So, both my parents are immigrants from Vietnam. Back in the 1970s, my grandfather was a police officer in Vietnam. When the Vietnam War came around, the North had him put in jail because he was one of the government officials. He spent five years and four months in jail. They took him into the jungle for hard labor and stuff. They spent a lot of time being poor because after the North took over the country since they were a Communist society they had all the resources and everything sold to pay off their war debts, so it was really hard for them to makes ends meet. But, luckily my grandmother was smart about the whole thing. She sold rice and stuff so, like before the North had a chance to sell off all her stuff, she sold it and bought gold and diamonds for it which was easier because the North also changed all the currency, so everyone who was wealthy suddenly wasn’t wealthy anymore.
People in the South started trying to find ways to leave the country around 1975, because things were really bad around there. The Northers wouldn’t allow anyone to go to college and stuff. You finished high school and then you had to go work. She said that they started out with everything and then slowly, everything dwindled down. Like you had rice at first, but then rice got cut down until you had to make do with little rice and potatoes to make up for it and then eventually they sold them straight grain and so all the Vietnamese people who aren’t used to working with flour had to learn to make bread and stuff from there.
There was no freedom of speech. Everyone was under control of the North and they weren’t even allowed to listen to their own music or radio. They had to wait until the still of night and they would secretly turn on the channel that they’d get from the Philippines which is where some of the people who managed to escape from the boats were sent. They had to find out about ways to get out of Vietnam through that radio station because the news was so strict under the North controlled South that e even if there was a way, they had to find out by word-of-mouth.
The people who got priority first were parents. Parents only took a couple of years to get over to different countries. If you had children, it was really hard for you to get out of the country. My family – my grandfather, my grandmother and four of my aunts – were the first to leave Vietnam in September of 1993. It took us so long because my grandmother was afraid it was another trick from the North. The reason my grandfather got put in prison was that they rounded up all the officials saying they were going to just document them and instead they sent all of those people off to prisons around the country.
My mom was 25 when she got to America and there were a lot of background checks and medical checks before she managed to get here. One ticket, a ticket per person to get to America was $1,300. So as soon as you got to America, you wanted to find a job to pay off those loans. She says compared to Vietnam back then, living in America is Heaven. She misses Vietnam, but she is happy here.