This page features the raw, unedited interview.
In April of 1975, with the collapse of South Vietnam seemingly inevitable, U.S. President Gerald Ford announced Operation Babylift, an initiative to evacuate more than 3,000 infants and children from Saigon. Here, Devaki Ananda Murch shares her personal connection to the evacuation effort with another Vietnamese refugee, Thoa Nguyen, who left Saigon with her family when she was 11 years old.
Thoa Nguyen: Hi, my name is Thoa Nguyen. I am 51 years old. Today's date is February 27th, 2015. We are in Seattle, Washington, and I'm here with my friend Devaki. We just met for the first time this morning.
Devaki Murch: My name is Devaki Murch, and I am 40 years old, and today is -- I'm getting use do that. Today is February 27th, 2015, and we are in Seattle, and we are new friends.
Thoa Nguyen: So, Devaki, can you tell me when or where you were in Vietnam when you left in 1975?
Devaki Murch: So, in 1975, I was nine months old at the fall of Saigon in April, and I was in an orphanage in Saigon, having coming from Southern Vietnam, from Vinh Long, and brought up as an infant. I was slated for adoption through Friends for All Children, which was an adoption agency based in Boulder, Colorado, and I was assigned to a family in Hawaii in January of '75, and then left in 1970 -- or January of 1975, I was assigned to my mother, and then in April, I left.
Thoa Nguyen: Can you kind of, going through the process and the event that happened, during the time that you left Vietnam?
Devaki Murch: So leaving Vietnam was a little crazy because of the ending of the war and the fall of Saigon, and there was an effort by President Ford that was, more or less, a PR effort at the end of the war, to bring as many orphans as he could through this Operation Baby Lift to the United States and having them being adopted. I was a part of that campaign to do that. And so what they did was the United States had worked with different orphanages and brought Lockheed aircraft to bring in a C-5A cargo plane to airlift all the babies out. They loaded all of the infants on to the plane and it was a two-story cargo plane. So it was actually about the size of the football field, and it was built for helicopters and tanks.
Thoa Nguyen: Wow.
Devaki Murch: And what they did was, they loaded the infants on the top. There were maybe four seats, and there were -- everyone who could walk in the bottom of the plane. And so they were just on -- you know, mats, and the plane was in the air for about an half an hour after taking off from Saigon, and it had reached full altitude and then the plane, all of a sudden, something happened. And the rear cargo door blew out. And what had happened was that the hydraulics actually broke. So the rear cargo door blew out and the plane belly flopped, and landed. It landed and then hopped across the Saigon River, and then skidded and exploded, more or less. And so everyone on the bottom floor died. You didn't know this, did you? OK, everyone on the bottom floor, more or less, I think except for one, passed away. And those who were on the top were infants, and who was not -- some of them were brain damaged from rapid decompression, and lack of oxygen, or physically damaged from the crash, but everyone was plucked out of the rice paddy and then brought back to Saigon, and brought -- ended up being delivered to the United States at the Presidio in San Francisco, where President Ford came and brought the babies off, and I was on that plane.
Moderator: You were on the plane that crashed? Can you say that -- I wasn't --
Devaki Murch: I was on the plane that crashed. So, yes, I was on a plane that crashed, but since then my life has been pretty spectacular.
Thoa Nguyen: So, it's a miracle, you know? And how old were you then?
Devaki Murch: I was nine months old.
Thoa Nguyen: OK, and so the second time, when they transferred you back to America, was that on a plane, or different kind?
Devaki Murch: That, I believe, was on a Pan Am passenger plane that got commissioned to bring us over. One of the most amazing things, because I had gone back to Vietnam -- and I never really thought about the whole plane crash, as an adult, it's that I had been assigned to my mother when I was a baby. So in January. So she had been waiting for four months for her baby. I get loaded on to a plane. You get informed that your child is now on this plane, and the next thing that you know is the plane crashed. So there was the time when she found out that the plane crashed with her baby on it, to either being in San Francisco, and not knowing if your baby is going to come off the plane. Or, getting a call that says, "Come pick up your baby. She's OK." But I had never thought about that moment in time before in my life.
Thoa Nguyen: It must have been like devastating for your mom to hear the news, and then three days later, find out that your baby arrived. So that was like a miracle.
