Cambao de Duong
Chinatown Interview: Interviewee
Chinatown Interview: Interviewer
Chinatown Interview: Date
Chinatown Interview: Language
Chinatown Interview: Occupation
Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)
Q: I'm going to start by having you say your full name and where you are from.
Cambao: My name is Cambao de Duong. I'm from Saigon in South Vietnam.
Q: Can you tell us about your life in Vietnam?
Cambao: Yes. I was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents. I grew up, was educated and worked in Vietnam as a teacher in Saigon and in Kien Tuong. I also was a principal in Saigon, too. Also I taught in the School of Language of Teacher’s College until April 30, 1975. Because I was commissioned to the South Vietnam army, so it was good enough for me to be ordered to receive ten days seminar with the new regime.
Interview: Let's back up a little bit. You said that you were born to Chinese parents. That means your parents came from China, to Vietnam?
Q: And as Chinese living in Vietnam, is your life any different than an average Vietnamese person?
Cambao: I think it did not make any difference, because in the area we lived, there was a mix of Chinese and Vietnamese. So we did not have language barriers, so everybody treated everybody so nice.
Q: So at home what language did you speak, and what did you study in school, also?
Cambao: At home, normally we speak our dialect -- that's Chao Chow. And sometimes we use many other languages, like Vietnamese. Sometimes we use Cantonese. However, in school, I went through three school systems -- Chinese, French and Vietnamese. Mainly Vietnamese and Chinese. In Chinese school I learned Mandarin, and in Vietnamese school, of course, I learned Vietnamese.
Q: So you do not feel any different than a Vietnamese person in Vietnam, and your friends, your colleagues, were all different people. All Chinese and Vietnamese.
Cambao: Yes. We lived together and I taught many years in the Vietnamese school. And I taught Vietnamese literature. I speak fluent Vietnamese, fluently, like any Vietnamese. So no one can treat me differently.
Q: So growing up in Vietnam during wartime, did that have any affect on your life at all?
Cambao: Surely. Because of the wartime, I was called to join the army. I received one year's training there. And because at that time I became an officer, a lieutenant, and so after 1975…. I mean, April 30…..I was ordered to get into a re-educational camp.
Q: Some of our viewers may not know what happened on April 30, 1975.
Cambao: April 30, '75 was the day South Vietnam collapsed. And the North Vietnam took over the South. It became one country after that. And the people living in the South had to suffer with the new regime policy and, because of that, a lot of people escaped from Vietnam. I believe about two million people escaped from Vietnam after that.
Q: So immediately following April 30, 1975, as a Chinese person living in Vietnam, did that have any impact on your family or your personal life at all?
Cambao: It impacted on my personal life because many reasons. One of the many reasons is I was in the army. The second reason was, I am a Chinese descent, and the third reason, I have a high educational background.
Q: Which army were you in?
Cambao: I was trained in Thu Duc, an Army Reserve Officer training school. Actually, I did not fight at any time.
Q: You were in the southern Vietnam army, not the northern Communist.
Q: After '75, then what happened?
Cambao: I was sent to the new regime concentration camp for re-education. That was a struggle. I had a hard life there. I stayed there more than three years. I had to struggle with many kinds of difficulty such as without food, and sick without medicine. And it caused me, from a strong man, it make me weaker. I lost a lot of weight. I lost about fifty pounds.
Q: And how old were you at this time?
Cambao: I was about 32 when I was in the camp.
Q: And you had already formed your own family?
Cambao: Yes. I just married for about four months. And I had to leave my wife. My son was born when I was in the camp.
Q: So how do you think your wife felt at the time?
Cambao: Of course she suffered. And I respect that she was able to stay to wait for me. Meanwhile, many people take the chance to escape from Vietnam. She had many opportunities to leave, but she stayed there to wait for me.
Q: Why do you think you survived those three years in the re-education camp, when so many people did not?
Cambao: I strongly believe that I did a lot of good things for people. I did not do anything to harm any people. As an educator, I taught my students not only become people with good knowledge, but also taught them to become good people, in order to serve society sooner or later -- even the new regime. My students understood me, and they believed me.
Q: Do you think you learned anything about your own strength at the time?
Cambao: I learned one thing: that you believed at certain thing, and you did the right thing, you’d get it.
Q: After you were released, three years later, how did you live your life?
Cambao: At that time a lot of people, as well as teachers, escaped from Vietnam to other countries. And Vietnamese needed teachers. So the new regime, the so-called Viet Cong, they released me to go back to teach in a high school. I became a high school teacher again and taught for three years.
