CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER

In My Family’s American Dream, Bootstraps Met Blocks of Government Cheese

After an Arduous Journey Emigrating from Vietnam in the ‘70s, the Author Benefitted from Both Personal Resilience and Public Assistance

Vietnamese "boat people" aboard the refugee ship "Tung An" hold out pails and cans to crewmen of a Philippine Navy ship that docked alongside the vessel February 21,1979 with a fresh supply of drinking water. The refugees have been stranded aboard the Tung An in Manila Bay for eight weeks. (AP Photo)

I spoke my first words on a boat: “milk,” “cockroach,” and “itchy.” An unusual toddler vocabulary perhaps, but not surprising considering that I spent the second year of my life on a freighter with thousands of other people, a floating petri dish of equal parts vomit, diarrhea, desperation, and hope. Every inch of that boat teemed with refugees: the cargo hull, hallways, and deck. Even the captain’s steering room had ceased to be a sanctuary.

I am an immigrant from Vietnam. I left the land of my birth in …

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