Where are you from?

I am from Viet Nam. My father came from North Viet Nam and came south to resettle in late 1930. My Mother is from South Viet Nam. My Mother and Father met in the South where they were married. I was born in the south of Viet Nam. When I was a few years old, my Dad was transferred as a serviceman to the center of Viet Nam where I and my family grew up. So I consider myself as representing all of Viet Nam.

What was it like growing up?

I was the oldest of 12 children. My father was a soldier. I grew up in a military family where discipline and hard work were very important. We were trained almost like soldiers to obey and follow a sense of duty. As the oldest child in the family, I was expected to help with each of the younger ones. This included taking care of them, feeding them, and helping them with school. My Father decided we should settle down in Nha Trang, a coastal city, where he also continued his military career. I also was expected to help with family income while going to school. So from eight years old, I worked with the family business.

I helped my Mom to create various items for selling and worked with her on food items.

During American involvement in Viet Nam, I obtained employment as a bartender in the Officers’ Club. A little later I obtained a second job which was in the daytime working as the Supervisor for the housemaids who worked in the military base housing area.

While doing all of this, I continued my schooling. A little while later I obtained a position as Secretary and Interpreter for NCO and Officers Club Sections. Meanwhile I still kept my evening jobs as well.

Sometime later I met a man whom I fell in love with, who worked for the FAA and the rest is history.

Later in 1971 I came to the United States. My goal was to continue my education, but that was not really possible because of having a family as well as the fact that my husband had to move around for his job. We stayed in Lorain, Ohio, for a short time, but then we had to move to Guam. While in Guam, I found a job in only a week and worked as a Secretary at the Duty Free shop. Within six weeks I became the Assistant Jewelry Buyer and handled all the customers from around the world who came to Guam. I had to oversee all the salespeople who worked there and deal with the buyers as well.

Later in 1975 we moved back to the United States and we settled in Lorain County. I settled there to raise my family while I also created jobs for myself. This included teaching cooking at the Lorain Community College. I taught there for vocational school and also I taught in different places for cooking, especially Asian cuisine. I also started a food truck eating business while also opening a restaurant in Lorain City. In addition I was active in operating a catering business.

What brought you to Cleveland?

In 1971, when I first came to America there were hardly any Vietnamese people here. I had to find ways to survive in this new land.

In 1975, when everything collapsed in Viet Nam, more people came here from Viet Nam. I was part of the community coalition called the Vietnamese Information Services (VIS) that helped people resettle here Although I was living in Lorain County, I came to Cleveland many times to help the new arrivals who were settling mostly in the Cleveland area.

For twenty years I could not see my own family. Although in the early 1970’s I had managed to return to visit them, after 1975 that was impossible to do. I tried for many years to sponsor my family to come to the United States. Finally I made a connection with them and I returned to Viet Nam in 1993. I saw the situation there and all the devastation. I knew I had to do something to help not only my family but as many other Vietnamese as I could. That is when I established the Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese with help from many good people as well as veterans. Our goal was to “build bridges of friendship” between the people of Viet Nam and the people of America. We have conducted some forty missions to Viet Nam and Asia and sponsored over one thousand volunteers who have performed humanitarian work there.

Finally in 1997 after much more work, I finally brought my first relatives here. That was to Lorain County. During 1997 more family members came under my sponsorship. They initially came to Lorain where my home was located. At one time over twenty members of my family lived at my home. I then made an executive decision to move all my family to Cleveland. Also there was a larger Vietnamese community here which welcomed newcomers. I had to find jobs for my family members which I did on the East Side of Cleveland in a factory.

I myself had to resettle here and set up another residence I could work much better with my family here as well as other members of the growing Vietnamese community.

I opened my business here. The first was a carry out Asian food restaurant on East 55th. I had to close this when I established an agency to help my people. So many of them from Indochina had various mental health problems due to their resettlement here. This particularly included the senior citizens (who often felt lost and isolated) as well as people who had managed to survive the murderous regime of Pol Pot.

I wanted to establish a community agency to serve these people who needed an agency that understood their culture, customs, and what medicine was best for treatment. We sought funding and tried to find a sponsoring agency. I chose the West Side Community Health Center. Attorney Joseph Meissner introduced me to Director Ralph Fee of WSCMHC and I asked him to set up such a program. While WSCMHC had one part-time person working there with Asian backgrounds, there was no overall program as well as an energetic and knowledgeable director of this program. When he could not find anyone else, Director Fee asked me to take over. I finally agreed but I was compelled to close my restaurant business. I said I would serve one year but that turned into a number of years.

