UC Irvine course explores Vietnamese American oral history

Christopher Phan and his mother.

A family photo from Christopher Phan's childhood in Vietnam.

Christopher Phan's graduation.


In a classroom at UC Irvine, Thuy Vo Dang teaches a course called "Vietnamese American Experience" that introduces young Vietnamese to oral history practice. For years, she has collected the personal stories of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants like her own parents, even as  she had a hard time speaking candidly with her own father.

“When it comes to private life and home space, that’s where we see the silences, and the ghostly haunting of the Vietnam War,” she explains. “If you think about refugee trauma and refugee experience—people have left everything behind and gone through really terrifying experiences in order to build a new life, a better life. And what that actually means is that the new home space that they create is really incompatible for these sorts of stories to emerge.”

More than one and a half million Vietnamese Americans live in the US. The largest concentration has resided in Southern California -  especially Orange County - for more than three decades. Dang's Vietnamese American Oral History Project and her Vietnamese American Experience class hope to represent and reveal the range of their experiences - from the Vietnam War, to migration, discrimination, acculturation.

Here are a few of the personal stories already available for download at the UC Irvine Libraries Southeast Asian Archive:

Christopher Phan: Garden Grove city councilman, and a former Navy attorney who arrived with his family to the US in the 1980s. This interview focuses on his childhood in Vietnam, his views on the war, his culture, and what it means to be Vietnamese American.

Thanh Nguyen: Born in 1958 in Hue, Vietnam to a family with 10 children. He escaped Vietnam by boat in 1982 and passed through refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines before he settled in Orange County. He's the president of a nonprofit called Social Assistance Program for Vietnam (SAP-VN).

Dzung T. Bach: Vietnamese teacher at La Quinta High School in the city of Westminster. The interview focuses on his life after the war, his experiences as a prisoner of war and in Communist reeducation camps, his transition to America through the Orderly Departure Program and the traditions he hopes to pass on to his two daughters.

Dr. BichLien Nguyen: Born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1954. She's an oncologist practicing in Orange County. Her interview focused on her memories of pharmacy school in Saigon, being the eldest in her family, and taking care of her mother who suffered from cancer. She left Vietnam by boat with her family and passed through Guam and the Philippines before resettling in Albuquerque, New Mexico through the sponsorship of a Lutheran church.

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