Devaki Murch: Maybe go get a baby, yes. And so she -- my parents have always -- my parents and my family have always raised me with just the knowledge of being completely and totally blessed with this life, with the family, with the love that we have, and that no matter where they are, they're always with me.
Thoa Nguyen: And so, wow, that's pretty amazing. I mean, and then since then, you came back to Vietnam, and then --
Devaki Murch: I went back to Vietnam with a group of other adoptees, and the women who actually brought us over from Friends for All Children -- and we met up with a bunch of the caretakers who took care of us in the orphanages in Vietnam, and traveled around the country for a few weeks with them.
Thoa Nguyen: OK, wow, that's pretty amazing.
Moderator: So did you know if you sustained any injuries from the --
Devaki Murch: Not that I can tell. I mean, basically, when I was -- when I was brought to the US, I was weak. I mean, I think that my tongue stuck out, and I couldn't hold my head up. I was like a little noodle. I was full of worms. But, other than that, I was fairly healthy. But I think that was just from being in an orphanage.
Moderator: And you said that the people at the bottom of the plane, they died. Were they babies?
Devaki Murch: They were. They could walk. So they were children that could walk.
Thoa Nguyen: So they could be toddlers, or --
Devaki Murch: Toddlers, and up, yes.
Moderator: Do you know how many people --
Devaki Murch: I don't know the exact numbers, but one of the most amazing things, with the Internet and Facebook, it's that there are an unbelievable amount of resources out there, and I can get those numbers for you, but there's 300-some-odd people on the plane, itself, including the caretakers, and maybe 100-something that survived. There have been gatherings of all of the baby -- the plane crash survivors. There was a whole lawsuit that we went to the hearings and everything in Washington, D.C., but I have never really been a part of that whole community. I met one of the guys on the trip to Vietnam, and he's amazing. He is just happy and healthy, has two beautiful children. His name is Tom Reynolds. He lives in Baltimore.
Moderator: So and by then you didn't know anything about the nurses or the caretakers.
Devaki Murch: No, no, not really.
Thoa Nguyen: Did you ever get to go back and then -- you know, meet back with -- you know, your caretaker and your nurse, or the nuns and all that?
Devaki Murch: So when we went back to Vietnam with the whole group, we actually traveled around the country with a bunch of the caretakers from the orphanages who, during the time of the war, were anywhere from 14 years old to 30 years old, and then now 30 years later, they're in their forties to sixties. And there were several women there that took care of each of us individually, that remembered the babies, that we were -- that they took care of. There was one woman who definitely gravitated toward hanging out with me -- who, when we took the picture, she looked -- definitely like family, because -- you know, growing up in Hawaii, there are so many Korean, Japanese, Filipino people that you're always just some kind of mix of Asian, but there's not a lot of real, true pure Vietnamese people, that when I've seen Vietnamese people, I'm like, "Ah, I don't really feel like I look like them." I don't really look like anybody, but then when I went back to Vietnam, and I saw these pictures, I'm like, "Oh, I look like them, wow." So there is that sense of that was pretty amazing to find people who, physically, you actually look like, which I had never experienced before.
Thoa Nguyen: Wow.
Devaki Murch: So, I now would love to hear your story about how you and your family left Vietnam.
