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Record 161/261
Oral history interview with Txertoj Vang by Rebecca Hudak. Discusses immigrating from Laos to Thailand and then the US, Race relations, and life in Oshkosh. {X: denotes the unidentified interviewer; T: denotes Mr. Vang}. X: I guess the first question I have for you is just to um… T: [Cholly] X: Is to ah, tell me as much as you are comfortable with about how you came to the United States. T: Okay. Well, first of all, my name is [Sirtaw] {This is a phonetic rendering}. And my last name is Vang. We Hmong pronounce "sirtaw" and the last name as "Vah" And um, I came ah, to this country by refugee. And ah, in 1978 and I crossed from Laos to Thailand. And ah, in that time, I'm not married yet. Single with my brothers and my brother's wife. So we came to Thailand and we stayed in a [Bienvenai] camp from 1987 to 1978. {Must mean 1978 to 1987}. And ah, we were, we decided to come over here. To the United States. In 1987. Just about flipped. X: Okay. You lived there just about eleven years. Okay. So and did you first come to Oshkosh when you came to …? T: Yes. Um, you know when I came to Thailand before my sisters. But after I sponsor my sister to come to Thailand, and she came to the United States before me. X: Oh, really. T: And then she sponsored me. To come direct to Oshkosh here. Yeah. X: So what were your first impressions of Oshkosh? T: Well, you know, when I came here, during almost this time, because September. September 29th. And we just came to this country in Oshkosh here. I think it is good. Good weather for I adjust you know; not too cold yet. It's not different from [ ] but pretty soon the winter come in and we feel oh, different. X: Right. What was your first winter like here then? T: Um, you know, first winter I already have a house for rent. And ah, not very surprised because we already see on TV and movies some like stuff, so we just feel, oh not comfortable because the weather is too cold. X: So where did you work when you first came to Oshkosh? T: Um, I came to Oshkosh, I go to Fox Valley Tech. For my [ ] And I go there for about three years. And I go into my program. I choose to go for mechanical design. But after that, my wife, she has a problem with her hand. With carpal tunnel and she cannot work. So ah, the government program is changed in that time. They cutting filing for welfare. And I have to go to work. So I um, I go to work. I just got my work, my first work in um Lincoln School, an elementary school. As a bilingual teacher assisting. And I worked there since 1997. In January of 1997. But before that I worked, volunteer work with um Hmong, Lao [ ] Association [ ] time. Teaching Hmong language and also go for radio broadcast, any news in Hmong language. So that's what I think help Hmong community. X: That's amazing. So you taught Hmong English, or did you teach…? T: I teach, I teach Hmong, only Hmong. For that time. Since 1989 to 1975. So I just ah, little break that time. And today, I still teaching Hmong language. X: Yeah, at Lincoln School? T: Yeah, no. Not Lincoln School. Ah, I teaching Hmong language in writing and speaking for um, no limit to students, aged from 6 to whatever [ ] and what age. To speaking and writing. After school we have a program we call the FCC. Family Community Center. And yeah, we have a Hmong program there and I teach in there since last year. And this year we also have offer for community spot. We only have class for Friday ah, evening from six to eight. And also teaching um, a class with Dr. Holmes, in [ ] for Hmong language. X: Okay. I see. Actually I haven't met him but he's the one that I got into this project through, so…um so what were your first impressions of the City of Oshkosh? Was it larger than where you had come from? T: Ah, yes. Actually ah, compared to my country, [ ] is pretty large. And very different. But I used to ah, you know, [ ] with my American people in Thailand. So I used to go for a big city like Bangkok or something. So I see a lot of cities there so the country is not really a surprise to me. X: Okay. Just different atmosphere and all? T: Unh huh. Yeah. It's just like a, very different is there. You gotta cook it, cook for yourself. By fire, [ ] fire. And carry water by yourself. And here, you know we just, water already there. Just turn on the water and just turn the fire. Or you know, stove or something like that. So that's the difference. X: So how did you go about starting to meet people when you first came? T: Ah, I, I a little shy to see people. And because only ah, me is speaking English when we came. My whole family is not speaking English. And um, I don't know, you know, very first time I, I came here, I thought some, because I know English in Thailand before, I thought my English good. But I start to having problems with speaking you know, they have a lot of slang, something like that. And um, I had problem with the accents and the pronounciation. And like that. And I speak