Office of Inclusive Excellence

An Interview with Ms. MT

May 17, 2022

Conducted in March 2022 in Vietnamese, transcribed and translated into English by Angie Tran

In March 2022, Angie Tran had two phone conversations with a 74-year old Vietnamese woman who was a peasant in Vietnam and became an immigrant in the US in 2014. After a long and difficult journey, she passed the citizenship exam in 2021. Her energy, enthusiasm and the passion for learning and serving people in her community are contagious throughout the interview.

AT: Could you share with us your cultural identity? How long have you lived in the US and what is your role in your community?

MT: I was a peasant, coming from a very poor family in Vĩnh Long province [a small town in the Mekong Delta region in the south of Vietnam]. At a young age, I stopped going to school (just finished elementary school) to help my parents make a living by harvesting vegetables to sell in the market. At one point (before the fall of Saigon in 1975), I worked at a cafeteria in Cần Thơ and had a chance to interact with some Americans. But then I returned to my village and got married to a soldier serving in the South Vietnamese army. After 1975, my husband just stayed at home and I became the main breadwinner, buying and selling construction materials to make ends meet. Then in 2014 I came to the US to visit my daughter, and then obtained a green card 8 months after that and then passed the citizenship exam in 2021. I took it only one time and passed it. But it took me 7 years of studying in order to pass it.

I was taking care of my daughter’s children, cleaning the house, and going to church on the weekend. On weekdays, as soon as my grandchildren went to school, I went to school as well. I love learning. I took two English as Second Language (ESL) classes, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, at BPSOS-CCA, (Boat People SOS-Center for Community Advancement). In the evening, I took a computer class, learning basic computer functions, at Lincoln Adult School in Garden Grove. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I moved out of my daughter’s home to live by myself, renting a room in a house. At that time, all of my classes were online. While I can now focus on learning (not having to tend to the children), I’m completely on my own and was not familiar with the Zoom technology at all. One time, I had a problem with Zoom and couldn't get into my class. I then ran out to the street [a small street near her home], signaled a male driver and spoke English to him [a non-Vietnamese] and asked for his help. That kind man parked the car and came inside my room and fixed it for me so I can get to my class.

AT: Wow, I am really impressed with your love for learning. Could you tell me why?

MT: Well, it is because I did not have a chance to go to school in Vietnam when I was young. Now, I’m using a walker to go to bus stops. I leave the house at 5am, and take two buses (total 90 minutes) in order to get to my classes. You know, it is also because I want to be able to read the mails, newspapers and advertisements/posters in English and to answer the phones when someone non-Vietnamese calls me. But more importantly, I want to help translate for my Vietnamese friends who speak even less English than me. You know, I’m now studying night and day, to compensate for my youth not having an opportunity to go to school.  

AT: Lately, we witnessed many incidents of anti-Asian hate. From your perspective, what could be done to overcome this alarming trend and to build solidarity with other social-justice groups, inside or outside of your community?  

MT: Yes, I did follow those incidents on the news (including the killing of six Asian women in Atlanta, working in beauty salons). It was tragic, but in general we need to pay attention to mental illness, level of education and whether or not they had a roof over their heads. I think most of the gunmen are mentally unstable, perhaps some even served in many wars; they do not know how to forgive, or being atheist, not belonging to any religion. They did not have good education, just like me [during my childhood]. So the [US] government should help them, give them opportunities so that they can change their lives. I believe that there are good and bad people in any ethnic group. But if we are being kind to everyone around us, giving them opportunities, not using guns, then we can get along okay.

You know I used to “worship” the US, like many people in Vietnam who want to migrate to the US, even to do hard labor. But when I first arrived in the US, I was shocked to see too many homeless people. I was surprised to see trash, beggars and drug addicts in poor areas. Why couldn’t they find jobs? Why wouldn’t anyone talk to them and help them?  

Now, deep in my heart, I still love this country; it is still my “idol.” Out of 100 people, perhaps only five are not so good. I think that people of color should unite with each other to have a stronger voice. I do not want war. I want good neighbors. You know there is a saying in Vietnamese: “close neighbors are more important than distant relatives” because we can readily support each other in dark and hard times.  

AT: Could you share with me your future plans and any other issues that you would like to bring up?

MT: I love doing volunteer work in the Vietnamese Christian community. Every Sunday, I leave the house at 5am to take two buses to go to the church, never miss any Sunday. Meanwhile, rich [Vietnamese] people with fancy cars are always late to church. I volunteer to do anything that is needed at my church, including cleaning restrooms. This morning, I was helping a Mexican woman who was carrying a heavy load. Well, I put her groceries on my walker and pushed it to her house. I do that all the time in my neighborhood where I rent a room. In the future, when I can no longer take classes, I will have more time to volunteer; I’m not picky at all, any work would be ok with me as long as it is within 4-6 hours per day so I have the energy to do it (laugh). 

AT: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really look forward to meeting you, in person, in Southern California. 


Angie Ngọc Trần, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Social, Behavioral & Global Studies