“Seek And Fight For Freedom”: A Vietnamese Refugee Starts A New Life In America
James MacNguyen was born in 1957 in Saigon. His family had recently moved into the Republic of Vietnam from Hanoi. His mother was a kindergarten teacher, and his father, a Captain in the South Vietnamese Navy, also served in the South Vietnamese House of Representatives from 1963 to 1969, helping draft the Constitution in 1967. He remembers seeing demonstrations in Saigon when he was a young boy, including the Buddhist Monk immolating himself on June 11, 1963. He was in high school from 1970 to 1971, and recalls the changing nature of the war, highlighting the fiery summer of 1972 and the withdrawal of American troops. On April 30, 1975, his family fled South Vietnam in a boat captained by his father. They ended up in Guam before traveling to a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, in May 1975. He eventually met his wife at the University of Maryland, and took a job with Mobil Oil as a chemical engineer.
In this interview, he describes his childhood and the important role his father played in the South Vietnamese government. He talks about the deterioration of the war, and how his family began worrying in 1972. He discusses being a refugee transiting from Guam to Arkansas to New York, the differences between Vietnamese and American culture, and starting a new life in America. He ends by reflecting on the meaning of freedom.