This is the final leg of My Story, the final part of my family’s journey from Vietnam…
Once I was well enough, my mum said that we were transported to a temporary refugee camp on Guam island, then moved to Wake island and eventually to California in the United States of America. Once in America, the Red Cross became involved and would organise for a church/ community to sponsor a refugee family to help them settle into their new life in America, Canada or France. My mum volunteered with the Red Cross to assist her in locating other family members. My mum said she became friendly with one of the ladies who worked for the Red Cross, who spoke French. My mum’s French was very limited but they were able to communicate through my father who was more fluent in French. He said that he also had family overseas, so the Red Cross helped in finding my father’s family too.
My mum also had met up with a cousin (my uncle) in the refugee camp in the Philippines but he was placed in a different area of the camp, as he was an ex-army officer and single. My mum became separated from her cousin and didn’t know how to find him. My mum found out later that he had written her a letter which was delivered by the Red cross to the refugee camp – but because she was moved, she never received the letter. He had written to inform her that he had gotten to America and where to find him. The Red Cross informed my mum that her cousin had been sponsored and was now settled in America. They advised my mum to choose a sponsor that was available from the bulletin board in their office if she wanted to leave the refugee camp.
My mum had memorised her sister-in-law’s address, who was at the time residing in Indonesia with her husband and family. At that time, my uncle was the Australian Ambassador in Indonesia. My mum sent a telegram to my Aunty to inform her that we had reached the United States of America. She didn’t know how to say ‘sister-in-law’ in French so told the Red Cross Volunteer that she was her ‘cousine’. However, when the telegram was sent, it stated my mum and family were in the US, it did not include my father’s name so my Aunty assumed that only my mum and I had escaped Vietnam. Apparently my Aunty had sent a telegram advising us to stay in the US, but my mum never received it.
My mum said she surveyed the board and the Red Cross had organised it to display and indicate the church community that would sponsor either an individual or family of 3, 5, etc. They were also listed by country – United States, Canada, France. My mum said she had to review them and decide which group she wanted to be sponsored by and advise the Red Cross. The Red Cross and the US Government would then organise for the church community ie a family from that church community to sponsor us.
My mum, not knowing that there were different Christian denominations, just chose any church group, which turned out to be a Lutheran church. My mum was only aware of the Roman Catholic church, as was her experience in Vietnam so didn’t realise that it would be different. However, when she attended mass, she realised that it was. She asked the Lutheran Pastor if she could attend Catholic mass instead.
The family who sponsored our family lived in South Dakota so we were settled there to be close to them. They advised my parents that they needed to find employment to help them start a life. My dad found a job first, although my mum can’t recall where! My mum contacted one of the Vietnamese Captains whose phone number she had memorised to ask him about finding a job. My mum said the Captain spoke to someone in the church asking them to assist my mum in finding employment. My mum was taken to the employment office and found a job in office admin, where she completed filing and typing.
What my mum wasn’t aware of was that the Red Cross had also found my dad’s family overseas. The Red Cross had located my dad’s family in Australia – his mum, and a younger brother and sister. My mum didn’t know where Australia was at the time and asked ‘Where is Australia?’ Even though she was unsure of where we would be going, she thought it would be better for me to be surrounded by a Grandmother, Aunty and Uncle so she made the decision to go to Australia. As it was my dad’s mother who had been located, this was higher priority and a stronger connection than my mum’s ‘cousine’ even though it was my dad’s older sister. So, as a result, my Grandmother’s telegram took precedence. The telegram from my Grandmother stated that she would like her son & granddaughter to come and live in Australia.
My mum, not knowing where Australia was, asked “Where is Australia?”. Even though she did not know where we would be sent, she thought that it would be better for me to have my father’s family around as I grew up. My mum thought it would be good for me to have a Grandmother, Aunty and Uncle close by. The church organised for our family to fly from South Dakota to San Francisco where the Australian Embassy would then take over our migration to Australia. The reason for our migration was to be reunited with family. We left America in December 1975 where it was very cold and snowing as it was in the middle of their winter. As a result, we arrived in Australia in the middle of summer in our coats, gloves and beanies!
We were placed in the migrant hostel in Villawood with other immigrant families. We stayed there for 6 months. My father had to find work within those 6 months so that we could move out of the hostel. He was able to find work at Ford Motors as a welder and we moved to Auburn. My mum was a few months’ pregnant when we migrated to Australia so my parents settled into Australia with a new baby on the way. It was a new start for our family and one that my mum was immensely grateful for.
That concludes the chapter of My Story – the journey from Vietnam to where we finally settled in Australia and where we still reside. My family now consists of myself and 3 younger sisters – with 2 sisters now living interstate. This experience is one that I don’t remember due to being so young, but I’m sure it is something that my parents and many others who experienced it will never forget. My mum’s strength, determination and tenacity ensured that she never gave up. Her desire for a better life for her family was always and still is her priority. My mum has an inner strength that sometimes she doesn’t realise she has and is something I admire. I have learned and still learn a lot from her every day and am grateful to be able to document her story and share this for my family and friends. I hope you enjoyed reading My Story as much as I have had researching and editing it. I hope it inspires you to have an understanding of other people’s journeys or inspire you to explore your story….