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Oral History of Tra Van Mai
Mai, Tra Van
Mai, Tuan
Date Created and/or Issued
Contributing Institution
UC Irvine, Libraries, Southeast Asian Archive
Viet Stories: Vietnamese American Oral History project
Rights Information
This material is provided for private study, scholarship, or research. Transmission or reproduction of any material protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Contact the University of California, Irvine Libraries, Special Collections and Archives for more information (
Scope/Content: This is an oral history interview with Mr. Tra Van Mai, a current machine technician for a Company in Orange County and also my father. This interview focused on his life experiences shortly before, during, and after the Vietnam War, as well as his escape by boat and transition into American society. He speaks of his upbringing in the Gia Định province and how rustic and peaceful his neighborhood was, then transitions to his education and enlistment in the military at the age of 18. Tra remembers being in the navy as a ship repairman and technician during the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 and describes the horrors of war in seeing his friends die around him. Though many escaped the oppression of the Communist government around 1975, Tra remained in Vietnam with his family until around 1987. During his stay, he describes his life as being a farmer was difficult because most of the crop he grew was forced to be given up as tax to the government. His life became more burdened when the Viet Cong forced him and other ranked military officials like him into reeducation camps within the jungles away from Saigon. After roughly four years of surviving off of spoiled food and self-made shelter, Tra returned home, only to realize that he did not want to live life in Vietnam under the Communist regime. He then decided to escape by himself to the U.S. by a small boat whose engine malfunctioned and proceeded to drift upon the sea. The people on his boat were saved by an oil tanker and sent to Malaysia, where he stayed with many other Vietnamese refugees for approximately 6 months. He was then sent to another refugee camp in the Philippines named Pulau Bidong Camp before making the final sponsored migration to the United States. It was during his stay in Pulau Bidong that he met his future wife, my mother, Thai Hang Vu. He describes their separation due to her sponsorship to Norway and the steps he took to keep in touch with her and eventually reunite after their safe escape. After arriving in Buena Park, California, Tra remembers adjusting well to life in America. With help from his sponsor and friends, he found a job and a place to live with little problems or major setbacks. He goes on to describe the beginnings of the current city of Little Saigon in Orange County, mentioning in particular the Hi-Tek incident and how he was among thousands of Vietnamese Americans who protested against the portrait of Ho Chi Minh. He finishes the interview by providing additional detail on some of his previously stated stories OH # 0025 while escaping by boat, while in the Philippine refugee camp, and while adjusting to American culture and society. He also voices the wishes he has for me and others like me to hold onto and preserve the Vietnamese culture, language, and experience so that future generations will not forget their roots.
Scope/Content: “Vietnamese American Experience” examines Vietnamese American identities and communities through a sustained critique of United States imperialism and analysis of the wars in Southeast Asia, which spurned the mass migration of over 1 million Vietnamese to America since the 1970s. Drawing from interdisciplinary scholarly research, literary works and visual media, this course equips students with a critical and transnational framework for engaging Vietnamese American experiences. We explore how Vietnamese Americans have been made subject to US racial formation before and after their arrival in the US. Most importantly, we seek to understand how they craft their own lives and meanings, their memories of the homeland, as well as their triumphs and struggles to build community. Toward this end, a major component of this course is an oral history project each student will complete with a Vietnamese American elder. Students are trained in oral history methodology and required to conduct and process (transcribe, translate, and index) one oral history interview to donate to the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, which is archived in the UCI Libraries Southeast Asian Archive.
1 mp3 audio file; 1 pdf transcription Vietnamese; 1 pdf transcription English; 1 pdf field notes English; 1 pdf time log English; 3 jpg image files
Boat People | Orange County, California | Gia Dinh (Vietnam) | Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) | Vietnam War | Viet Cong | Sponsors or sponsorship | Machinist | Little Saigon (Orange County, California) | Cao Dai | Refugee camp (Malaysia) | Reeducation camp | Refugee camp (Philippines)
Time Period
Vietnamese American Experience Classes Oral Histories, 2012 Winter

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