Q: Is your whole family with you in America now?
Cambao: I, and my small sized family. My direct family, my relatives are still there, my brothers, sister, and nieces and nephews are still there.
Q: And how did you come to America?
Cambao: I had a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law living in America. They sponsored me. Meanwhile, I tried to find my way out. I tried many years, by boat. But I was unsuccessful. So I decided to wait for their sponsorship, and then I was lucky, because the United States government figured out I served in the South Vietnam government, so they allowed me to come to this country very soon after my application.
Q: And since coming to America, have you had the chance to go back to Vietnam at all?
Cambao: No. Totally not.
Q: Would you like to go back?
Cambao: I want to, but not at this point.
Q: So then you came to America in what year?
Cambao: I came to America at the end of 1983.
Q: And where did you go?
Cambao: I came to New York City immediately.
Q: And why did you decide to stay in New York City?
Cambao: There are some reasons I decided to settle in New York City. Because, first, I have a relative living in New York City. Second, I believe that New York City is the capitol of the world, and with that…
Q: So you came to New York City in 1983? You were not a refugee.
Cambao: I am a refugee.
Q: You are considered refugee status?
Q: But you came over….there's a program…what is it called?
Cambao: It's called ODP -- it stands for Orderly Departure Program. However, I had to stay in a Thailand refugee camp Panat Nikhom for a period of time, until the end of 1983. I came here because I have a brother-in-law living in New York City. And possibly I believe that (because of) my background the United States government accepted me as a refugee.
Q: So then you decided to stay in New York City.
Cambao: There are some reasons. The first reason, I have a relative living in New York City. Secondly, I believe that New York City is the capitol of the world, and it is a diverse city with people … the city with people who come from all countries of the world. And I believe that we can avoid being discriminated (against). And finally, I believe in New York City it is easy for me to find a job.
Q: And was it easy for you to find a job?
Cambao: Yes. I just came for a short time and I found my first job, in Midtown.
Q: How did you find your first job?
Cambao: I was referred by an employment service agency to try some interviews, but was not successful. And I eventually found the first job as a food deliverer in midtown Manhattan. With, of course, very low pay -- $3.00 an hour, lower than minimum wage. That, I know. However, I needed to survive and feed my family. I had to take any job, with any pay. Luckily, besides salary I also got tips, so I could survive on that.
Q: How did you feel going from a very educated man who worked in many languages being a teacher, to being a middle-aged delivery boy in New York City?
Cambao: I understand, because without a job I cannot feed my family. So I had to accept even what many people consider a lower level job, with very low pay. I believe that I start with lower level, entry-level job, and later on I will find better work when my English gets improved.
Q: How much English did you know when you first came here?
Cambao: When I first came I knew very little English. So I had to attend an ESL class at the YMCA. I attended the ESL class for about six months. During that time I delivered food, I had the opportunity to talk to people. Even (though) my vocabulary was limited, but I believe I could speak fluently at that time. So when I found my second job, it was helpful for me to go through the interview.
Q: Before you actually came to America, what were your ideas of America? What did you think would be here waiting for you?
Cambao: At the beginning I didn't think about coming to the United States. I know France better. But I had no choice. So I come here. I know it is the land of the free. That’s what I love. Also, this is the country with the opportunities -- I found that that's true. I have no regrets for coming to this country.
Q: When you got here, even working as a delivery person, you still believed that this country had opportunities for you.
Cambao: I understand that I'm a newcomer. People don't know me. Whenever they know me, they will hire me for a more appropriate position. It proved that when I worked for a restaurant for a short period of time, the restaurant did not provide health insurance, of course. And then I tried to find a job with health insurance coverage. When I planned to resign from that restaurant they wanted to transfer me to a full time position. I forgot to tell you that my first job was part-time. How many hours I would work per day depending on the need of the restaurant. Some days it was about four hours, some days longer.
Q: And how long did you stay at that job, and how did that take you to the next job?
Cambao: I stayed on that job for more than two months. And then on some occasion I knew that there was an opening in a non-profit organization in Chinatown. So I went to apply even I didn't know, at that time, how to take a subway train to Chinatown.
Q: So as a person in 1983 New York had many Asians. So do you feel Chinese, do you feel Vietnamese? Is this an issue for you at all?
