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

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 …

More In: Vietnamese

My Living, Yet Lost, Father

The Final Weeks Of South Vietnam Changed Everything Between Us

In the spring of 1975, when I was eight years old, my family, which included my parents and younger sister, moved from Vietnam, our native home, to Singapore. My father …