He was a helicopter gunship pilot
in the South Vietnamese airforce
He can proudly trace his blood line
through many generations of royalty
One day, deep into the war,
his uncle sent a bus
“Get on the bus…now!”
Wife, 4 little children, other family members
got on the bus
They were taking nothing
The bus drove them into a US Military Base
A helicopter flew them to an aircraft carrier
Surprised, they were greeted with clothes and food
They did not understand what was happening
The next day, the war was over
They were the last ones out
A freighter took them to Camp Chaffee
Khai contacted Subud relatives who had made it to France
At Camp Chaffee, they and many others waited
for someone magical called a sponsor
One day there was a phone call for him
Someone named Lucien
“I don’t know anyone by that name.”
“It’s for you.”
Lucien was a Subud member from Chicago
He would sponsor the Phams.
The next day they had plane tickets to Chicago
They lived with Lucien for some months
He had a house painting business
and hired and taught Khai housepainting
My husband, Ren, spoke French, Khai’s other language
So this was a good connection
Ren took him around
Khai remembered Ren’s words after an interview:
“You will never get hired if you respond like that.
You must assert yourself.
You must convince them you are the best person for the job.”
Khai was learning a new culture.
Others offered support and guidance
The family moved to California,
he went to school, he held two jobs,
night watchman, cutting lawns, delivery man
Mimi his wife worked too.
“What was most important to you?” I asked
“School for the children
and getting training in something
that would be flexible.
I got advice to learn computers.
I didn’t like computers.
I was looking for something
that seemed more dependable.
I took one course in Systems Analysis.
That was it. I liked that.
I could figure everything out by understanding systems.”
He got an entry-level job in aerospace
and worked his way up.
They lived where the schools were best.
For 15 years, they didn’t have a vacation or a day off.
After 15 years, he was making enough
that he could take a vacation.
The children went to college:
a psychologist, a lawyer, an accountant, and a hotel manager
He’s proud of them.
We met two of the children
Khoi came to Boulder to interview Ren,
He’s making a film about the people
who helped his and other Vietnamese refugee families
MyKhan is a Senior Lawyer
married to Scott, an advertising executive
They live in LA with their two children
As we sat and talked, Khai said,
“Some people say I was wrong
not to teach my children Vietnamese.
Some people say I was right.
I wanted them to be Americans
with no accent. Now I teach Vietnamese
to my granddaughters.”
Scott, a Caucasian, said, “I want my daughters to be
proud to be Vietnamese. I’m not Vietnamese,
but I don’t think of myself as being in a cross-cultural marriage.”
Interested in cultural identity, I asked one of the daughters,
“Who are you?” To my surprise, everyone wanted to answer this question.
The 5-year-old: “I am a pianist.” The 9-year-old: “I am a girl.”
The mother: “I am a mother of two daughters who will contribute to society.
I earn money to support our lifestyle by working, but my self-expression
happens in other ways.”
The husband: “I am the husband of this beautiful woman,
and father of these wonderful children.”
The grandfather: “I am proud of my good family.”
Khai and his wife Mimi drive a new Mercedes Benz.
Even though they are now retired,
they work full time “giving back”
through a foundation they founded
It raises money to support two Catholic nuns
and two Buddhist nuns who provide health care and other services
to disabled and poor families in Vietnam.
The Phams were busy getting ready for their next big fundraising event.
We loved our time with this remarkable, warm, and wonderful family.