Thoa Nguyen: So, I was 11, just a happy child. I think I was in fifth grade. I was doing a lot of tutoring, getting ready to take the big exam to get admitted into the Vietnamese high school -- a middle school, but it's girls-only, and it was right in the middle of Saigon, and it was pretty prestigious, and so I was just -- you know, every day I would go to school, then go to a private tutor, and so I was always riding bike all over Saigon, just being happy. And then in the month of April, ironically, I did hear about the news about the plane crash, with the -- being 11 years old, I usually didn't pay attention much to the news, and I thought that -- wow, that was pretty bad, and I remember that news, and then -- you know, I ride my bike around the city all the time, just going from -- you know, where we lived was called Gu Sa Tin Da. It's actually like a suburban area, with new condominiums, and then we would go through Vietnam, and it would just take me like an hour to get to school, and I noticed there was a lot of sandbags that were starting to get put in corners of buildings, and roads. And I thought, this does not look normal, because we never see anything like this. Then, I kind of heard the news, like, "Oh, you know," like Da Nang is losing it's -- the Communists have taken over Da Nang. They're moving -- you know, in closer and closer to Saigon. And I have never paid attention to any news, and I thought, "This is very alarming," being 11 years old. Then I noticed that my dad -- he's in the Navy. He's a Navy Officer. At night, he would come home with huge maps and just nighttime, late night, just looking through the maps, going -- because he's a navigator, and just going through some of these, and like he was planning out a route. And, you know, and then he's starting to -- this is all happening in April. Then he start making all of us backpacks with -- you know, necessary stuff in there, and clothing. You know, a pair of socks -- you know, underwear and all of that, and we would have it lined up in the hallway with our names on it. And I thought, "Oh, OK, we're going somewhere," and I didn't think much of it. And so, you know, everything was just very normal. There was no sign of something gonna happen, until the day, the day that we left. It was -- I remember it was after dinner. We ate dinner at our house, and we noticed there was as big fire across the lake, and it was sugar cane. It was all black smoke. So my dad said, "Well, let's go down -- let's go to Saigon, visit your grandma." You know, and at that time, it's not like you have telephone to call and say, "Hey, what's up?" So we went down to the basement and we noticed there are like all these people wearing black clothing, and they're just sitting all over the -- all underneath the basement. And so it was very odd. So we got in the car, and we start driving off, thinking, "Going to Grandma." And my brother makes my dad stop. He forgot his bag. And I said, "No, we're not going anywhere yet," and he said, "No, I have to have my bag," and so my dad stopped, and he ran back into grab his bag, and little did we know that was the last time we -- that was our last time at our house, and we didn't realize that. And so we went on driving through this big bridge. That's the only bridge that connects us to Saigon, and there were Army -- with the jeeps and the rifles, and whatever, and they said, "After you pass, you're not coming back," and I think at that point, we knew there was something going on, that -- so we -- you know, we got on to the bridge, drive into Saigon, and the whole city was just like getting ready for the -- I mean, it was just a storm. People were -- you never see anything like it. I have never seen anything like it, still. You can see the frantic looks on everybody's face, and people, it's like trying to shut down, grab things, as much as they can, get a hold of their kids, pack, close the door, bunker down. Whatever. There were just -- everything was just chaotic. We drove through the city. There were -- and, actually, there were -- you know, going through it, we somehow passed this little market on the way. People were all over the place. Things are just being trashed. Everything, just all over the place. We know there was a nun standing in the middle of the street, and she was just looking like, "What's going on? What's going on?" And she was just like caught right in the middle of the storm. She didn't know what to do. So my dad pulled over and my dad speaks English. So he asked her -- you know, can we help her, and she says, "Well, can you give me a lift to Saigon," and he said, yes, that's where we're heading. So he -- you know, we took her, and then we went to Saigon, dropped her off, and then drove into Cho Lon, and that's where my grandmother lived, and that's where all my aunts and uncles were at. So we came in there, and it was strangely -- everyone was just like -- you come in. You know there's nothing -- something is going on, and my mom -- my grandma is saying, "Well, your grandfather just left -- already left yesterday," with the three -- my two aunts and uncles. They took off by plane because he worked at the embassy, and he had paperwork. So they could just go, and for some reason, they didn't have a marriage license, and so he couldn't take her. So he didn't want to tell her that he was going to leave. So they just quietly packed. Or, he told the kids to quietly pack, and then took off. And then that's all we know. So my grandma was very upset, and then all my other aunts and uncles -- still there. That was from the first husband, all my other aunts and uncles. They were just -- you know, kind of saying, "Well, you know, people around us are packing. I don't know where they're all going," like peoples, the neighbors. We don't know what's going on. There's something. I think everyone knows that it's imminent, that something is happening. So my grandmother -- my dad said, "Everybody pack, we gotta go," and so I just remember it was like I was standing in the middle of the room and just watching everyone just running upstairs, running downstairs, packing. It was just chaotic, and I was just 11 years old, just standing there, just absorbing it, and just saying this has never happened before, right? So we all pack. We're ready to go. It was getting maybe seven -- eight-ish, getting dark, and we're still waiting for my aunt who has a six-month-old boy, baby, and her husband's not home. He's in like a special Army force, and I think he's either got killed, or he's stuck somewhere that we can get a hold of. And we try to wait for him, but it's getting dark, and there's no way. And my dad said, "Well, we have to go, otherwise we can't." So she decides to leave without her husband. So I -- at this point, I mean, eventually -- you know, later on, he was never been found. So she lost contact with him since.
