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A Vietnamese Refugee Tells Her Story

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, thousands of so-called "boat people" fled Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, often in small overcrowded ships that were barely seaworthy. The story of Linda Thong, while horrific, is not unusual. Refugees often encountered pirates while sailing the dangerous South China Sea. Survivors usually ended up in refugee camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or the Philippines, where they were forced to remain for months, sometimes years. Once in the United States, the Vietnamese boat people faced the same obstacles as other immigrants, struggling to learn the language and gain an economic foothold. Linda Thong's story ends happily for her and her family, suggesting a new chapter to the American immigrant success story.

My name is Linda Thong. I was born in Vietnam…My father passed away when I was ten years old. He died in the Vietnam War, and my mother took care of four children. It was very hard for her. We lived on a farm. I hadn't finished high school yet because I had to help my mom take care of my brothers. I got married when I was 17 years old. I am very lucky to have a good husband because he helps our family a lot. I had two daughters before I arrived in the USA. I have been in America since 1985. First I came to Thailand by boat. My boat so small, but they were 55 people in the boat. We went for 9 days and 8 nights. After 5 days, we didn't have anything to eat or drink, and some people fainted. We opened their mouths and gave them urine and after that they woke up. Two people died, and after two more days we met a boat. I saw seven men on the boat. They waved their hands and my boat came beside it and they picked us up then put us in their boat. They cooked a lot of food for us. After we had already eaten every body feel full and happy. We thought we had freedom, but bad luck came to us. They spoke Thai Language. We didn't understand what they were saying. They took our hammers, saws and knives. They took every body's gold jewelry and everything precious to us. My boat had three women and one girl. They kidnapped the girl. I was very lucky because I cut my hair like a man. I wore my husband's clothes and on my face I put a lot of oil. I looked so ugly. After that they threw us back on our boat. I remember a man took my daughter and threw her in the sea. I said please help her. My brother in-law immediately jumped down into the sea and caught her and my husband gave him a stick. He held it and he got on the boat. Our boat didn't run on gasoline, but we used sails to continue for more days and more nights. We met another Thai boat. We were very scared, but this boat had eight men on it, and they were humane. They gave us a lot of food. They had a long rope, they attached it to my boat and brought us to Thailand. After five months, then we went to New Orleans. We left New Orleans after one month and came to California. When first I arrived in California, I worried too much because I didn't speak English, just said hello and good morning. One month later I gave birth to my third children. We had no money and clothes for my baby. I remembered three months we slept on the floor because we didn't have a bed, and the Government gave us money but not enough. I came here with my husband, two daughters and three brothers. One is my brother and two brothers in-law. We lived together in the apartment with two bedrooms, one bath. It was very hard for us. My husband and three brothers found jobs at the swap-meet on the weekends. Weekday we went to school and studied English. My husband found another job and the owner paid for him five hundred dollars a month. After two years we saved 5,000 dollars to open a small business. We sold toys step by step, we made good money. Now I am 39 year old and I have five children; two girls and three boys. Two are in University at UCI. One is second year, one is first year. They are both taking Biology. One boy is in high school, and another one is in the six grade. My last boy is in Kindergarten. My children very nice study hard and listen to parents. We bought a house, cars and good business. My husband and I work very hard for my children. We want our children have education in the future and to be good people. I always thank God very very much for my family have freedom.

Source | "Stories of the Present," Rancho Santiago Community College Centennial Education Center
Interviewer | Grace Tanaka
Interviewee | Linda Thong
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “A Vietnamese Refugee Tells Her Story,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 18, 2024,

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