The New World of Opportunities
Bill Tran’s 1975 journey from Sao Mai, Vietnam to have a life full of opportunities
essay written by Samantha Tran
Bill was born in Vietnam. At the age of ten he left Vietnam to come to America. With his family, Bill didn’t know what was going to happen to his life. All he knew was that they were coming to America, a place where freedom lives. He and his family soon got adapted to the America life style. He went to school and earned a profession as a pharmacist. He now lives in Irvine, California with his wife and two daughters. He plays golf every day. Life is great he says. His only dream now is to see his daughters succeed.
Born in 1975, Bill Tran became the sixth child in the family. He has three sisters and five brothers, all living down in the South. His two eldest brothers are fishermen, while his third brother is a welder. The oldest sister is a casino worker. Tai, the brother the one right before him, is an engineer. Bill is next in the family and he is a pharmacist. After Bill became a pharmacist he liked his job and the money that came with it; so Bill encouraged his younger brother Nick and younger sister Dao to become pharmacists also. Le, the youngest sister, wanted to do something new, so she decided to become a real estate agent. Bill’s father, Tuc, was a hard working man who worked since he was ten. Tuc had to go to work so that he can take care of his younger brother since their parents died when the two of them were only children. Bill said that “because grandfather worked so hard, he was teased,”1 his cousins laughed and looked down on Tuc because they were all well-educated and Tuc was not. Their grandfather was not gamblers, so the family still had the money to send its sons to school. Tuc’s great-grandfather was a wealthy man who controlled a business empire. Their company majored in making fish sauce. Fish sauce was very popular in many Asian countries because it was used to make food taste better. On his death-bed, he split his fortune among his sons. One of the sons was Tuc’s grandpa. As a gambler, he lost all of the wealth that his father gave him. Dying young, he left his sons with nothing. Because Tuc’s dad was penniless, Tuc was unable to receive an education that would have been suitable for a wealthy family that grandpa came from. Unfortunately, at the age of ten, Tuc’s father and mother died. At that time, Tuc was penniless and parentless, but he still had to find a way to make money to take care of his younger brother.
Education was not important back in Vietnam. Most people in Vietnam only went to school until they reached the fifth grade. Afterwards, they stayed home and worked, helping the family to make money. Only the children from the wealthy families were able to continue school after fifth grade and receive a very good education. For the sons of the poor families, they were not able to continue school and achieve their dreams of a better education. After they turned sixteen, they were drafted for war. Again, only the sons of wealthy families were able to bribe high officials so that they don’t have to go to war. Thus, education was not important in Vietnam. In America however, education was emphasized more. Kids were encouraged to go to school so that they can have a future. So when Sau and his family came to America, his older brother and he were sent to school to receive an education. His older brothers and sisters were too old to learn English and had to stay home and work to help Tuc and grandma. Taking the opportunity, Sau’s older brother went to school and “set the tone for us when we first come to America to go to school and work hard and set an example of go to school.”2 This good example helped encouraged Sau to study and do well in school so that he can achieve his goals in life. In the end, education in America is really important and the key to success in the future.
In Vietnam, there were not a lot of things to do except go to school and work to earn money. School was from Monday to Saturday but the days were only half days. The teachers were nuns, because most of the schools were Catholic schools. Bill saw that school back in Vietnam “was pretty tough, [lots of] discipline.”3 The kids back in Vietnam didn’t have any fun activities to do; there was no internet or television back then. Looking for activities to do, Sau and his friends would catch insects and kick a ball around barefoot, thinking they were professional soccer players. If they couldn’t find a ball or were bored of catching insects, they would go swimming since Bill and his family lived near the beach. They would find wooden boards and they would lie across it as they played in the water. Overall, Bill Tran said “our childhood was pretty simple.”4
Back in Vietnam, both grandma and Tuc were fishermen. They owned a boat that was made of bamboo. They worked every day from morning to night. At first they fished for shrimps and fishes, and then they would go to the market to sell their catch. After they have sold all of the seafood, they would bring home the leftovers for dinner. They did this for most of the time in Vietnam. This was how they made money to support the family. In 1975 Bill and his family left Sao Mai, Vietnam to head to America. They left because of the Vietnam War. The communist finally invaded South Vietnam, and bombs were shot into the village, Bill claimed that “I heard the bombs right over our house.”5 Bill and his family were prepared to leave. They were considered lucky because they had boats that they could leave in. They took a lot of the neighbors that didn’t have boats to leave. So in 1975 Bill and his family left Vietnam in their boat. They headed toward the ocean where American ships were docked. There they hoped to be rescued and taken to America.