Cambao: It didn't bother me for thinking of myself as a Vietnamese or Chinese. Even before then I thought about that. However, after that I believe I found something -- it doesn't matter. No matter, Vietnamese or Chinese, it's one human being thing. So I treat all kinds of people no differently...I also hope people treat me no differently. No matter what color or what their educational background or what ethnic base.
Q: So if I were to ask you, Mr. Duong, where are you from, what would your answer be?
Cambao: I would say I'm from Vietnam. And when people ask me, who are you? They mean what country are you (from) I may say I'm a Chinese-Vietnamese.
Q: So then your next job was for….?
Cambao: I started to work in a non-profit organization with the lowest level position. It was called 'intake specialist'. It is to help people to fill out application forms. The kind of program I worked for is the refugee vocational training program. And, you know, that's after the stage of the boat people. A lot of Vietnamese and Cambodian and Laotian, they settled down in New York City. So that agency needed someone who not only can speak English but also can speak Vietnamese and Chinese, and know their culture, in order to help them. So I was hired to work on that position. But soon they found that I was an educator, and they allowed me to substitute some courses, like an accounting course. Even though I didn't know what accounting was, I spent time to study, I taught very well, and I was promoted to the skilled instructor position. And then they asked me to teach computer. I had to learn more knowledge about that. It made me decide to go back to school. And then I earned my BA degree in computer science from Hunter College.
Q: And why do you enjoy teaching?
Cambao: Oh, I love teaching, because when I was young, I dropped out from school for one semester. My principal, the person who cared about all the students, their education -- and because I was an excellent student in that school, I always ranked number one in the school -- and he came to my family and he talked to my relatives and my uncle allowed me to go back to study again, and he didn't charge any tuition, because I was the excellent student in that program. I look at him as a good example. He helped a lot of people. So I decided I want to be a teacher. And that's why I attend the Teacher’s College in Vietnam. And my whole life in Vietnam, I spent a lot of time teaching.
Q: So the next job you were also teaching refugees.
Q: Do you think your background made you a better teacher?
Cambao: The first thing is my background. Second thing, I committed to help other refugees. I know how hard it is for a refugee's life, like myself. Everybody has to stand on your own feet. So I tried, through my experience, I tried to help others do not fall into the same trap as I did.
Q: At this time were you living comfortably in New York, would you say? Making an okay living?
Cambao: I believe so, yes.
Q: How long did you stay at this job?
Cambao: I stayed at that agency for more than seventeen years. I was promoted many times when I was there. From skill instructor, to program coordinator, to resource developer, to program director, to agency coordinator, and then to the agency deputy executive director.
Q: As director, did you try to implement any changes?
Cambao: Yes, I did make a lot of changes. Because, for me, color, and any background, is not so important. I'm thinking we're all human beings here. And because of that, I brought in a lot of funding to serve not only concentrated on Asians, but also serve the non-Asian population, too.
Q: So your work is in Chinatown at this time.
Q: What does Chinatown mean to you? Is it just a workplace, or is this a place where you feel at home? Do you feel connected to other people like yourself?
Cambao: I feel Chinatown is a very wonderful place. It's warm. Even if it's not so clean, okay, it's a good place for people to visit, to work, and especially for people who like to eat here.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about types of people you work with. Seventeen years is a very long time to stay in one job. What kept you there for so long?
Cambao: I said Chinatown is a wonderful place. Besides, I can use my skills and knowledge in teaching. And also I am able to help many newcomers. Including social services people. I forgot to tell you, besides computer science, I also received an MSW from NYU. And I am able to help people to change. When people face the difficulty with child abuse problems, I know the ways to handle it, and I can speak their languages. So I advise some people to avoid their children taken by the Administration for Children Services.
Q: When you first came, were there any organizations that you joined that helped you assimilate into American life?
Cambao: No, none at all or I don’t know about. I joined many associations to volunteer to serve people. I think I'm mature enough to help others except having language barrier. I know this country’s culture very well, too.
Q: Where did you learn about the culture?
Cambao: I learned from books, I read a lot in my country. Of course they were in Vietnamese or Chinese. So when I came to New York I found that New York was not like whatever I cannot cope with.
Q: And in this time… Can you give me a better idea of what Chinatown was like when you arrived, at that time? In the 80s.
