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After Saigon: A quick choice, a new life in California for one family




Yvonne Tran, 25, and her family in their home. From left to right: Yvonne, father Lam Tran, sister Lillian Tran, and mother Christine Tran. Lam Tran and Christne Tran fled Saigon in the end of April 1975, but only met after making their way through refugee camps to the US.
Yvonne Tran, 25, and her family in their home. From left to right: Yvonne, father Lam Tran, sister Lillian Tran, and mother Christine Tran. Lam Tran and Christne Tran fled Saigon in the end of April 1975, but only met after making their way through refugee camps to the US.
Dorian Merina / KPCC
Yvonne Tran, 25, and her family in their home. From left to right: Yvonne, father Lam Tran, sister Lillian Tran, and mother Christine Tran. Lam Tran and Christne Tran fled Saigon in the end of April 1975, but only met after making their way through refugee camps to the US.
Yvonne Tran, right, talks with her father, Lam, about his memories of Saigon in April 1975 and how he made his way to California, after arriving at a refugee camp in Guam.
Dorian Merina / KPCC
Yvonne Tran, 25, and her family in their home. From left to right: Yvonne, father Lam Tran, sister Lillian Tran, and mother Christine Tran. Lam Tran and Christne Tran fled Saigon in the end of April 1975, but only met after making their way through refugee camps to the US.
Christine Tran, left, recounts to her daughter, Yvonne, how she started a new life in California after fleeing Saigon as a young woman in 1975.


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Starting in April of 1975, tens of thousands of refugees from Vietnam began to arrive in Southern California.  These were mothers, fathers, children – some with family members, many without.

More than 50,000 came through Camp Pendleton, the Marine base near San Diego.

Eventually, they formed the largest community of Vietnamese in the U.S.

Today, the events of those April days, 40 years ago, still linger for many. It can be especially tough for a younger generation of Vietnamese Americans.

“For a long time, I kind of shunned this identity," said Yvonne Tran, 25, who was born in Orange County. "You know, you always question: why do I feel so different compared to my friends?"

She found that for a child trying to fit in, it wasn’t always easy growing up in her Vietnamese family.

"It’s kind of that typical second-generation immigrant story: you bring these weird foods from home and people would be questioning it because it would smell funny or look funny," said Tran. "Or my parents would come in and talk with an accent and I would be so embarrassed.”

Understanding history

As Tran got older, she realized that her parents had lived dramatic and difficult lives. She wanted to find out more, but they rarely talked about the war.

Her father, Lam Tran, was an officer in the Vietnamese Air Force. Her mother, Christine, was a young student who drove through the chaotic streets of Saigon.

The two never met in Saigon, instead connecting in the U.S. where they married and had three daughters. 

Lam Tran's arrival in the U.S. came down to a split-second decision to board a military airplane at the base in Saigon. His arrival in the United States was marked by loneliness.  Building a life for his family in Southern California has been a long and, at times, challenging process.

"I'm happy that we're still together," said Lam Tran. "For me, that's the most valuable thing in my life."