I recruited and hired others for the work who had Asian backgrounds. This also included sponsoring a psychiatrist from Viet Nam. I had interviewed many in Viet Nam and finally chose Dr. Dang Thanh, who was a young doctor who had some experience in Viet Nam in mental health work. But he did not have the psychology background necessary for this work. Our Foundation sponsored him to come to the U.S., to work at the WSCMMC, and at the same time to continue his education where he eventually earned an MA at Cleveland State University.

Meanwhile I had sponsored more of my family and relatives from Viet Nam. I sponsored almost forty people including the children. Since then, my family members have had some nineteen babies, now aging from fourteen years old to a few days. (The latest baby was born to my niece and her husband on June 3, 2016.)

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

Since I was working for the U.S. government and had much interaction with American young soldiers, I knew something about American ways and culture. I also studied and read about America. So I had a lot of good thoughts and expectations about America and its people.

Here is one small example: in America you eat but do not have to do dishes. You can throw away the paper plates. I thought that Americans must be very rich. When I did get here find out, I learned it was not totally that way.

When I came on the flight to America, I was looking for the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. I did not see that the bridge was golden but actually reddish brown. I told my husband, “The Golden Gate is not gold; it is brown, reddish brown.”

I also saw neighborhoods and houses in many areas of Cleveland. I remember the sight of these. But now I see the change, such as those made by Cleveland Clinic. Now there are huge hospital buildings. The head of the Cleveland Clinic is a Vietnam veteran. I see now there are Vietnamese doctors there as well as others from other countries. So again the changes have been for the better.

When I came, I am a Vietnamese from a war torn country. I see a lot of hatred and discrimination against us the newcomers coming from VN. But over the years everything has changed and for the good. I have learned about a lot of different cultures and thus can interact with many people. I learn about businesses and about each other’s culture. So I expected some hard times in adjusting initially to America. But I have always met so many good people who are very welcoming and helpful. There are so many good hearted people

What Challenges did you face as an Immigrant transitioning here?

  • Overcoming prejudices especially toward Viet Nam because of the war was a big challenge. In 1971 when I came, the war still was going on. Many people gave their lives, including many American soldiers. Much opposition to the war was here in America. People even threw things at us or spit at us. There were hostile reactions in the market where I went. People stared at me with hostile faces. But I learned how to deal with this, to stand up, and thank them for all the sacrifices them and their family had made.
  • The Weather was a big challenge. It was cold when I came in November. My clothing was not warm enough and I had to get all sorts of warm jackets and clothes.
  • Food was a challenge. Cleveland did not have food that I am accustomed to. This included Rice, fish sauce, and even vegetables. Only one store, a small Japanese store on Payne avenue, had some items we needed. They only allowed 4 people to come in at a time. Sometimes they chase us out because the store was so small. At first the people did not seem that friendly, but that all changed and we became good friends.
  • Language was a challenge even though I already knew much English very well and had functioned as an interpreter both in Viet Nam and later in the United States
  • Cultural and customs were different. I knew many of these but had to learn about more.

What is your occupation?

I am an expert in various fields and have worked in many different fields. Here is a list of some of these

  • Interpreter: courts, government, and private matters
  • Entrepreneur and business owner. I have owned various restaurants and businesses. I have also overseen business operations such as the Food and Beverage Director at the Renaissance Hotel in Lorain.
  • Business consultant: I have helped many businesses get started and then helped them in their operations,. This includes accounting, tax work, nail salons and schools.
  • Community activist: I held volunteer offices in Lorain with Community Mental Health and Alcoholism Board as well as with agencies in Cleveland including the Detroit-Shoreway. I have also been active with Asian and Vietnamese community groups.
  • Founder and Director of a nonprofit charitable organization: Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese. We have sponsored over one thousand volunteers to do humanitarian work there in Asia.
  • Food and cooking expert: restaurants, community events, and other sites.
  • Operated a Low Income Tax Clinic for fifteen years. This was one of the oldest LITC’s in America helping thousands of low income families with tax information and issues.
  • Adviser to Mayors and City officials in Cleveland. This includes fifteen years of membership on the Mayor’s Community Relations Board, having been appointed under three different Cleveland mayors.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Many people have made me and my relatives feel very welcome to Cleveland. Let me list some of them and what they did to make us feel welcome

  • Stephanie Tubbs Jones welcomed me. I felt so sorry when she passed away. I was honored when I was selected along with other female community leaders for a photography exhibit in tribute at Cleveland Hopkins Airport/
  • Congressperson Donald Pease: he helped me with advice to bring over my family and sponsor them.
  • Charles Moser, Congressperson: he also helped me sponsor all my many family members.
  • There were other community leaders such as our great Mayors, our Councilpersons such as Matt Zone, Brian Cummins, Jeffrey Johnson, Jay Westbrook, TJ Dowd, and others.
  • So many Clevelanders made me feel very welcome. Of course, I am an optimistic person who believes very much in other people and their abilities so we all can work together to make a better city and community.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

Our family continues to practice all of our traditions and customs that we have from our parents and grandparents in Viet Nam and the people in Viet Nam. These are in many ways similar to the wonderful customs and traditions of our other ethnic groups numbering more than 117 in our city.