ah, not really good. And people getting to listen to me, "What you say?" And I thought, oh I probably have a problem with the language. And you know, it was a little difficult for me. But after I getting to know people by going to school. And in talking to my students and my [ ] and my teacher. Something like that. And I think I can adjust myself very fast. X: Adjust yourself in terms of…? T: In terms of you know, X: Different environment or…? T: Yes. Different environment. Or ah, you know, culture, like today's society. Something like that. X: Okay, um, forgot. You came over here with how many of your family? T: I, when we came here, I have um, just five in my family. My daughter, and two younger sons. And we were five in the whole family. X: And did your brothers come here as well? T: Yeah. He just, after me about a month. I came in one month later. X: And do they live in the area as well? T: Yeah. Just before, my cousin sponsor him to come to Appleton. But um, last, oh last year we bought this house, and side by side. So he move in here. In the other side there. X: Oh, that's convenient. Ah, and how do you feel about Oshkosh as a place to live then? T: Oh, I feel very happy and I think it is a good place. Because not many people and just, I think suitable for me. Living like this. X: Right. Wonderful. And how did you, what kind of, I guess how did you feel about the way people treated you when you first came here? Did you have an easy time with that? T: Ah, today I didn't see any happen but ah, last ah, when I came here, for one or two years, you know when I walked by the street I met one or two people who just yell at me an say, "Hey, go to your country." "Chinese people.", or something. The other one say, "Japanese people." But I really don't you know, not real hurt me because I, my feeling I thought, um, well this country will believe that it's not the one nation. You know nationality is all that say we are here. We are part of the country. And ah, that person, I feel that he might need help or don't understand. And just what he's feeling about, I feel that it's okay to me. Because he might need help because he not smart enough. [ ] X: Well that's a wonderful way to look at it 'cause when things like that happen, it's just ridiculous. Really. T: And one thing that's very surprised to me, you know ever since I came to this country, I'm not change, I never change my telephone number. Um, when I came last, a resident in the [Mill] Street for a couple years ago, a man called me to say, "You steal my dog, you eat my dog." I say, "No, you don't believe. You do not understand me. You're just talking, and insulting." Or something like that. X: He said you ate his dog? T: Yeah. I ate his dog. I say no. No, not me. Maybe you don't know the kind of people. You know Vietnamese, they like dog. But to Hmong, we not really like dog. Because you know, in this country we just learn to use dog as really pet. But in my country, I not even let the dog come in the house. [ ] like this. Well, he might be [ ] and he keep calling me and one night, my tutor come over. And he call me. And I think, "Hey Mike, listen here." And I give phone to my friend and he listen. "What the hell." Nothing wrong. He just like this, many time ago he call me. And he say, "No, I cannot hold myself like this. Do you mind I call police?" I say, "Yes, you can do that. Call him." And he called police and come over and we just, I have a little tape that records the sound and it opened for police officer to listen and say, "Well, this man is a little kinda wild. And do you mind if you can quote in the", what do you call, "operator to keep track of this person?" I say yes, it is okay. I sign a paper and since then, no one call me. No, no one call me since then. I don't know, maybe that person lives close to me. [ ] to happen. I don't feel bad. They don't understand. Not smart enough people. And if you really want to be good people, you should help people that's a poor or something. Low education or something like that. But that person be out of mind, somebody that need help. Okay. X: So most experiences you've had like that have been with people lumping Hmong together with Japanese, and Chinese and Vietnamese and not understanding that [ ]. T: But now I think the people getting to know Hmong people better. So they know what Hmong people are and why we come here. X: Wonderful. T: Yup. And what we stand for. United States. So they think that, that's okay. X: Right. Wonderful. T: I guess someone, they don't know, they just yell at people and they learn now, I think. X: Right. Ah, so is there a place - forgive me for how I'm asking this - but is there a place for the Hmong to worship, or is it a worship that you do in your own home? Within your own families? T: Um, not really a place. Should be individual family. Ah, only place that we can get together is New Year's celebration. Yeah, that's, we can go together and ah, you know, pray or something like this. We call it [Lookshoo {phonetic spelling} ] for just once a year. But in Laos we do it in an open place. But in here, Hmong New Years you know late in November and [ ] we do inside. X: Right. So it's actually no building that you call your place of worship? T: No. X: Okay. I see. So what are the festivals that are taking place in the area, such as the one that you had gone to, what was it, two week-ends ago, are those cultural festivals? T: Ah, that one just happened in this country. Not really happened a long time ago. Because um, this is um, I would say, just happened from the people that had the higher education and they think that we should have a celebration and people can get together. X: Okay. T: Something like that. Because we only so far have one celebration ah, a year like that. So [they thinks which would have other one]. And right now they have summer festival celebration. For nationwide, Hmong nationwide. X: So then the Hmongs from all the area in the Fox Cities [ ] T: Well, all over the United States, they can come over there. Yeah. 'Cause the national ah, national wide. X: So where does that actually take place? That one was in Green Bay. T: Um, yeah. Usually in Green Bay. That's only available park and place that we can use. X: And people come from all over the country? T: Yeah. California; Colorado; Spokane, Washington, something - some place like that. X: Well, that's incredible. I didn't realize that. Wow, I thought it was just maybe statewide or even Fox Cities. That's a lot of distance to cover. Um, so what do you and your family, or you and your friends like to do for fun? T: Um, in this country, we go, for myself I like ah, you know - volleyball? And go watch ah, lake. X: The lake? T: Yeah. And um, my wife like garden for so fun. X: Wonderful. I like to grow plants myself. So I was eyeing up all the plants in here for my office. T: Well, [ ] like, like crazy. I'm very busy but she, she will [ ] grow garden. She like to do that. X: So you like volleyball and going to the lake. T: Yes. She not, she doesn't know how to play any sport but watching. My son's family, my older son and Lee, they like the volleyball. Walking, jogging. X: So, what kind of experiences have your children had here from your perspective? T: Um, they know some of the ah, Hmong culture. Like ah, shaman come in the house. And how we do respecting? You know the way [ ]. Setting. And um, some of the ah, marriage celebration of the wedding party for Hmong, certain Hmong culture. And ah, some of New Year's celebration. Ah, New Year worship and, in the house. They know some of it. Not very good, but they learn some. X: So they all went to public school here, and…" T: Yes. Went to public school. X: And I guess your daughter's at the university now. T: Oh, yeah. I told her that based on English, she's better than I do now. Yeah. And there's writing. She's very good. Myself, not really good. It's only passable. My mind's good, anyway. X: So I suppose it gets better and better with each generation that'll be here. Being immersed in it. So have you seen any changes in Oshkosh since you've lived here? T: Well, you know not really, not very much. Not very changed a lot. Only change, I think is population kinda increase. And very first time we come here, we see ah, see no black people. And right now, they kinda move in. They are very good too. But you know, in the past, seven years ago, I not really see anyone and if I wanted to see them, I have to go to Milwaukee. But right now we have some black people move in here. But I think it's kinda getting very city. Very like it too. X: So it's a positive experience for you? T: Yeah. That's on something I see. And I see many ah, Spanish, Mexican, came over here, or Hmong move in here and black people move in here. So in my school, I have ah, many different students. Yeah. And I have a friend, black people here, he's a very good friend for me. They good too. X: Wonderful. Well that's really neat. So do you have any particular stories about Oshkosh, anything that sticks out in your mind as an experience you've had here? T: Ah, not really. It's only um, I think some, I seen [ ] for more. For more education for public school. That's my [experience], and I work in there because ah, before the Hmong population still lower than today. And we have um, less bilingual teacher assisting. And not even, yes they're teaching but today, I think I seen a couple of them and become I guess, a teacher. So that's the only change I see. Yes. X: So you'd like to see even more of that in the public school? Okay. Is um, so the classes that you had taught and that they teach now, are they bilingual classes mostly for Hmong or is that what you meant by there is some Spanish…? T: Mostly Hmong. This year we only have only ah, Mexican student. So that's for Spanish. X: Okay. The rest is all Hmong? I see. Okay. So have you seen the downtown change at all? What are your impressions of downtown Oshkosh? T: Yeah. Ah, you know I think before, old buildings and um, since