Cambao: I see, first thing, the population even it was crowded, but in the small areas. At that time, I believe, there was about 70,000 Chinese in Manhattan's Chinatown…. here…. compared to Cho Lon in the south part of Saigon in South Vietnam. There was about 700,000 Chinese there. So for me, it was very small. At that time I saw that the Chinese in Chinatown here is an old generation. They speak either Toishanese or Cantonese. And I saw Chinatown is about from south of Canal to Worth Street to Center Street.
Q: Let's try to get a better sense of Chinatown in 1983. When you came.
Cambao: '84, actually.
Cambao: I came to Chinatown in mid-March in 1984. I didn't know Chinatown until that day. I thought Chinatown was a small place, but warm. It's a wonderful place for people to visit, to work here, and to eat here. I see the population, it was crowded in Chinatown. But I learned from census data in the ‘80 it was about 30,000 Chinese in Chinatown, in Manhattan, compared to Cho-lon a part of Saigon in South Vietnam before 1975, there were 700,000 Chinese there, so I saw that it was a small town. However, I saw it's a good place for me to work here because I can meet people who speak my languages, including people who speak Vietnamese in Chinatown. Even at that time I saw only three or four Vietnamese grocery stores in Chinatown. And on Mulberry Street here, two were here. And one was at the corner of Bayard and Mulberry. And beside I see Chinatown in a positive way. I also see the negative way. It was dirty. And many times we heard about people who have committed a crime, including gangsters in Chinatown. They have different names, and also at that time they started to have Vietnamese gangs, too. It was just starting.
Q: Would you say you had a sense of belonging here? You felt comfortable in Chinatown?
Cambao: Yes, I felt very comfortable to work with my co-workers. Even if my co-workers are black or white, but the majority of them are Asians, including Chinese majority of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. We also had Asian workers from Singapore, from the Philippines, from Korea.
Q: Did you visit other cities in America, or you decided that you were going to stay?
Cambao: I visited many other cities on occasions when I attended seminars or conferences in other cities. I went to the west coast; I went to the north, to the south, to many states and cities. However, I found New York City was probably the city I liked the most because of many reasons. Here, I can see anything I want to see, but many other cities do not have it.
Q: Did you experience any discrimination, because in the early 80s there was still a lot of feeling about the Vietnam War. As a person from Vietnam did you personally experience any prejudice or discrimination?
Cambao: Probably not because I was a Vietnamese. In answer to your question -- discrimination -- I have this kind of feeling like people look at me like a homeless person, because I went to pick up the old winter coats for my family and myself, the bus driver did not allow me to get into the bus. My educational background taught me that I had to let elderly, females, and children get into the bus first. I was the last one. And the bus driver, he closed the door when I put my foot at the bus step. Luckily, many other people were so nice to yell at him, "Let him in." Because I carried a garbage bag, a black one, to put my clothing that I had just received in that and he thought that I was a homeless guy. So he didn't allow me to get in. I believe he did not know if I'm Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or Japanese. We all look similar.
Q: How did that make you feel to have to go and get free clothing -- was that the Salvation Army? Is that the kind of places you went to?
Cambao: I believe that's associated with the United States Catholic Charity (USCC). My caseworker at USCC told me the address and I went there to pick it up. I believe that's not the Salvation Army.
Q: So when you got to America, what was your financial situation? Were you able to bring any money over? Or you came with nothing?
Cambao: I came with nothing. But I got assistance from the USCC. That's government money. (They) assisted me through that agency. Each member of my family received two hundred dollars assistance at the beginning. So that two hundred dollars released me temporarily the first time I came to this country, and then I started to work and make my own living.
Q: But where did you live when you first got here?
Cambao: I lived…I shared an apartment with my relative in the upper west side of Manhattan.
Q: So the government did not help you as far as finding housing or put you in a home.
Cambao: No. Not at all.
Q: Did that form any impressions about the land of the free for you?
Cambao: I wanted to be independent. If the government could help me at that time, I appreciate it. I believe that that kind of policy changed. The government could not help me so much. So I had decided to stay on my own.
Q: So Chinatown in 84, you said, was very crowded, and there was a lot more crime. And through the work you do, at the time, did you personally and professionally try to make any changes in Chinatown?