Devaki Murch: Wow.
Thoa Nguyen: So we packed everyone in. So, I believe, there was like 13 of us, and we have to pack 11 people in a bug. It was a bug, a white bug, and there's two left. So my uncle took my brother on the back of his motorbike and followed the car. So we got on. Everyone packed. You know, we just leave. And of course everyone can pack, but we are not in our house any more. So we have nothing on us. You know, just whatever our clothes. That was it. And so we got to the -- it was -- you know, my grandmother's house wasn't that far away from the Navy base. So we got there. There were barricades. There was a -- you know, security. They're not -- they're not letting anyone through. So we drove up, and the guy at the front was kind of like yelling, very, very irritated, very -- you know, you can tell when people are just really angry, because they want -- they don't want to be there. They want to be with their family, and pack, because they're still there working. Anything will set them off, and at this point, no one is really running the show, you can so. So he was yelling at my dad, "Get out of here!" You know, "You're not allowed to be in here any more," and so my dad has civilian clothes on, of course. He didn't think he was going to come in to work. So he's going to -- he opened the door, and he's going to try to come out, try to talk to that guy. And we were all -- we were just like, "Oh, please be careful." So he stepped out, and the guy was just very hostile. He was like using his rifle, and just kind of pointed at my dad, and just said, "Get out! Get out!" And then he looked at my dad, and he said, "What the --?" You know, and then he said -- he recognized my dad. He said my dad's name, "What are you doing here? Why are you still out here? Get -- get in!" And so my dad jumps in the car, starts the car and we just ran through. And I looked in the back. I remember saying, "Oh, please, let my uncle through with my brother," and so they let him in. You know, and so we -- we drove in. It was getting darker. It was around 8:30-ish. It's starting to get dark. My dad pulled in to the port, the Navy port. He has his office in there. So he says, "Well, let me go in there and see what I can -- what I'm going to grab." He basically said to bye to all his buddies, and came out with a cup of coffee. He did not bring a photo album that he had packed in there. He forgot. You know, he just left. I think at that time you really don't know if -- whatever you're going to grab in your hand, this is what you're going to bring. You can't figure out what that would be. And so he came out with just a cup of coffee. We start -- get -- you know, to start walking toward the port. And at this point, it's all -- it's like a highway, really wide, and just packed of people. I mean, just this pack of people -- try to get through this two-feet wide railing, to get onto the ship. There were two Navy gray ships. I think they belong to either Americans, or they're Vietnamese ships. They're Navy ships. I remember that they were gray, really big, and everyone -- it was just like thousands and thousands of people packed, trying to get through this two-feet wide.
Moderator: Do you remember that vividly, or?
Thoa Nguyen: Vividly. I mean, it was starting to get dark. Everyone just packed, pushing. My mom yelling. Grabbing little children and telling me to -- like, "You hold on to your sister." You hold on to this. We just grab, and keep pushing, and keep pushing, but as we try to get through, we can't get through because people are pushing so hard. We can't go through this little -- tiny little railing to get into the ship. While the planes were like flying through, above us, coming into Vietnam that night, to Saigon.
Devaki Murch: Wow.