The journey to America was long. Bill and his family were on the boat for about two weeks until they reached Guam. Because he was a young child, Bill didn’t remember any specific thing that happened during the journey. He didn’t really understand what was going on. The entire trip was fun for him. He saw a lot of people crying especially his mother who missed her home and some of her family and his father who was worried for the family’s uncertain future and his boat. They were all uncertain for their future. At Guam they stayed at a refugee camp. Bill remembered he played around with other boys there and it was the first time he saw an American soldier. At the camp, Bill remembered that they had great food, “they had soft rice and meat”6, food that was not available back in Vietnam. Most of the time, the family ate fish that they couldn’t sell and vegetables. They rarely ate meat and when the family did, all the good parts went to the adults. They stayed there for about three months until it was time for them to leave and come to America. That was their first time flying. They stayed in a refugee camp in Arkansas, until they had a sponsor. People were gathered around waiting and longing that someone will sponsor them. Bill and his family soon got a sponsor. The sponsor was a Catholic family and they lived in Clinton Louisiana. The family stayed there for some time, and then they were sent to a farm. Grandpa and grandma worked on the farm raising animals and earning money for the family. The house on the farm was tiny, one bedroom and one restroom, but thirteen people lived in the house. Bill and his family lived there for awhile until they decided to buy a home in a small town called Thibodaux Louisiana. Grandpa and grandma still live in the same home and most of all of the brothers and sisters live around there except Bill who moved out to California to marry his wife.
When Bill first came here, like most immigrants, he was fearful of his future. He missed his friends and everything that he once had in Vietnam. He came from Vietnam and he didn’t understand English at all. He remembered that on the first day of school, both his younger sister and he cried because they didn’t understand anything and everyone was looking at them. They were just afraid. But after some time he and his younger sister got used to school and everything was good. However the only bad thing that Bill remembers was waking up early everyday to go on the bus. Bill’s family lived near the bus driver’s house, so they were picked up first. Because the town was small, the roads were made of dirt and there was only one bus to take all the kids. So it took a long time to pick up all the kids and make it to school by eight. So Bill and his younger sister always had to wake up at five to get on the bus on time. At the age of twelve Bill went to work during the summer. He worked in a crab factory, helping mom and dad making money. But working in the summer was not easy. Every day, they would have to wake up three o’clock in the morning and hurry to get into the car to take them to the crab factory. Then they worked until noon or until there were no more crabs to pick. Now looking back Bill saw it as “that like child abuse.”7
As a child who just came to America, Bill saw that his English barrier was probably his most difficult struggle that he endured when he first moved to America. Because Bill didn’t know a lot of things, the kids tease him and his family. Bill remembered that the kids “talked funny to you and make eyes.”8 When Bill and his family first moved here, they were teased a lot for being different. They were Asian and that wasn’t common back then.
After five years in America, life was good. Bill and his family didn’t have any more racial problems with their neighbors. Bill and his younger siblings were doing well in school and they were learning English fast. In high school, Bill saw that his older brother was successful because he did well in school, so Bill, himself, too also tried very hard in high school and soon left for pharmacy school. He said that he “was focused and I knew what I wanted to do and I appreciated that I got a chance to become whatever I want, if I put my mind to it.” 9 In high school, Bill met his future wife and they were secretly in-love. They were madly in-love with each other, but neither of them could date, it was mostly a “puppy-love”10. They only saw each other at school and at the crab factory during the summertime. They couldn’t talk on the phone with each other, and they couldn’t text or email each other. When Bill and his family first came to America, they moved to Louisiana and they were the first ones here. Mary, Bill’s future wife, went to Pennsylvania when she first came to America, but she later moved to Louisiana. Bill at the time was in eighth grade, and Mary was in seventh grade, and at first they were just friends. When Bill started to like Mary more, he decided to work with Mary at the crab factory so that he can be around her more. Knowing each other since in high school, Bill and Mary got married in 1990 and had their first child on February 1992 and their second child on April 1996. Everything happened and it was too hard for Mary and Bill to move back to Louisiana, so they stayed here and now Bill and his family live in Irvine.
