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A Vietnamese Refugee On Today's Migrant Crisis

Dr. Vinh Chung has a sense of what people fleeing the Middle East are going through. He was once a refugee – 40 years ago as a child fleeing South Vietnam. Today on Think – in recognition of World Refugee Day – he spoke with Lauren Silverman about his family’s journey and the importance of looking at refugees as real people.  

The KERA Interview

Dr. Vinh Chung On …

… arriving in Arkansas:

“We knew no one. We showed up with just literally the clothing on our backs. We didn’t speak the language. We had no money, no friends, no job and we literally started from scratch … It was actually nice to be sleeping with a real roof over your head. But my family has ten people at this point. It was a small three bedroom rental house, but compared to what we’ve been through it might have been a four star hotel.”

… what being a refugee taught him:  

“You give up your previous life. You give up everything that you’ve worked your entire life for, your identity, your reputation, your influence and then you a start over from scratch in a country that you know nothing about. So for me what that taught me was that I had to work hard. My father spent most of his career working on the assembly line in this factory that made air conditioning units and growing up what my parents would say to other kids was that you have to study hard so that you can have a career that’s not on the assembly line.”

… when he felt American:

“When we came to this county I never felt like I belonged. I felt like a second class citizen because I looked different, I talked different, didn’t understand the culture…but I would say that it was 9/11 that I felt in my bones, in my core of who I am, that I’m an American. And it was because I was actually in Australia when 9/11 happened and every part of my body wants to come back to this country and defend it and to be with my family and to be with my neighbors and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m an American.”

… the Syrian refugee crisis:

“There are about 15 million people around Syria that have been displaced and I think that this is something that a lot of people are not aware of or it’s just something a lot of people don’t want to think about or talk about but the fact is that people today are going through exactly what my family went through about 40 years ago when we were refugees. We’re packed in these boast and we are fleeing war-torn nations and I think that until we see it as a human problem instead of just of a political one … I do not think that we would be addressing it appropriately …

When we discuss these issues instead of jumping in at the political problems, we must first of all treat it with the respect that it needs, which it is a human crisis. That these are real people living real lives with their real children just like us who are impacted because of war.”