Thoa Nguyen: And there were like -- dropping bombs. They were shooting above us, going past, getting to the city. I mean, that was the night that either you leave, or you can't, and we're on the nick of times. And people are just -- I just -- are just frantic, and were just like crazy. You can't through, and my dad -- I remember, my dad. He basically -- he pretty much was the leader type, because he literally climbed on top of that railing and starts yelling, and screaming, and telling everyone, "If you just --." You know, try to not push, and just get through, then we all can get on. And he was just saying that over and over, and trying to help people in. And so that bottleneck is starting to pass and people are getting on to the ship, and getting on to the other ship. And I don't know how long that takes, but finally we got on the ship. And my dad was in the team of one of the Navy ships. That was his ship. So he was the navigator, and so finally they took off. And when the ship took off, I look back at the city and that was my first time every leaving the city, because I never -- ever view it that way, looking in the city. It was dark. It has fires and lights, and it was just -- a very surreal photograph that I still remember what it looked like. And so the ship -- I think I was -- I don't know how long, but that was the same night -- a couple nights -- a couple hours. I think they -- I don't know how long it takes, but they got to where -- I think. I forget where they were at. I was just too little. They had to take down the -- they had to take down the flags, the Vietnamese flags, and it was -- I know it was very emotional because my dad was one of the officers that was doing all this. So he was -- I mean, I think he -- they were all just choked up. They just couldn't believe it that they lost to -- you know, the country, basically. You know, basically realized you have no home, and -- and I think, at that moment, I think it was something that you will never have experienced in your lifetime, that you realize you do not have a country. And you do not belong. And I think that was pretty scary. And at the -- we all thought we were pretty safe, at that point. You know, thinking we are out, we're good. Then my dad comes back, and he was all stressed, more upset. We're like, "What happened?" Well, one of the captains wanted to go back, and we're like, "What do you mean he wants to go back." He's afraid. He doesn't know what's out there. He just wants to go back. And so we're like -- you know, the -- and so then he come back -- and so, basically, the whole team, they split in half. One argue want to stay. The other half want to go back. And I thought to myself, "Oh, my god, really? Gosh, this is like it can't be happening," after all we went through, and they want to go back? Because you know you will be killed, or executed. There's no way. Being 11, I even sensed that. But luckily, for some strange reason, there was a ship -- or something, a smaller vessel that's heading back. There was one. And so they communicate with that one, and whoever wanted to leave -- there was a small group that wanted to go back. They got on to that vessel and went back.
Devaki Murch: Wow.
Moderator: Did you ever find out what happened?
Thoa Nguyen: We, yes. I mean, this is like probably the first time I talk about this. So I have no idea if -- what happened to that vessel, and then we move on. Basically, that's how we got out of Vietnam, and our family.
Moderator: Where did you arrive to?
Thoa Nguyen: We, I think we -- if I remember correctly, somewhere we got out of the water of Vietnam, so then when we got to the International Water part -- water, body of water, ocean, we got picked up by a Navy ship from America, and they had us switch ships. So, actually, I think they -- we went to Thailand, I think, and we left the ship there, and then we went on to an American ship, and then went on to Guam, and that's where our first refugee camp was, at Guam. And then being there for, I think, a month or three months. I'm not sure. And then we pick -- we get to pick our own sponsor, which state we want to go. But I think first they have to put you in -- we went to Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania for a refugee camp, and then from there, we got our sponsor, and then we went to Colorado. And that's when our life starts. Colorado.
Devaki Murch: And then how old were everyone in your family, the -- all the children, when you came out, when you were leaving Vietnam?
Thoa Nguyen: I was 11, so I was the oldest. And then my next sister, I think she's nine and a half, and then my brother how is seven, and my another brother was five and a half, and then a -- my sister, who was three. So, yes, there were five of us, and my dad was -- I think he was like 35 at that time.
Moderator: Can we talk about maybe the arriving into the U.S. and like how that was like, and how you picked the family and the sponsor?
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, so we picked a family. I think it was a -- there's a different organization -- that sponsorship, and I think this is something to do with a church, or something. Unfortunately, our relationship with them was very quick because we -- maybe get to know them, maybe the first month, and then after that we never heard from them again. So we basically -- we just on our own, from the beginning.
Devaki Murch: And so how long were you in Colorado?
Thoa Nguyen: We went -- we got there. I remember it was a wintertime, because it was snowing, and I was just like -- amazing. I'd never seen snow before, and I was just so happy. Since then, I -- we stayed there until '75 -- and I stayed there from '75 to 1991. So we were there for a like a long time, and that's basically where I grow up, and go to school.
Devaki Murch: Where in Colorado?
Thoa Nguyen: Aurora, Colorado. Not that far from Denver.
Devaki Murch: Right, and growing up in Colorado, just coming over at 11 years old, what was that like, just assimilating into this new culture, and not just freezing cold of winter, but a new language, a new culture of peers, and students, and being 11?
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, it was -- I mean, it was really fun. I mean, I thought, because being a child, you thought, "Wow, this is cool. This is adventurous," you know, going to another country. And just amazed at -- you know, the grocery store. I remember the first time going to like the -- I think then they called it like King Super.