  • One of the main traditions is TET or the New Year’s celebration. Vietnamese return to their families and home areas for this great season which in Viet Nam can last three weeks, although in the U.S. it lasts about a week.
  • Other holidays include the Moon Festival for Children in the Fall, Teachers’ Day, and various religious holidays such as Buddha’s birthday.
  • We encourage all my family members and our children to preserve their language and culture as well as learn English and about American history and customs.
  • Promoting respect for our cultural values. This includes respect for the elderly and for our parents. These are very strong. We also promote respect for law and lawful authorities.
  • We also believe strongly in helping others especially if they are having some serious current problem. That is how my parents taught me.

What do you love about Cleveland?

  • Beautiful lake
  • Our tremendous weather with the four colorful seasons.
  • Our Museum of art available to all
  • Our Cultural gardens to celebrate various ethnic groups. I am very proud that I am part of the effort to establish a Vietnamese garden. We finally have secured the property site on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and are raising the necessary funds for this.
  • Almost any family can buy and own a beautiful house. This is at far less money than elsewhere.
  • Good schools like high schools and colleges
  • Great leaders of our city government. Includes Mayors Michael White, Jane Campbell, Frank Jackson and such leaders as Martha Fudge, Dennis Kucinich, Senators Portman and Brown. Past leaders such as Louis Stokes and Voinovich also we must admire.
  • All the cultural sites and events. Includes great Asian Festivals and Celebrations at City Hall which I have been involved with for some 20 years.
  • Foremost the great people I have met from so many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. I have worked for many years with community relations board with its great and enthusiastic directors such as the current Blaine Griffin, and past ones including Dennis Dove and Sam Thomas, and others.

What is your favorite thing to do in Cleveland?

  • Go to various community events in Cleveland.
  • Visit various restaurants where we can “hang out”
  • Movies and other forms of entertainment including at the Ohio theater
  • Participate in Festivals such as the Great Asian Festival annually in May
  • Meet so many new and interesting people

What is the best thing about living in Cleveland?

  • Affordable Housing
  • Good Living environment
  • The weather is good. Sometimes I do not like the snow. I remember my First Motherland which has so much warm weather and almost no snow.
  • We are near so many places: Toronto, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Everything is near-by. Travel usually takes less than a day, even by car. We have excellent transportation by land, air, and water.
  • There are many good organizations, such as ICC-WIN and others People you can meet.

Why is Global Cleveland a great resource?

Since I travel around the world and meet many people, I have a wide variety of connections with many business people, all the students, and others. I am from Vietnam and I have brought many guests and students from there. They need an organization that can help introduce them to our area, give them ideas and insights about Cleveland, and even help them eventually to settle here.

Recently President Obama visited my First country. We should take advantage of the avenues his trip has opened up. I would like to see Global Cleveland have a special outreach to the Asian countries and especially Viet Nam.

We also have a great new Director for Global Cleveland, Joseph Cimperman. We must work with him so that Global Cleveland can bring together our city, and provides so much to attract and welcome newcomers.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Our region needs more people. We need them for our neighborhoods and for our industries and businesses. They are both customers and workers.

Immigrants are good hard working people who want to build up a good life for themselves and their family. Immigrants are the fabric of America. The refugees and immigrants need a place for shelter They want to find peace for themselves and their families and generation to come. Cleveland is an excellent place for their new home.

We are all immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants. That is how we built up our country and City. That included the Irish escaping from famine and bad economic conditions who came here to settle and all the people from Eastern Europe escaping from Communism, and all the people from the South of the United States. Many of the latter were those of Afro-American background who came to our city especially during the World War II years, and all the recent arrivals including millions from Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and Africa and Puerto Rico and Mexico seeking a new life.

We want to invite all of them to go to Cleveland, they are welcome, and together we can make Cleveland the great city it is.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

  • Obvious signs of welcome at major highway entrances
  • Signs at Railroad and Bus terminals and air terminals
  • Media messages of welcome
  • Public welcome events quarterly at different places in the city. All new people welcomed and recognized. Meetings with older residents
  • Award of houses to families. Redo old neighborhoods. Rescue houses and start new areas. Fill in holes in old neighborhoods.
  • Monthly or quarterly job fairs downtown for newcomers
  • Welcome newcomers to families, namely babies born at local hospitals. Set up bank accounts for them for their education at Cleveland colleges.
  • All ethnic groups: Build a Cleveland Cultural Center. Take a building and rescue and use it. At least every ethnic group would have one home
  • Global Cleveland sponsor quarterly at least one welcoming event for newcomers.