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Xuan Nguyen Pham (1958—)

Xuan Nguyen Pham, one of Oklahoma’s most illustrious Vietnamese immigrants, tells her remarkable story below.


I was a seventeen-year-old freshman in law school in 1975 when the Communists took over (South) Vietnam. My parents wanted me to leave Vietnam with my two sisters and their families, because my brothers-in-law were both in the military and one was still in the war, and they were concerned about our safety. The day we left, we had to speed in the car to the ship that was getting us out. We had no idea if we would make it to the ship before it left, nor where it was going if we did. We made it with just minutes to spare before it pulled out.


I was able to get out because my brother-in-law was a captain in the navy and got us out by a Vietnamese navy ship. After that, we were transferred to an American ship. We were in the ocean for a few days. I really didn’t know where I was going or what my future would hold, because I was so sad about leaving my parents.


The American ship finally stopped at Subic Bay (U.S. naval base in the Philippines) and we met an American man. He was so nice. He helped us with the paperwork. Then we got on a helicopter to Guam. Because of my brother’s status, they helped us leave Guam soon, then we went to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, a large refugee camp for Vietnamese.


My sisters decided to move with their children to Martinique in the West Indies, where our uncle owned a Vietnamese restaurant. I was still in shock and walking around Ft. Chaffee like a robot, but I didn’t go. I assumed I had to give up my dreams for education and get a job. I don’t know why I chose to stay in America. There was no logical reason for it. It was just a feeling I