Devaki Murch: It still is.
Thoa Nguyen: OK, and I was like, "Oh, my god, it's so big," and every time I grab something I thought, "I can't leave it because someone might steal it," and my dad said, "No, no, you -- don't worry about it. You're going to pay when you get out and then it becomes yours. So don't worry about people stealing inside the grocery store," and I was just amazed. I mean, that was a big thing for me was like the grocery store. It was amazing, and then shopping. Going to school was -- you know, it's hard at first because you didn't know any English, and so there was a lot of help with ESL and the -- I was at fifth grade then, so there was -- you know, I was still in middle school. So luckily, I wasn't in like high school, but there was a lot of help at the school, teaching us -- speaking English, and I just remember being in math class a lot and being in art class a lot. Since those are the two things you can relate to without having a lot of language. So I was really good in math and I was really good in art, and then after that, I mean -- you know, and then it didn't take us long to really acclimate and just get into the culture, because you were so young. I mean, I think we start to speak the language, maybe within a year. By the time we get to high school, we were just like any other kids.
Moderator: Were there other Vietnamese families in the area?
Thoa Nguyen: We were probably the first family and then later on we found maybe two more families. So there were not that many. The first three years, or five years, there was very -- like a handful of Vietnamese. And I mean, I remember, because you couldn't even find fish sauce. That was like not in the grocery store, yes. Yes, there were not many Vietnamese.
Moderator: And then your family stayed in Colorado.
Thoa Nguyen: We stayed all the way until -- well, my sister is still there, and my parents would have stayed there, but they passed away. Yes, and then we moved on. I mean, we moved out of Denver, Colorado after college, and we went to Seattle. That just -- just for a career, and just -- you know, but --
Devaki Murch: Wow, I think that's pretty amazing. I just think the whole -- your ability to have a true history and the recollection of all of that, and the knowledge of where you're from, and how you got to be here, and just the details. Like, I have none of that. What I know, my history is from the New York Times front page articles, and what I find online. That's what I know. I know that I was raised with an unbelievable amount of love, in a beautiful place, and have a great family, but I don't have any of those details. Which, I'm fine with, because I've just had everything I need, but as far as the details of Vietnam, I only know what I can read and what I can find out, but nothing is truly concrete and detailed. And I think that's just pretty awesome that you have that.
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, and I think because -- because I have that experience, knowing where I come from, and what we had to go through to have the freedom, and have the education that we can do now, it makes us very -- like, I don't want to say overachiever, but we just thrive. Like we knew that this was our chance, and this is what you can do, and what -- it's just like a sponge. You know, we just grasp at what we could do. And knowing what you go through, and experience it -- it just makes you a stronger person, and I don't think that -- I think that changed me. I mean, if I was in Vietnam and never had this experience, I think I would just become like a teacher, or something. But, because of what I went through, and that you know you can do so much, or -- you're just not as afraid. I think you just are more of a risk taker, and you're just -- you just have a better understanding of life, and it's kind of -- you know, because of this First Days Project, it kind of brought me to think about all of this, and I just realized I have never really shared this with my kids. Like they don't even know. They just know I'm Vietnamese. They didn't know what happened, and know how all this is happening.
Devaki Murch: Yes, I kind of -- so, years ago, I was talking about the whole plane crash thing with one of my friends who actually had survived cancer at two years old. And we were sitting there talking about how we exist, how we live, and it was just what you're talking about. How we choose to thrive in life, and we just came to this idea of what it is -- is like having this secret ability to fly, and it truly is, because once you defy death, and you're here, and you can just open your eyes, and you're -- like, "Oh, I'm here, still. How did I get here?" That you know that you're here for a reason, and I was always told that you're here for a reason, and I think having that knowledge of -- and gratitude for every day, and for everything that we have, and having each other, really brings a completely different dimension to how you interact with others, how much you appreciate everything that you have. And I think that, definitely, we all have that. And it's just that's so important to share with your family, and for the kids. It's such a rich history.
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, and I -- we -- I mean, I thought about this too. I think, with my brother and sister, which I will start talking to them about it, and have them -- encourage them to talk about it, but I don't know if they this recollection, because they were so young, and I --
Devaki Murch: You're the keeper of the knowledge.