Cambao: I believe I did. I did a lot at that time besides my job. In my job I was able to help the young people from Vietnam to enroll in our program. When I became a program director, actually, I did not work so directly with them. I didn't need it. However, I still worked very closely with them, I provided private counseling in my office and make them aware that to concentrate in starting to look for a new job is better than getting involved with any activity that is not legal. I also participated in many associations. I was a co-founder for the Greater New York Vietnamese American Community Association, as well as the Indo-China Sino-American Senior Citizen/Community Center. And through these two agencies…. I forgot to tell you, I also am the co-founder of the Vietnamese Magazine that I can write and put the message for people to learn about the community, and about Chinatown, too. And through two agencies and one magazine I was able to help Vietnamese people to get funding to enroll in one program called (the) Youth Leadership Development Program. The funds come from the New York City Department of Youth Services, at that time. And Mayor Dinkins at that time had an impression on me after I spoke at a citywide conference sponsored by the US Department of Justice in New York City. And he supported my point of view -- we have to help the newcomers, especially young people, to know, to give them the direction where to go. And for the Senior Center, the Indo-China Senior Center, I set up a place for people to come to read newspapers, to share information, to play chess, so they won't feel so lonely. And I know that many elderly from Vietnam only can speak certain Chinese dialects, they cannot integrate into many Chinatown senior centers. Let’s say that downstairs here we have the Chinatown Senior Center. Our people from Vietnam, they came in there, they could not speak the language people use down there. So the Indo-China Senior Center could help people who speak the same languages have a place to come to rest and, to eat and to play. And the government recognized our work, and after I submitted certain proposals, these two agencies received funding to run the certain programs. And that helped the government did not have a negative look at the Chinese community, especially the Vietnamese community, the smaller one here. And I would like to mention that during the Chinatown had the Born to Kill problem, the Asian community in general -- the Chinese and Vietnamese community was invited to participate in many conferences and meetings, even at the police headquarters. And I learned that one bad exercise called Saigon Mission was established at the 5th Precinct. You know the term 'Vietnam Rose' is used to imply venereal disease during the Vietnam War. 'The Vietnam Rose' is used to (sounds like) involve Vietnamese about the disease when the American soldiers have sex with Vietnamese ladies. So I had the feeling that Saigon Mission is the other unfair way to treat Vietnamese in Chinatown here. So I strongly raised my voice to against the use of that term. Eventually the police headquarters agreed with me and give the order to precincts and captains that they had to take the name out. That's one. And I participated in some other activities. Such as I served as an advisor to the Board of Education’s chancellor. At that time there was one story about the Amerasian who was 15. His story was aired on Channel 13. A young boy, 15, came to the United States and was adopted to live with foster parents. And he was sent to attend the ninth grade in a high school. Meanwhile, he was discriminated against in Vietnam because he was an Amerasian. He looked like an American, and he was mistreated in the Vietnam school system. He only had two years' education in Vietnam, and he came to this country and he was enrolled in the ninth grade. So he could not understand and he dropped out. He became a gangster in the Born to Kill. I learned that through his caseworker, and I learned that through the Channel 13 article. So I raised my voice in a chancellor council advisory committee meeting. I said it clearly that providing education to the newcomers, to immigrants and refugees, it needs to be based on their educational background rather than on their ages. And I believe that the chancellor at that time agreed with me. And now the newcomers will be tested before they are enrolled into whatever level in the city. And also, the city education system continues to provide the bilingual education to newcomer children. I also, with some friends, established the Shuang Wen (dual languages) School. Now it is located at the end of East Broadway at Grand Street. PS 134. And it was a very successful school; it has run for five years. And this year for the fourth grade citywide reading test, it was ranked number four in the whole city. And early in this fiscal year the US Department of Education secretary, Dr. Paige, went down to visit that school. I believe that even the newcomers, when we spend time and participate, we can make a difference.
Q: Many of our teachers, when they first come to America, tend to work very hard to earn enough money to live. Why do you think you have invested so much of your time to do community involved volunteer work when you could be working for money for your family?
Cambao: I did work very hard. Sometimes I did more than one job. And I worked in the evening time and I worked during weekends. We were paid cash. I went to New Jersey to help people, my friend who sells watches, one day. They paid me fifty dollars per day. I believe that education and social services are two factors that can change our society. So I committed myself when I thought I was ready, and I believed I was capable to do those things, so I participated, and joined many agencies.
Q: And have you encountered any difficulties in your work?
Cambao: Yes, I do. Like I did not pay attention so much to my ethnic background, but people did not think that way. The Vietnamese, they treated me like: "Oh, you are Chinese." Probably Chinese people, I strongly believe, they treat me like a Vietnamese. And of course, Americans, they don't treat me like an American. Okay? If some say to me (call me) politely like an Asian American, that is I appreciate it. But many times they say that 'you are Vietnamese' or 'you are Chinese'. They don't say, 'you are Asian-American.' I hope I can join in and hopefully the young generation will do more things to help to change people's image on prejudice on this issue.