today, I see a lotta tore down and I think not today, but I think last year will be a lot of change. X: I see. Change for the good? T: Yes. The ah, the city office um, where City Hall, they try to make a lot of place for people. You know like ah, they will do something there. And that will be very different from last ten years, I think. X: Alright. Let's see now, and how did you travel when you first came here? Did you drive? T: Ah, I drove in Thailand but in here when I come, I have to have my license. My brothers-in-law and my sister, they, they provide transportation for us. And after two months, I think I did my permission and three months later I go my license. So make it easy for my family to … X: So now you both, you and your wife drive? T: Yeah. X: Okay. T: I and my wife, three and two, two, two sons. Five in my family driving. X: I see. Lot of… T: Money. X: Insurance must be high on that. So then these are your two youngest? T: Yes. That's two youngest. X: I see. How old are they? T: Um, the old, the youngest sister is, she, she born in 1991. And the youngest one 1993. X: About eight and ten years old? I see. And where do they go to school? T: Go same school I work. Usually go to Merrill School. But I work in Lincoln. So um, they say okay we can prove your kids go there. It easy for you. And I take there. X: Okay. I see. And what do your kids like to do for fun? T: They um, they like a lotta things. Roller skate, and ah, volleyball and um they like to go, they like to go for a walk. Yeah, the walk they like the best. And ah, they play ball. X: I just interviewed somebody last week I think it was, who ah, a gentleman I know from Jamaica and he said he plays on a team called African United. A soccer team. And he said that a lot of the Hmong in the area have tournaments or hold tournaments for the club soccer that he's in. T: Yeah. I think um, soccer ball is the, the primary for Hmong people. They like to soccer more than volleyball. But I would, compared to this United States here, would be like football, tennis you know. So was ah, you know, those kinda games or sport. They like. But in my country soccer is big game. X: It was big there too, huh? Well that's kinda carried over here now. That's really neat. So it was pretty easy for you to find a job then after you had…? T: Um, not really easy. Yeah, but to myself I think um, it's a easy. I think, I don't know. It's lucky or what. But I have on good recommendation from my boss before I came here. I work for um, the American Embassy in Bangkok. Who was searching for the missing in action. You know, soldier who ah, pilots who is missing in World War II in Laos. And ah, I worked with them for I think, three year there. And as an assistant investigation for the people who are the refugee who just came from ah, Laos. That ah, who knew an Americans, probably in jail or someplace in Laos. And also, I also worked for the, we call um, in Laos we call Yellow Ring {Is this a reference to Agent Orange?}. You know chemical that they use in Laos to, for the ah, um resistance after Communists came over. And the resistance, you know just come out. Because we worked for ah, we used to serve in ah, CIA. And um, the communists kinda try to get the people who served for CIA. Even you know, they put in jail or they wanna kill them. So many people cannot stay with them. And they just fled into the jungle and you know, And um, resisting them. And those, they use ah, they use chemical. You know the airplane drop and spray all over the jungle. And many people got sick and die from those. And the American Embassy have program that's we search those um, problem in people, something like that. I work there. I work for them. And when, before I come here, they give me a very good recommendation. And I think that helped me to find job. So, I think this country is not bad because they really respect the recommendation. And what we have, credit report. X: So working for the embassy, pretty ah, opens up a few doors for you, definitely. You might have had an easier time compared to… T: Compared to other people. Yes. Like someone who came here before, um without any experience or working with ah, [serving in soldier or something like that, they might prepare the education to get job]. X: Wonderful. Well, let's see. Questions here for people that have lived here since they, or have, are older. Because they kinda like wanted some people to be older and talk about where were the train depots and not really ah…. I asked you all the questions. T: I maybe talked more than you asked. X: No. Not at all. No, you did a wonderful job. Actually I still have a lot of time on my tape, so I guess the only other thing that I didn't necessarily ask you is what is the best thing that has happened to you since you've been here? T: What is that? X: The best thing or the, your favorite thing or…? T: Oh. I don't know. The best I like, go to school. That's ah, what I choose first. And I like to teach [ ] I like. Because I teaching