Thoa Nguyen: Right, and I -- and then both my parents passed away, so now I'm thinking, "Do you guys know all these details," or am I the only one? And then, and maybe share some experience with them and kind of like -- because we were so busy trying to merge into this culture, and just do, do, do and become and become, that we tend to forget where we came from, and I thought -- you know, it's always good to know where you came from, because you have so much more appreciation to where I am at right now.
Devaki Murch: Completely.
Thoa Nguyen: And I still -- sometimes, I wake up in the morning saying, "I can't believe I'm from Vietnam." You know, for what you look at -- what I'm doing now, and I just didn't even know that place exists, because it's so far away.
Devaki Murch: And how did you feel when you've done trips back?
Thoa Nguyen: Memories just start coming back, like surprisingly my language gets better, too. It's like, "Oh, I can speak Vietnamese much better now," and just things just come back to you. It's just naturally. It's just like, "Oh, yes, I remember this. Why didn't I -- I forgot about this," you know? So I don't let it -- like, I'm not hang up on to -- like, "Oh, I used to be from this," and you know. You know, I try not to make that as a negative thing, instead making it into a positive thing. Just because I'm from Vietnam, this is why I am so much -- you know, more than what I was. It just want me to do more, to help, really, when I go back to Vietnam. It just -- I just see so much, so much helps and needs that you could do. So, I mean, but that's just me. You know, I come back and I'm like -- you know, "I could do this," or I could do that.
Devaki Murch: Right, when I actually went back to Vietnam, one of the most amazing things that I felt was just the sharp distinction of the alternate reality. I mean, how easily I could not have been picked up from where I was, and ended up at the orphanage. How easily I could have been left at the orphanage. How easily I could have never been adopted.
Thoa Nguyen: Exactly.
Devaki Murch: You know, usually people have these forks in life that are kind of gradual and nice little bends in the road. Mine are like, get adopted, don't get adopted.
Thoa Nguyen: A minute, a next minute.
Devaki Murch: Exist, don't exist. Crash, live. And when you really look at that, and when I was back in Vietnam, I think I was crossing a street, and I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I had my hair in a ponytail, and I was -- there was another girl crossing the street at the same time, and I remember just kind of like looking at her, thinking that could so easily be me. She could be her. I mean, we could just be each other, with -- you know, so easily. And you do, you see all these Amerasian kids, and you just wonder, you know, what am I? Am I truly Vietnamese? I don't know. You know nothing, but it still feels so comfortable, yet unfamiliar, but very, very familiar. That was, I think, one of the most interesting things about going back to Vietnam, but it could have also been because I was raised in Hawaii, that I was comfortable with the culture. I was comfortable with the culture. I was comfortable with the people. And as a person that's more well traveled and curious, it's that it wasn't as scary to me as it -- it's that it just really felt very secure, very -- it felt very, very comfortable just being there. People thought that I actually -- they would start talking to me in Vietnamese, and I'm like, "No, I don't -- no, I do not speak Vietnamese," but for some reason they felt like I did. No, I don't, but it was definitely amazing just being a part of being there, and feeling it, because it definitely felt familiar.
Thoa Nguyen: I think it's just -- it's a miracle how you are still here, and on this earth. I mean --
Devaki Murch: So my mom always said there's got to be some reason, and I'm still looking for it.
Thoa Nguyen: And there was a child that comes to -- it was meant for her.
Devaki Murch: Exactly, and that is exactly that I was always meant to be her baby.
Thoa Nguyen: And that's not going to change.
Devaki Murch: And that was the only reason I exist I this world, is to be her baby, and then so be it. Because I've been trying to figure out what it is, and it might just be to be here for my parents.
Thoa Nguyen: And for us, like if that one incident where that gentleman did not let us go through that -- go through that port, the next morning it would be too late. We'd probably just be in Vietnam and -- you know, so our life would totally change, 180 degrees. So, on every turn, and life change, you just -- it's amazing.
Devaki Murch: It's pretty pivotal.
