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From Vietnam to America: Not Exactly a Hero

Elizabeth Felchlin, Editor

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Most of us have a hero, whether they are a part of our family or an idol, like a pop star. All heroes have a story; it’s the rule of thumb. These stories may seem very important, almost as if it should be known all over the world. Unfortunately, not all of them are. The stories that aren’t told are about those heroes who don’t care to share their story. For them, it isn’t that important. We could call them ‘unassuming’ heroes.

This world has seen many bloody, violent, wars. The most famous ones are WWI, WWII and the Civil War. Others, like the Cold War and the Vietnam War, happened more recently and people are still trying to make sense of them.

When Cam Vuong, one unassuming hero, was only eight years old, the life she knew in Vietnam was wrenched from her. Her father was going to be drafted into the army for a fast-approaching war. This war was called the Vietnam War.

It was 1978, and they knew that they had to escape. Cam’s grandfather and parents bought passage on a small fishing boat. It was now them and her siblings, all four of them. For the several weeks they spent on the boat, they watched several people die and other families gradually get smaller.

Luckily, nobody from their party perished on the journey to Malaysia. They continued living there for 10 months. Later that year, tragedy struck. Cam’s grandfather died. It was in the October of 1978. But, another month later, in November, there was new life to replace the one that was lost. That month, a baby was born, now the youngest of the group.

The refugee camps weren’t exactly paradise. Like other camps, there were rations such as a few small cans of sardines in tomato sauce. To make the food go around for six growing children and two adults, they grew vegetables as well. This story, like many others, has many ups and downs. And, yet, there was another step.

The family was sponsored by a church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, that filled out their paperwork, helped with housing and provided clothing. They also trained Cam’s parents how to find work. By July of 1979, the Vuongs arrived in the United States. For awhile they lived with a family in Orinda, and then in September they moved into a small apartment that they had found in East Oakland. A short few weeks later, Cam joined a nearby elementary school called Lakeview.

Even though she was already nine years old, she was put back at the start because she was new to the language. That means Kindergarten. But, in two years, she managed to catch up to her age group, and soon joined them in 4th grade. By then she was eleven.

In 1983, she left Lakeview to join Westlake Middle School. That was also when she began working at Jack-in-the-Box. She worked there all throughout middle school and high school. In 1989, she started attending the University of California State in Hayward. During this time, she still worked at Jack-in-the-Box, but she also found a job at Berkley. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she started working at Pier One, and quit her job at Jack-in-the-Box, hoping to never see that fast-food restaurant again.

For a decade, it was finally calm. Cam bought a house where they lived and, currently, is where her family still lives. She continued her job at Pier One, had fun with her friends, and wasn’t held down as much by the pressure of her family’s situation. During 2000, Cam met her future husband, Joe Felchlin. By September 10th of 2001 they were married at the age of 31 and 29. A little more than two years after the wedding, Cam decided to get her Masters degree at the Golden State University in San Francisco. While she was finishing, she became pregnant with her daughter.

On April 4th, 2005, her first baby was born, and everything started picking up speed again. Then again, her life was never really calm. The first two years were a blur, and by July of 2007, on the 28th, the second baby was born. Now, instead of being a hero for her family by doing chores and watching over her younger siblings, she is a hero for her children, from feeding them to making sure they know not to run into the street. Cam may not be settled. She may not be a war veteran who saved the country from bombing. But, she is a hero in her own way.

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From Vietnam to America: Not Exactly a Hero