My name is Chau Le. I am a Vietnamese refugee and this is my story.
I was born 1980 in Vietnam. The war was over but living in the aftermath was just as difficult for the South Vietnamese. I had an uncle that was sponsored by a church to study in the US. My uncle got the church to agree to help my family get to the US if we could make it to an American embassy.
We joined hundreds of families that chose to escape by boat. We left when it was dark and raining so that we could have some cover from the North Vietnamese soldiers that were killing anyone trying to escape. We were very fortunate to make it to an American embassy in Thailand. We were placed in a Thai refugee camp for about 6 months and then they transferred us to a refugee camp in Indonesia and waited for almost 2 years for the church to sponsor my family to come to the US.
Recalling my refugee/immigrant experience, the struggles of integration for myself and my family was difficult. There was a language barrier so they put most of the Vietnamese into the same Section 8 housing. This allowed us to communicate with each other, but limited our opportunities to learn English. My parents went through culture shock trying to assimilate to the American culture while not being able to speak the language. I found that the Vietnamese community created “Little Vietnam” so that they could have a place that felt like home.
I felt like I had to grow up quickly having to translate for the adults in my family. While I had fun childhood playing with the other kids, I also had to help my parents with opening checking accounts, learn how to pass the citizenship test, buy a house, etc. Keep in mind there was no internet at the time. Nothing was easily translated by Googling or calling for help on a mobile phone.
Today, we have big conversations about how the younger generation is very different than the older generation. Having grown up in both, this is nothing new. We are supposed to be different. The past challenges us to be different, to be better. And, when you are an immigrant/refugee, you don’t have time to bridge the gap. You take a leap of faith that you’ll make it across the divide. Then, you hope that there’s someone that will take the time to speak on your behalf until you can find your own voice.
My advice to refugees/immigrants today would be to strive to be a better version of yourself every day. The struggles that you experience challenge your willpower. The survival instinct that my family members experienced is present in nearly every refugee, whether they are from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Mexico, etc. You don’t fight to get to America to just merely quit. A quote that I recently heard that resonated with me was, “Life isn’t what you make of it, it’s what you create”. And this quote really shows what life is about. Whatever you strive to be, work tirelessly on it.