Cambao: I don't know how. But I believe that if you don't try, you won't get it. That’s my point of view. We try, and then see if we can change or not.
Q: So even in a city as diverse as New York City, do you think there is racial harmony in this city?
Cambao: Racial harmony -- we raise a question in this way. It depends on how we define 'harmony', in what way. If we say that, sometimes we have arguments because ethnic differences are normal for me. I don't want to jump to conclusions, like in certain cases people so easily jump to conclusions of discrimination. Like a color discrimination or whatever discrimination. I didn't jump to that unless we have evidence.
Q: I'm going to jump forward a little bit.
Q: To September 11, 2001. Where were you at that time?
Cambao: I was in Chinatown, here. I witnessed the two towers collapse, and I was very sad. And that time, when the second tower was hit by the plane, I believe that from my own experience of living through the Vietnam War, I believe that's not an accident. I did order that my staff and students at the agency I worked at – it’s about two hundred people -- to leave the agency to go home. However, at the top, I have a boss, the executive director -- she came in after me. She used the intercom to tell me: "That's an accident." I told her, "I believe that's not an accident. That wouldn't happen twice." And she said that we could not let everybody go home because if the government or the funding agencies checked, what could we do. I was unable to answer her question at that time, because I believed people lives are more important than the other, so I let the staff and students leave the agency. Some staff members were stopped by her on the staircase and had to come back to the agency and stay late on that day. I had to stay until about two. And then have lunch in Chinatown. I had no train to go home. I came home very late. I think that day was a very sad day. And you can see after that the country, especially the cities, the economic situation, went down. Many people lost their job. And we faced more difficulty as a social service agency. Many people came to us even they were not eligible for our services. But still, I had to spend some of my time to help them. And working in Chinatown, it was much near my home compared to my current job site, I usually came home late, because I had to spend more time to serve my clientele here.
Q: And on an impact level, did September 11th impact your job?
Cambao: Yes. It made my job harder. Because, like I said before, more people came to me, even they were not eligible for our service.
Q: As an agency, did you try to find ways to get more resources and to get more money to help our people?
Cambao: Yes. Besides running my own program, where I oversee the agency and some parts of the operations, for a certain time we have to spend some time to look for funding. And I was able to get for the agency an additional $300,000. I received a check from Chicago. One foundation called McCormick Tribune Foundation, they gave our agency $300,000 to serve the people impacted by 9/11. They saw our program was one of the top programs. We had been selected to receive their funding. And also at the same time my boss had a connection with a federal government agency, and we got additional funding to serve the people.
Q: Do you think your personal background, all the difficulties that you have personally experienced, has prepared you for situations like this?
Cambao: I strongly believe so. Because I lived through the Vietnam War, so I have to be sensitive to hear the sound, to see the things, in order to avoid being hurt during the Vietnam War. And also more than three years living in the new regime -- South Vietnam new regime -- in a concentration camp, it prepared me to face the difficulties.
Q: Did you want to leave Vietnam if your life hadn't changed the way it did after 1975?
Cambao: Of course I did not want to. Even the change of '75 events, I still strongly believe that it's a good place to live, and to utilize my knowledge to help people. But the new regime did not accept me. They didn't want me to stay there. So I had to leave.
Q: You felt that you had no choice.
Cambao: I had no choice.
Q: Do you feel you have lost your home, in a way?
Cambao: Financially, that's true. I lost a lot of property there. I lost many homes there. I owned land and homes over there. That's why I came to this country. I didn't buy gold, like many other Asians and Chinese would buy gold. They can use gold to buy a boat to escape from Vietnam. I did not have that.
Q: When I say 'home' I don't mean just a house or property, but a sense of belonging because you have two generations of your family had been in Vietnam. It was like you lost your country, in a way.
Cambao: That's true. Thank you for understanding about that part.
Q: So have you rebuilt a home in New York City?
Cambao: In terms of 'home', that's true.
Q: Do you feel you belong here, you feel comfortable here, you will stay here for the rest of your life and future generations?
Cambao: At this point, my answer is yes. I don't know what will happen in the future.
Q: So tell us about your work presently.
Cambao: Okay. Currently I work for a Jewish American association. It has established a new branch in Brooklyn and I was hired last year to run the branch in Brooklyn. It's an employment placement service agency. We help everybody until the end of last year. Because of funding shrinking, now we can only help people on public assistance.
