Vietnam War refugee recounts escape from Saigon

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There are 10,000 Vietnamese immigrants living in Arizona. Among them is Chan Tieu, the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant, unPHOgettable.

Tieu escaped Vietnam at 10 years old after the fall of Saigon in 1979. He and his family and 420 other refugees battled through difficult times, “We left in August… unfortunately, that’s monsoon season. We went out to sea and got caught in a typhoon. We were pirated four times on the ocean. They took everything we had. They broke our engine, they broke our navigation system and they just let us float into the sea.”

After two years, Tieu and the others were eventually rescued and relocated to Allentown, Pennsylvania. He would graduate college, marry and have two children. Tieu relocated to Phoenix for his work in IT. He opened his restaurant in 2009. Tieu says he is grateful for his parents’ sacrifice, “My dream is not just my dream anymore. In terms of the American dream, I believe in it.”

Ted Simons: On September 17th, p-b-s begins a 10-part special on the Vietnam War, produced by Ken Burns. In anticipation of the featured programming, we here at Arizona Horizon are sharing stories of how the Vietnam War affected our state. Tonight, producer Shana Fischer and photographer Juan Magana show us how Vietnamese immigrants are contributing to the fabric of Arizona.

PKG: This poplar Vietnamese restaurant in mesa serves up bowl after bowl of rich chicken and vegetables and overseeing it all is the owner.

PKG: I was born at the tip bottom of Vietnam.

PKG: His parents owned a successful fish sauce manufacturing plans and they made plans to take it internationally but the fall of Saigon happened marking the end of the Vietnam War and the unification of the company.

PKG: This is what is left of the American involvement in Vietnam. The U.S. embassy behind me has been completely rooted. The South Vietnamese are angry at the American with drawl. Many of them have said they were left out in the evacuation.

PKG: Tu's parents feared the worse for him and his 13 siblings.

PKG: In 1978 that is when they decided to give us the, you know, now looking back pretty much the best gift of all, the gift of freedom. What they decided to do was split our family out and start our journey in search of freedom.

PKG: His parents separated the family into two groups.

PKG: I was part of the third group and we left in 1979. Unfortunately, that was the monsoon season. We went out to see and you know, got caught in typhoon and so on. We were pirated four times on the ocean. They took everything we had. They broke our engine and navigation system and let us float into the sea.

PKG: Tu and the 420 other refuges on board used clothing to construct sails. Weeks later they finally made land in Malaysian only to be put back out to sea by the people they thought would help them. Weeks went by as they drifted.

PKG: We got to this union habituated island, that is when we got smarter and sunk the boat near the beach there, and we all swam in. That is where we habitat for a couple weeks until we were lucky enough to have met a un couple. They were on a small yacht travelling and saw and got the u.n. Ship to take us to the refugee camp. Tu and his parents went to high school in college. Tu and his family relocated to Arizona for his job in software and technology. Wanting an additional revenue avenue for his family he opened unforgettable in 2009 inside a marketplace that specializes in Asian goods.

PKG: The Vietnamese community in Arizona was establish said in the 1980s.

PKG: He immigrated as well to the United States settling in Massachusetts in 1988 and came to Arizona for his work as a hospital pharmacist. He said there are 10,000 Vietnamese immigrants in Arizona and most own their own business.

PKG: We are known as the new comers but have come a long way. Within 40-year period, we now have a lot of Vietnamese successful businessmen and women in all fields from health care industry to business industry and to male cosmetic industry.

PKG: There are 22,000 businesses owned by Asian immigrants in the state employing 42,000.

PKG: I think it is a greater thing for our state, Arizona, to have all the cultural contributions from various ethnic groups.

PKG: Tu said he doesn't like to dwell on the war and what it did to his family. Instead he chooses to focus on the unforgettable sacrifice his parents made.

PKG: In terms of the American dream, yeah, I believe in it.

Ted Simons: This story will be included in a documentary that will air next week on Arizona PBS. "Vietnam: Arizona stories" will air at 10pm on Sunday September, 17. That's immediately after the premier of the Ken Burns series on the Vietnam war. Friday on Arizona horizon, it's the journalists' roundtable, fallout, political and otherwise, continues over the rescission of the DACA program. And it's official, the state’s expansion of school vouchers will be put to a public vote next year. Those stories and more, on the journalists’ roundtable. Arizona "horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Chan Tieu: Owner, Unphogettable

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