When Professor Vo-Dang announced in class that we were going to do an oral history project, I immediately whispered to a classmate “My Dad”. Having my father as the narrator was an obvious decision. As a child my father would tell me stories of his childhood when I sat in his lap and rested my head on his once plump belly. His detailed account of surviving and eventual escape from Vietnam was perfect for a project like this.
The actual process of conducting the interview was somewhat difficult and a little raw in my opinion. Usually when he regales me about the stories of home it was so effortless and vivid, it was as if these stories happened only a few months ago. But with the recorder between us and a pen and notebook in my lap, my father’s stories became stagnant and one dimensional. I don’t know if he was just nervous to the idea that he was going on the record about his past or that my interviewing skills were less than par, either way the first half hour was forced on his part and awkward on mine.
As in the interview wore on my father became more accustomed to the process and didn’t seem to mind the recorder as much. Unfortunately, I was still stumbling my way through the pre-written questions desperately trying to sound professional. Speaking coherently and concise was not something I could easily do, at least when I’m writing I can have long pauses and re-edit my thoughts. After poking and prodding my father’s memories for a good hour or so, I stopped recording and thanked him for being such and awesome daddy. He then asked me if he could make a final statement, I was pleasantly surprised and more than willing to oblige.
My father’s closing statement was by far the most insightful thing I’ve ever heard him say. To be honest I didn’t think he had it in him. Seeing his hands glide in the air as if illustrating his timeline and his head bobbing with the rhythm and intonations of his voice took me step back and see the person sitting in front of me as more than just my loving father, but a man that endured so much and still has the strength to carry on.
Sure, the interview brought forth the suffering and tragedies of war, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to marginalize the Vietnam War, but conducting the interview especially with my father made me understand the aftermath. My father deals with issues of identity, something I never knew until the project. During the in-class presentation of narrators by classmates I realized that the VAOHP sought to peel away the faces of war torn refugees and reveal thriving and enduring individuals.