in Thailand for seven years. And since I on my way to Bangkok, I help the ah, we call it the world education. And um. I only, I also teaching but most of the teach, I teach ah, Laotian and Lao. Laotian and Hmong. But, came here, I also teaching. It's only, I need right now I think I need ah, 35. License. And like I told [Donald], that's ah, I choose my programs. Mechanical design, and how do you think, I work whole life with the people and teach in the class. And what I do. They say, "Oh!" Teacher can have another idea that will be good and I think over. I should, I should go for ah, teacher license. Because I think I would do, I do, I would do better in teaching. X: Well, it sounds like you pretty much have a knack for it. T: I try right now I change my mind. I ah, postpone my mechanical design program. And I turned to college here to see ah, any, they have a funding and program for my language [ ] And I try to go there if I can enter that program. X: Oh, I'm sure they… T: and I think I will pursue that. Because I, I think if I teach, I help on Doctor Holmes, teaching um, in the city here now for five years. Then I, probably had got my license already. So if I teach there and maybe they, I have credit. So, maybe go fast. X: Yeah, it might. That's wonderful. And have you had any bad things happen to you here? T: Well, bad things um, not really much. But it's only I think um, the money. Income is a bad thing. Because ah, today society, people's life not easy. We use our technology, use machine, we use something computer, something like that. And um, for me I, my knowledge um, not enough English. And um, I think I want to pursue those. But my, my age is already you know, gone so far. So my age is already work. And I still go to school. So that's the one thing in my life go too fast. And my education is what kinda fall behind. That's a bad thing for me. I feel bad because I cannot um, speaking very good. And I cannot catch up the high degree people. And I know something I can do about it. I can't do it because no license. In this country we really need the license to be you know, work at something, the job require it. So that's one thing that's not good for me. X: I see. It's almost like you feel that… T: My family and my wife cannot do all the things, the job, I feel bad. X: Right. T: But then I can, I can [ ] my life. I love her and you know, like I told her [ ] the job work and no job, I can take care of all that. You stay home and you know, prepare everything in house. That's it. X: You must feel really qualified to be a teacher and get paid teacher's salary but the fact that you're not licensed… T: That's what I feel bad about myself. I thought I should do something. Because I been teaching experience about 15 or you know, 16 years. Ah, like me, if I go back to my country, will be very good job already. Yeah, but to this country, I still a student. But anyway, I will follow what this country do. That will be okay for me too. X: Well great! I guess that's really all I had to ask you… T: …education, call for, you know I go to see student. I'm not a student, their old teacher. You know. Some [ ] teacher. So ah, X: So was that a volunteer position then? T: Um, for me? No. They pay me too. But not at teacher's salary. Teaching…professional…not [ ] teacher. X: You're actually teaching [ ] like high school teachers? Hmong language and culture, or college professors? T: What you mean? X: Ah, your class tonight? T: Oh, tonight? X: Or is it other Hmong that you're teaching? T: No. You know, Donald and me, same class. So um, with other things and Donald can take [ ] about [ ] to Hmong, language Hmong, you know. Hmong language. Hour, and I take it about… X: I see. T: It's kinda college student and some already teachers. Be in class too. Some tough questions from them [ ] like I told Lee, if I not decide to teaching, I will let Lee teaching these things. Oh, I can do that too but ah, I think ah, for me no question. No problem for the question coming up to me, you know. Only ask for Hmong culture or [ ] Hmong people. It's okay for me. I don't think it's as hard for me. X: Harder for her? She [ ] T: She's too young, she learn a lot of that. X: I see. Well, wonder… {The interview ends here}. INDEX Personal history, employment in Thailand 1,8 Education and employment in Oshkosh 2,8 Teaching the Hmong in Oshkosh 2 Language adjustments 2 Immigration to U.S. from Thailand 2 Other family members come to Oshkosh 3 Racial prejudice 3,4 Religious practices 4 Hmong festivals 5 Experiences with Vang's children 5 Changes in Oshkosh 6 Changes involving other races in Oshkosh 6 Impressions of downtown Oshkosh 7 Family life, children's activities and schooling 7 Discussion of career 9 Vang's language problems restrict his career 10,11
Oral History Interview with Txerthoj Vang -PIONEERS AND IMMIGRANTS -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Vang Family

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Last modified on: December 12, 2009