Vietnam: The Living Memory


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Personal Present

Honoring a Homeland

Khon Tran, A02, was only six months old when his parents arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1980.

Sponsored by a church in a suburb west of Boston, his parents and an extended family of some 20 relatives were glad to have escaped to America. They did what had to be done: they went to night school, learned technical skills, got jobs in the computer industry.

Today, Tran's father works for Hewlett-Packard and his mother runs her own flag store and works at a high-tech firm. The family has grown to include Tran's brother, now 17, and sister, 12.

It is an immigrant story of rapid immersion and steadily growing success. Yet while Tran was quick to take to American culture as a child, he has grown up in two worlds.On the one hand, he is a typical college student. His favorite food is pizza, he is learning the guitar and likes the British band Oasis. Tall and athletic, he played football and basketball at Burlington High School. He was a "Special Friend" to a four-year-old at the Tufts Day Care Center last year, and he volunteered for Kids' Day. He is majoring in biology and plans to be a doctor. At the same time, his parents have instilled in him a strong sense of heritage.

"I am very proud to be Vietnamese," says Tran, flashing a ready smile at a coffee shop before heading off to his job. He is taking a chemistry course in summer school and working at night for a bank. "I had a great time when I went back recently to visit relatives. I realized I could have lived that life too, if things had been different."

The struggle of his parents, says Tran, shaped his own attitudes toward work and school. "My parents always treated us with respect and worked hard to provide us with things they did not have," he says. "I saw the sacrifices they made for me. I want to repay them and to set an example for my brother and my sister."

His parents also always expected him to go to college. "I got nothing but A's in school, and I think that's because my parents stressed hard work. I could see them working hard, sometimes holding down two jobs. That rubbed off on me. My parents never expected less of me, just that I go to school and do well."

As for choosing Tufts, the choice again was natural. "I wanted to stay local. My family is a big part of my life," he says. "I knew I wanted to study science, and Tufts has a good biology department."

Tran, who speaks Vietnamese, would like to know more about the history of his homeland; his parents display Vietnamese art in their home and enjoy listening to Vietnamese music. While his tastes run in a different direction, a recent trip to visit family in Vietnam nurtured his own high regard for his native culture.

"When people hear the word Vietnam, I would like them to think not just about the war, but about a wonderful country that they should experience," he says. "It is quite beautiful, and the people live off the land still today, at least where my family is from; they are very self-sufficient and generous."

Someday Tran hopes to return to Vietnam as a doctor. For now, he's looking forward to sophomore year and graduating in 2002, a historic year for Tufts-its 150th anniversary. "Yes, it's great to be part of that class," he says. "There will be a lot to celebrate for everyone."



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