Q: I know that your job is no longer in Chinatown, but it's almost twenty years that you've been part of this community. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen here?
Cambao: Actually, nineteen years. I've been in this country nineteen years. I've seen changes, a lot, in Chinatown. Even though I am not working in Chinatown, but I still come back to Chinatown. I volunteer to serve on the board as a president of the Eastern Vietnam-Cambodian-Laos-Chinese Decent Association. I usually go there to oversee the books and to provide services to elderly and needy people. So I see things change compared to the time I came to Chinatown in March of 1984. I see the population change. A lot of people come from Fujian to come to Chinatown. And I learned through the census -- 2000 -- that I participated, and I found that there are a lot of undocumented residents living in New York City. They're living here, but working in other cities, or out of the city. They must have the place to live in Chinatown. As I know you may have paid attention to the newspaper a couple of days ago. At 81 Bowery, the fourth floor, one floor is about two to three thousand square feet. More than a hundred people live up there. Okay. First the population changed. Of course the language changed too. In the past, Toishanese and Cantonese were spoken in Chinatown. But now, Fujianese and Mandarin gradually were used in many places. I've seen more stores open, and the area of Chinatown was expanded to the north of Canal. A lot. However, it was not much on the south of Canal. And to the west on Canal, it was expanded to Broadway. There's a big change, and one positive change I like very much -- Chinatown is cleaner compared to the past. I would like to acknowledge the Cleaning Chinatown Committee, led by Danny Lee, Eva Tan, Bill Lam, and many other business people in Chinatown here. And I see a lot of positive things in Chinatown here. Now they even still have gangsters, but they are not so active like in the past. So the crime rate went down consecutively in the past five years. More than five years.
Q: Do you think Chinatown, as a neighborhood, received less funding for things like sanitation, and traffic, than other areas? It is obviously very crowded and still dirty, compared to other areas of Manhattan.
Why do you think that is?
Cambao: Because we didn't raise our voice strong enough for people to hear, especially to the elected officers. They thought that we did not have this kind of need. Some agencies did apply, but they were not strong enough to make the funding agencies believe that Chinatown has this kind of need.
Q: Do you
think Chinatown as a community and the residents of Chinatown speak
up to make changes for the community, or are they more worried about
Cambao: Frankly, I see they are not united to the level as I expected to make the community strong and make the funding agencies believe they represent for the Chinatown community, to fight for the Chinatown community's benefit. Some agencies just care about their own agencies’ operation, and they try to get the funding for the services they provide, not for the whole of Chinatown. That's easy to understand. Because they specialize in their field, they fight for their field money. I hope that Chinatown in the long run will have some leader to put everybody together and make it strong like I experienced in the Chinese community in Vietnam. They were so strong. When they wanted to do some things, the leaders said something and no one turned it down. But here it seems everybody was a leader, and it seems that we have no leader.
Q: Is it really possible, when you have so many different groups in Chinatown -- as you said, there's now the Fujianese, you have the Cantonese, the Toishanese, there's many, many different groups -- who would this leader be?
Cambao -- At this point I see one positive thing happening in the Fujianese (community). They were so close to it. They started to provide service to their community, let’s say ESL. This is a good thing. Did you see any other agency provide it beside a non-profit organization? It's not happening to the other ethnic group -- I mean the other like dialect speaking groups. Only the Fujianese. I see that happens to their community and because of that some people (certain level of government representatives) cared and came down to visit them. And whenever the elected officers need money, they will come to them. And it's a two-way direction. If they support certain people, of course in return they can get something from them to support their community.
Q -- So because of the proximity, we know that Chinatown suffered huge business losses after September 11th. Do you think now, two years later, Chinatown is back? Is business back to usual as before September 11th or still in the rebuilding stages?
Cambao: On the surface I see the restaurant business has come back. However, I don't think the garment factories, the other main business in Chinatown, have not come back yet.
Q: Will they come back, do you think?
Cambao: According to my understanding, even (though) I'm not in that field, because of the trade issue the central government has signed certain agreements with foreign countries, I don't think this garment factory industry will come back to New York City, here, especially Chinatown. In the United States the cost of labor is more expensive compared to send the clothing making to Mexico or to China. So I don't think it will come back. Some people need to think about a change in the services in Chinatown, here, or the model of business in Chinatown, here, in order to make Chinatown become a more wonderful place for people. To attract tourists to come here is one of many ways.