Moderator: I just have one question for you. When you moved to the U.S., do you remember your parents and what they were like, and were you worried about them, or --
Devaki Murch: Yes, they were, you know, working maybe two jobs, three jobs. They were never home because they just worked -- really worked really hard, because they want to be able to provide for us, and being in a new country is really difficult. But it was hard, but I would say maybe hard for the first year, the first three years, you know? Pretty resilient parents, you know, but I think from watching what they were doing, that -- you know, we understood what we have to do. I think, so difficulties sometimes, you know, like with -- you know, the language and the credit report things, where you have no credit, you know, and it's hard for my dad to believe that -- so for me to get credit, I have to borrow money to get credit. That's totally different than the Vietnamese thinking, you know? If you have cash, that's golden. That's king. Here, you have to borrow money to get credit. So you have to basically live off of a credit line to have more credit. So, yes, so just things like that, but, you know?
Moderator: Yes, also with your children, do you talk to them about your parents, or do you?
Thoa Nguyen: They do know, yes. And, unfortunately, my parents passed away a little early, before my last two, you know kids, so they didn't really get to know them, but the one that did know them -- my two oldest sons, you know, they were around -- when babysitting and taking care of them and would do little family things, in the eating and the celebrations. So, they get to share some of that tradition.
Devaki Murch: And you own a restaurant, or you've owned several, or just --
Thoa Nguyen: Several.
Devaki Murch: Several, and so how did you start in the restaurant business, and --
Thoa Nguyen: Just I love to cook. Oh, so it started out being, again --
Devaki Murch: Fish sauce.
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, and my parents always working, and I was 11, and I have -- and you know, you're supposed to cook for your siblings if you're the oldest. So every day, what to do with the chicken? I start chopping and today I'll make this sauce. Tomorrow, I'll make that sauce. And so that's how I can get in cooking. And so I become the one that's cooking in the family. And that's how I open my restaurant.
Devaki Murch: That's awesome. And so was Seattle your first restaurant?
Thoa Nguyen: Yes, at one time, I actually owned five at the same -- at one time. And, ironically, it started me with this Pan-Asian idea where you can do more than one cuisine in one restaurant. Because when I came to America, there wasn't just one food. There was a lot of foods. There was German, French, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese. Like I have never seen that. In Vietnam, there was just food. There wasn't different kinds of food. There was a little Chinese food, that was it. And so when I came to America, I was like, "Oh, my god, what is this?" It's a hamburger. Wow, you know? What's this? It's a hotdog. Oh, my god. You know, and I was just like – it's just that I would just explode inside with my imagination with all these foods, and I've never seen that. And so I think that triggered me into cooking, and I just keep going. I still just want to try more food, learn more food, you know it's just --
Moderator: So we're about out of time. Are there any final words that you'd like to say?
Devaki Murch: No, but I think -- well, thank you for the opportunity. I think this is amazing because, like your story, I think they definitely need to be told, and be able to have reasons to actually vocalize it, because it is all in everyone's minds and hearts, and to be shared and recorded in a way that can be passed on, is -- it's amazing, and it's definitely a gift that we can give to everyone. I mean, my story is kind of documented, but I don't -- I mean, I have my own personal stories, but I think yours is just so unique and amazing. I'm fascinated by it.
Thoa Nguyen: Thank you, and I think we are -- all of us, it's part of the history, and I think that's what makes it so unique, like I was part of the refugees that left Vietnam, going through the Navy port, where you're the infant that was on the plane.
Devaki Murch: Right.
Thoa Nguyen: And then crash and survive. It was all that made the history, and I think that's -- and I also want to say -- you know, like I would never forget all the kindness that I have -- came up with, with all these American GIs, the people -- I mean, we literally -- a bus drove through Indian Gap City in Pennsylvania. This is late night, like midnight, and on the street, both sides, residents were out with their sleeping clothes, waving and welcoming us, coming into the refugee -- and being 11, it was dark, and I was sleepy, and I'm looking out my window, and there's all these people with hats and booties and wearing long coats, and robes, and they were all waving. And we're like, "Is that what they're wearing here in America?" You know, and they were like waving at us, at night, just both sides of the street. You know, I mean, just the kindness that we run into along the way, it makes me even -- you know, just who I am. I just really, it's a gratitude, too.
Devaki Murch: Yes, definitely.
Thoa Nguyen: I mean, not only that we're going through this horrible experience, or this remarkable experience, and where we end up, but what the people along the way -- that help us. And I think that's an amazing journey.
Devaki Murch: Yes, it's an amazing journey.