“Before here I lived in Vietnam – I watched the TV and saw America. I saw it’s good for children, good for learning – for everything. Good for life…and I dreamed. I don’t know when or how but I dreamed of coming here.”
For Lam, living in a country where her kids couldn’t even attend school pushed her to want more. She wanted a better life for her husband, two sons, and herself. As a result, she was forced to make some significant sacrifices to get to America.
“I saw on the TV, the students go to school – how they learn, how they have play time. I dreamed my children would get the opportunity go to school and play like that.”
Knowing she had to come, Lam boarded a ship along with her family and 114 other people in an attempt to sneak away. Stuck aboard for 42 days and with only enough food for the first ten, Lam saw 21 fellow escapees starve to death – among them her beloved husband – while her two boys and she grew sick.
“We had no food. We had no water…we had to wait for when the rain to come – that is how we drank. We waited and waited to be found.”
The Filipino government, discovering this ship brimming full of Vietnamese escapees, called upon the US government. The refugees asked the US for relief. When the US agreed, the ship was brought into the Philippines. Clinics and camps were set up for the remaining 97 people to be treated and housed.
“They rescued me and they took me to the Philippines…for six months I went to the women's hospital – my two boys went to children's hospital – they were very, very sick – they only 3 and 5 years old…When we got better, the US government came to Philippines to interview me – they asked me, they say ‘why – why do you want to come to America?’ and I tell them what I saw on the TV and that I want a good country for my boys. I tell him about the dreams I have about coming here. The man who interviewed me, he said – “you don’t know English – how long do you think it will take you to learn?” and I told him ‘I don’t know – but I will try’. And so I tried.”
Lam made good on this promise, knowing that she would have to learn English to come to America.
After a year of taking English courses in the Philippines, Lam and her two boys were finally permitted to come to America. They started their American journey in Manchester, MA and then came to Tacoma. Now, 20 years after setting sail, she is able to see the fulfillment of her dreams for both herself and her two sons. Lam has completed ESL classes at Tacoma Community House. Initially, TCH was able to place Lam as a seamstress, but as her English improved we were able to place her at Triway, a cabinet company. TCH has also helped place one of her sons with Atlas. She is paid quite well at Triway and has since been able to purchase her first home for her and her two boys.