Q: Can you really see a future where Chinatown is unified, with all the different groups have a strong leadership? Or that they could put their differences aside and work towards the greater good of the community. Can you really see that happening?
Cambao: I don't see one leader. But many leaders can work on the same goal, or for the same project, even though they have different points of view. But for the benefits of the whole community they can work on a project, and then we can work with many leaders, not only one leader.
Q: Do you have any goal to run for any office?
Q: Why not?
Cambao: My age and my health do not allow me to do so.
Q: But if not for your age and your health, would you consider it?
Cambao: I think I'm more suitable in the social service field. Two weeks ago I just went to talk to a group of parents at PS 69, and today I have many other schools that want to invite me to talk to parents. So hopefully that can help the newcomers to know the America better, and then they can make themselves…adjust themselves…to fit into this country. And this society.
Q: When you look back at your life, do you think you are an American success story?
Cambao: I don't think so.
Q: Why not?
Cambao: Many people define the 'success story'….you have to…in Chinese term for Mandarin: (explains in Mandarin -- Four things. You need to have a house. Have a car, have a wife, and children.). I only have two.
Q: Okay. (Voices overlap here).
Cambao: Four things. You need to have a house. Have a car, have a wife, and children. I only have the last two. I didn't have a house. I didn't have a car. I don't define success by that way. I believe I can live comfortable and I treat people the way I hope people will treat me. In this term, I'm so happy to see that happen to me. For instance, I lost my job. Partly I believe that the way I demonstrate myself, people…not everybody likes me. And myself, I follow the philosophy that I'm not here to please everybody. I think the right thing is right, and I will do that. And after I lost the job, many people who know me, they call and they share and they offer me…let me know information to get a new job. And I found that a lot of people did that for me.
Q: So when you look back at the years you've lost in Vietnam, your golden years, in your thirties, when you were in the education camp, very difficult years, are you bitter at all?
Cambao: Of course. I don't want to mention that thing, because it brings the sad memories back to me.
Q: So what do you think is most important for you to pass on to your children?
Cambao: I told my son and my daughter to be an honorable person, and also you need to think about what you promise to people. When you promise something, you need to keep your word. These are the two things I passed on to my children. And I strongly believe at this point…I thought my son was able to handle this. I don't know about my daughter yet. I hope that when she graduates from college and when she goes to work and faces real life, I will see what happens to her.
Q: Is there anything that I have not asked you that you want to tell us?
Cambao: I have a lot of things to tell but I don't think it's appropriate to put in here.
Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)
<p>Cambao：我叫Cambao de Duong。我來自南越西貢。</p>
<p>Cambao：叫ODP---全稱有秩序離開的專案(Orderly Departure Program)。但我必須要在泰國Panat Nikhom難民營待一段時間，直到1983年底。我來這裏是因爲我太太的兄弟住在紐約市。我猜想因爲我的背景美國政府把我作爲難民而接收我進來的。</p>
<p>Cambao：我在---，我和住在曼哈頓Upper West Side的親戚住在一起。</p>
<p>Cambao：實際上是十九年。我已經在這個國家呆了十九年。我看到了唐人街很多的變化。即使我不在唐人街工作，我還有到唐人街來。我志願擔任東越南－柬埔寨－老撾－華裔協會委員會主席。我經常去那裏監管書，以及向年長和貧困的人提供服務。與1984年3月我來唐人街那時比起來，這裏的確有變化。我看到人口的變化。很多從福建來的人來到唐人街。同時，我通過參與2000年的人口普查得知，有很多沒有身份的人住在紐約市。他們家在這裏，但去其他城市或不在市里工作。他們在唐人街必須有個落腳處。我知道---，你也許注意到幾天前的報紙上登過，在Bowery 81號四樓，整層樓大概有兩、三千英尺，有一百多個人住在那裏。第一，人口變了。當然，語言也變了。過去，唐人街是講臺山話和廣州話。但是現在，很多地方逐漸使用福州話和國語。我看到有更多的商店，唐人街已擴展到Canal街以北，很大一片地方。但Canal街以南的變化不大。在Canal街以西已擴展至百老彙。還有一個大的變化，也是我非常喜歡的一個積極的變化---跟過去相比，唐人街變得更乾淨了。我要感謝由Danny Lee，Eva Tan，Bill Lam和其他唐人街的生意人領導的唐人街清潔委員會。<br>