall and you know, and all this and I'm just like, no, no, that's that's not it. If you knew  my story.  

    Interviewer [00:36:09] So tell me about the Vietnamese community in Oklahoma City.  

    Samantha Vu [00:36:15] So I, like I mentioned before, my dad, when he immigrated here in 1980s,  he wanted to do something for the community. He wanted to help the Vietnamese immigrants to  survive, to get started, whatever it was. So he opened our home up. He started volunteering at  the church, which was amazing because now the Catholic church right down the street from here,  our Ladies of Perpetual Help, which I still attend. I'm a parishioner there. Now, has this program  called Catholic Charities, which they do help Vietnamese immigrants that my dad got involved  with. He and some of his friends started hội south việt thể thao, (sports association of southern  vietnamese) which is like. It started out as sports they wanted because there were a lot of  Vietnamese athletes that weren't able to compete in teams that were offered here in the United, in  Oklahoma and well, I guess throughout the United States. So they started a hội south viẹt thể thao. And then so we did volleyball. I remember they did basketball. Tennis was very big too.  Soccer was another one. And we would I remember my dad would drag us to every single hội  south việt thể thao banquet, awards banquet, games. I remember being out at Rose State  College, which is where most of the sporting events were held, and I remember just staying out  there with him for hours on end. I couldn't go out with my friends, couldn't ride my bike. But I was  at Rose State College watching these adult men and women compete in soccer, tennis and  basketball and volleyball. And it was fun. It was fun watching. Lots of food because not only and  that's how it started. We started with the sporting events. Then we introduced food and then all  these neighboring caucasian American citizens would come and join in because they like, oh, look  at this food. This is amazing. And so then it started becoming bigger and bigger each year  because now we've got, we're integrating not only the Vietnamese community. We're integrating  the American community as well. They come and they watch the sporting events. We have  mayors and governors now coming to the awards banquet and handing out these awards. And  then it started as hội south việt thể thao and it became Global Oklahoma. And that's an event  held here. And it started out as the Asian community helping with, you know, just bringing their  artwork, their pictures, you know, their history to this event and sharing it with the community.  And then, after that, we started Asian, what is that, ESL Asian Society of Oklahoma. And I was a  big part of that. And that's where my pageantry came from. When I was 15, my mom was like,  okay, I'm going to make you an ao dai (traditional dress) and you are going to compete in a  pageant. I'm like, whoa, I'm 15 years old. That's like the most awkward stage ever. And she's  going to put on a dress, put me in a dress and throw me up on stage, which I've never had  training for. She goes, well, we're kind of in a pickle because we don't have a representative for  Vietnam, and it was very important to them to have a representative, and I didn't understand that  till now because as I competed at a national level, in American national level, I have young women  come up to me, young Vietnamese women come up to me. I'm like, you are the reason why I'm  doing pageantry or you are the reason why I'm doing this, because representation matters. It  does. And the community has grown so much. And I've watched my dad become a part of a  small group and then watch it grow into something bigger, and to see it branch off to smaller,  cultural organizations and associations. And now I was one, Thuân and I were one of the few that  started, I think one of six, that started Asian Night Market Festival. And that first year was hilarious  because we're like, oh, it'd be nice to have 500 people show up. And then thousands of people  showed up, and then we didn't know what to do with ourselves.  

    Interviewer [00:40:23] But now it's like 40,000 or something, right?  

    Samantha Vu [00:40:25] Three nights, 40,000 people. So yes, it started from half a day. And that  first year was kind of chaotic because like I said, we weren't expecting that many people. We  didn't have enough food trucks. There wasn't enough places to sit. There was enough of the  program because we were looking at a small scale. And I am so grateful for that experience  because now I know how to plan for for bigger and better things. But yeah, it's it's amazing to see  how this small community of Vietnamese American, Vietnamese immigrants turn into these  American communities, nurturing the next generation to grow our culture, to share our history. 

    Yeah, we would love. Our next goal is to open a Vietnamese museum to really, really expand and  talk about our culture and our heritage. Because, God, that would be so amazing, so amazing to  share because I know once I married into my husband's family, I know my story. As extraordinary  as it was, having a mom who was pregnant going on a fishing boat that carried about 75 people,  that had more than 75, should have capsized, didn't capsized, no food, water, me almost dying,  

    knowing that story, then hearing other people's story. And I'm like, oh my gosh, it wasn't  extraordinary. Those immigrants that fled in 1975 to 1985. We all had the same story. And that's  why they connected, because they share the same journey, they share the same struggles, they  share the same story. And that's why they all connected. And that's why I have so many uncles  and aunts, you know, not by blood, but I do have lots of uncles and aunts.  

    Interviewer [00:42:05] Yes. So I have one last question and of course anything else that you want  to share, so tell me what you love most about the city? I mean, you've shared a lot, but if you  could sum it up in like 1 or 2 sentences. Tell me what you love about this city.  

    Samantha Vu [00:42:24] Oklahoma has been my home since we immigrated here to the United  States. And it's the one word for it is compassion. Compassion, camaraderie. Yeah, those are the  two two words that stick with me. And as a child, watching my parents go through what they went  through and building this life that we get to enjoy now, it is because of the compassionate people  that took us in, with the connections they made to build that camaraderie. And I think that's truly,  truly amazing. What is amazing about this city. I still keep in touch with some of the people that  my parents are friends with when they first arrived here. I still talk to them and I walk around with  lots of pride when people are like, you are Vũ Ngọc Quyên's daughter, aren't you? And I'm like,  yes, I am, I am. 

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