“BUB! Guess what?! You are going to help me get an A in my Vietnamese American Experience class this quarter!” That was exactly what I exclaimed to my dad when he came to pick me up from a long first week of winter quarter. It was only the first meeting of class, but I knew I had found my place. I knew I had found exactly what I had been looking for and what I had been longing. I had found it in Professor Vo Dang’s Soc Sci 178D Vietnamese American Experience class. It was obvious who I wanted my narrator to be for my oral history project – and that was my dad.
Growing up, my dad had always told us never to waste food because he knew exactly what it was like not having anything to eat. He told us to always try our best and to seize every opportunity that came our way. He told us that we could do anything we put our heart and mind to. My siblings and I always heard snippets of his life and what it was like growing up during the Vietnam War. It was not until taking Professor Vo Dang’s class was I able to really sit down with my dad and get the low-down of what happened to him during his escape.
My dad is very much a storyteller and every chance he gets, he will gladly sit down and talk about life, work, anything! However, when it came down to the actual project interview, he seemed a little apprehensive when I prepared the actual voice recorder and all the paperwork. He must have been intimidated by the professionalism of the equipment, along with paperwork I pulled out of my manila folder.
Once I pressed the red button on the recorder, everything started to flow. There were many laughs, many giggles, and also many moments of silence. The topics were heavy and I could tell from my dad’s body language that even though he was excited to really tell me his story, at the same time, it really seemed like he wanted to shield me (and my siblings) from the experiences he had gone through during his journey to freedom. We started of laughing with silly basic questions, and he was sitting up very proudly and speaking right into the voice recorder, but once we started to talk about post April 1975, I noticed that he was slumped in his chair at the dinner table and closing his eyes once in awhile to speak. This was when I had to physically move the voice recorder closer to him because his voice had lowered and quieted down since the hour before when we had started.
When he had felt that he had told me enough, it was perfect timing because our interview was over! I had a sense of proudness come over me because looking right at me was my own dad. He chased his own dream and his own freedom. I feel very proud to be his daughter and knowing that he had gone through so much to escape the perils of his country to provide a better future for his future children, it only motivates me more to work hard to achieve my own dreams. My dad always reminds my siblings and I that “hard work and dedication will get you places – ultimately, these two variables are the keys to success!” I live and breathe by this. The war was only the beginning, the real turmoil and hardship came after the war. However, all the refugees that made it, made it. Each and every one of them will have their own unique story. I am very fortunate enough to have a dad who wants his story to be known through his children and through future generations. Through the VAOHP, I was able to have my dad reveal the nitty gritty and these very experiences are the ones that made my dad who he is today. He is my “bò bía” (in Vietnamese, it essentially means “eggroll” – this is what my siblings and I have called him ever since we can remember), my bub, my dad, and my hero.
- Viola Van