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Valerie Tran

Valerie Tran

Vietnamese refugee "boat person", University of MN social psychology graduate, Program Director of Vietnamese social services program in St. Paul, MN

Born: Saigon, Vietnam
Heritage: Vietnamese

You have to value your life. You are one of the luckiest kids to get born. If you travel to Asia, you see the other kids have no opportunities like you do right now. That’s how I got my job. When they are a success, do not give me anything, just tell me. What can I do for you for me to return what I got?

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Valerie Tran

Vietnamese refugee "boat person", University of MN social psychology graduate, Program Director of Vietnamese social services program in St. Paul, MN

My name is Valerie Tran. I was born October 31, 1968. Halloween! I was born in Saigon, Vietnam. I’m the youngest one in the family. My parents have three boys and three girls. My dad was a civil engineer back then. My mom was just a housewife.

From 1968 to 1975, the country had not become a communist country yet. We live very happily and safe. After 1975, the communists took over and control everything in the country. They control your life. During that time, my dad was in a “re-education camp”, but actually it was a jail. My mom had no work-experience so therefore she had to sell items in the house. We have no money. They took everything. We just sleep on the floor. My dad came back in 1976.

My mom said, “We can not live like that. We have to do something for our children to have a brighter and better future.” Luckily my mom had some gold that she used that gold to buy tickets to escape. And in 1980, we escaped by boats. My family divided three different times. My four siblings, oldest sisters and brothers escape first to Taiwan. The second time, it’s my third brother, my cousin and my aunts who escape to Malaysia.

The third time, only me, my cousin, and my parents left. The big boat is like very small. And it kept 125 people went on that boat. We stayed on the ocean for thirteen days without water, without food. Five of the kids in our boats died because no water, no food. Sadly, two of them are my cousins. The last day everybody is so tired, exhausted. Even the big boats come by. We ask for help—we SOS. They get close to our boat, but they just come and look, they take out a camera and they take pictures and then leave. No mercy at all.

A French trading boat came from nowhere. Luckily we got help. They were going to transfer us to Thailand. I have always remembered those thirteen days of my life in the ocean. Life in the boat is very frightening. Death is in front of you at every time. So we got to stay in Thailand camp. My family, we got to stay there for 45 days only because we have some relative who live in the United States, who live in Hibbing, Minnesota.

I stayed in Hibbing for five years. Five years later, my parents got a full-time job working here. My sisters and brothers start going to University of Minnesota. The whole family is living here. We live in a two-bedroom apartment with six kids, plus my cousins so ten of us living there.

I went to the University for Social Psychology. I work part-time at Burger King. In 1987, I work part-time for a Vietnamese self-sufficiency program. In 1998 the executive director called me and said, we have a new program. Right now we have a Karen people, just exactly like me. Right now I have 125 students with me who go study five days per week.