However life for Bill was not always perfect. It was mostly good, but he and his family did suffer from a lot of different struggles. The first one was about his daughter, his first child. He was so elated and joyful that he and his wife were going to have their first child. However when she was born, Bill noticed how dark her skin was; she had everything and everything was good, except the skin was dark. Bill remembered hearing from his wife, that when she was holding Samantha, the first child, she was looking at her with a look like “please save me, as though something was wrong.”11 So Bill and his wife took Samantha back to the hospital. Sau remembers that “they put ivy in you and put ventilation on your nose and the strings were everywhere.”12 Bill admits that during that time, the hardest part was taking Samantha to the lab every week. He would take his wife, but he couldn’t go inside. He would wait outside and sometimes weep to himself. Things slowly got better and Samantha’s health was improving. The second tragedy that Bill and his wife had to go through was when Mary was pregnant again. This time, Mary and Bill were happy because they knew this baby would not have to go through the same experiences that Samantha had to go through. Somehow, when Mary was seven months pregnant, she lost the baby. Her sugar level shot up to seven hundred and she went unconscious for some time. Bill remembered that at home, he, his daughter, and his family buried the dead baby. After spending some time in the hospital, Bill said Mary got better. The worst thing about that time that Sau remembered was that “I feel helpless, I couldn’t do anything.”13 Two years after, Bill and Mary finally had a good pregnancy. Katie became the second child. She is healthy and strong. Bill and Mary saw her as a gift from God. Afterwards, life was better and everything was fine. One thing that Bill admired about both families was the love they gave each other. Both families got along. Each family was both devoted to helping each other. There were never disputes between siblings because we all respect each other. Even now Bill said that everyone still respects the older brother, even though he and his younger brother are in their forties. Both of the families love to get together and spend time with each other. So overall, Bill is happy that both of his families get along with each other, and he truly admires the love that the families have for each other.
Looking back to the time when they first came, Bill and his family were truly fearful of what was going to happen to their future. They were all excited because they were going to America, and their “image of America is beautiful all high buildings.”16 They never knew that America had parts that were poor. But when they came to America they loved it still, even though it wasn’t the perfect place. They were happy that the family made it safe and that they have a future to do wonderful things in life. They were lucky and up to now they never regretted leaving their country to come to America.
During the past ten years, Bill says that everything is good. The only thing that changed was he picked up a new hobby, golfing, and he decided to work for himself. Before he worked for Rite Aid, but one time he saw this small pharmacy in Santa Ana. He bought it and everything was good until some investors bought over the medical building. So Bill decided to sell it, he found another pharmacy shortly in Long Beach. Then after a couple of years, he has another pharmacy in Irvine. So currently Bill owns two pharmacies, but the one in Long Beach, his sister in-law owns half of it. As Bill looked back to his career, he saw that “everything was a calling.”14 He believed that somehow he was meant to work for himself. Thinking of the future, Bill “wished that [his daughters] do well in life, but become a good person, respect the elderly and love all their cousins and everyone.”15 Sau says that he just wants his daughters to try and do their best. He knows that life can be hard, but if they try their best, he will be happy for the rest of his life. Overall, he claims that he loves his life and that everything is good.
1. Tran, Bill. Personal Interview. 23 May 2009, 9
2. Tran, 23 May 2009, 2
3. Tran, 23 May 2009, 2
4. Tran, 23 May 2009, 3
5. Tran, 23 May 2009, 4
6. Tran, 23 May 2009, 4
7. Tran, 23 May 2009, 6
8. Tran, 23 May 2009, 6
9. Tran, 23 May 2009, 6
10. Tran, 23 Amy 2009, 7
11. Tran, Bill. Personal Interview. 24 May 2009, 15
12. Tran, 24 May 2009, 15
13. Tran, 24 May 2009, 15
14. Tran, 24 May 2009, 16
15. Tran, 24 May 2009 18
16. Tran, 24 May 2009 13