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By PRI | Stories of a Changing America from PRI

Memories of fleeing Vietnam, landing in Idaho and asking people for candy

First stop: Guam.

That’s what Joshua Nguyen remembers, after he and his family fled Vietnam in 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. Like many others, they left on crammed ships for Guam, where the US government had established a base where the refugees …


Looking at the Vietnam War’s aftermath through the eyes of a communist spy

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces," reads the opening line of the "The Sympathizer." The man who says it doesn't have a name. He's known only as the Captain, and the new book from Viet Thanh Nguyen reads like the Captain's confession.

The man, a spy for the North Vietnamese army, …


Nepali students in Boston channel their grief into fundraising efforts for earthquake relief

Leaders of the Nepali Student Association at the University of Massachusetts Boston called an emergency meeting Monday afternoon. They expected a handful of people to show up. Instead, nearly 40 crammed into the room they had booked at the student activities center.

“This is the biggest turnout …


New to America, this young Vietnamese refugee wanted to ‘erase’ his past

Red apples floating in barrels of cold water. That’s what Thu-Thuy Truong remembers after she arrived at a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, not long after fleeing Vietnam with her family in April 1975.

Along with those the barrels of apples, Thu-Thuy, who was 13 at the time, remembers the …


For Nepalese abroad, 'you feel so helpless being so far away'

A day after a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, hundreds of people gathered at Diversity Plaza in Queens, New York. It was Sunday evening and, as the vigil got underway, a woman led the crowd in singing Nepal’s national anthem. "Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland that's Nepali," …


Why you won’t see Ho Chi Minh City appear in this newspaper in California

The oldest Vietnamese-language newspaper in the US is based in Little Saigon in Orange County, California, about an hour south of Los Angeles. It was founded by and for refugees, escaping Vietnam after the fall of Saigon 40 years ago.

When you walk into the offices of Nguoi Viet Daily News, the …

Print Media

Remembering the California refugee camp that gave Vietnamese a new life in the US

Forty years ago this month, as North Vietnamese forces were trying to enter the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, Frances Nguyen was trying to get out.

Just 12 years old at the time, Nguyen and her parents headed to a harbor and managed to get aboard a vessel. "It was so full,” she remembers. …


Why 'An Ember In The Ashes' could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory

Sabaa Tahir ruined my sleep.

Her new book, "An Ember In The Ashes," kept me up at night. I couldn't put the book down. I'm not the only one. It seems as though anyone who touches the book cannot stop reading until the story ends. It has the addictive quality of "The Hunger Games" combined with the …

Public Broadcasters

Forty years after Vietnam, a refugee relives his journey from Saigon to San Francisco

One of the most enduring images of the Vietnam War is its final one: The last helicopter taking off from the American embassy in Saigon on April 30, 1975, with would-be refugees clinging to the landing skids.

Just two days before that, at the age of 11, Andrew Lam escaped Saigon. Along with his …

Northern California

A Buddhist-founded university is now firmly in the mainstream

High on a hill at the edge of a wilderness park overlooking Southern California’s Laguna Beach sits the stunning campus of Soka University of America. The school draws its name from Soka Gakkai, a new Buddhist movement started in Japan before World War II by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.

According to Wendy …

College & University

Even after a century, the Armenian genocide is a cornerstone of Armenian identity

Harout Bassmajian was born here in the US, but he grew up steeped in his family's Armenian culture. He went to Armenian primary school, spoke Armenian at home and heard again and again the story of how his grandfather was orphaned during the Armenian Genocide when he was just a child.

“I thought it …

Armenian Genocide

Head to the US-Mexico border and find a Chinese food scene like none other

Taquerias and Mexican restaurants are old hat along the California-Mexico border.

Look harder, though, and spot another type of cuisine that dates back more than 100 years — a kind of fusion from before fusion was a thing.

You'll find it at a restaurant in the California city of El Centro, just north …


This Seattle boy was just six when he was asked to protect an undocumented family

How do you explain deportation to a child?

A Seattle mom grappled with this question when her son’s best friend, who we'll call Jorge, shared a secret one night at dinner. My family is undocumented, Jorge told them. Her son, Ronan, was just six at the time.

It was a secret they would all keep, but …


Closing soon: A go-to emporium that was 'part Asian bodega and totally New York City'

Selling bamboo steamers, embroidered slippers and paper lanterns imported from China hardly seems like a radical idea. But things were different in 1971.

Back then, trading with Communist China was still restricted thanks to the Cold War, and there wasn't an obvious demand for knick-knacks and …

New York

'Am I going to make this or not?' — One American's escape from Yemen

Back in December, the coast seemed clear for Mokhtar Alkhanshali.

Alkhanshali, raised in the US by Yemeni parents, wanted to keep pursuing the business he has worked on for years: bringing high-quality Yemeni coffee to the world.

“The situation was not as bad as it is right now,” he says of Yemen, …

Middle East

LA's master mariachi tailor says sewing started out like a game for him

Tailor Jorge Tello’s store feels more like a mariachi shrine than a tailor shop. Photos of Mexican stars like Pedro Infante fill the walls. And a glass case features one of Tello’s most intricate suits — a crisp, three-piece outfit with gold, flowerly designs down the lapel.

“It’s $2000. Very …


The Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcaster has been serving the team since its first days in LA

When Jaime Jarrín started play-by-play announcing for the Spanish-language broadcast of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was a baseball neophyte. In his home city of Quito, Ecuador, he says, soccer was the sport that brought the public together.

“Before coming to this country, I’d never seen a baseball …

Los Angeles

This young Yemeni American is on a quest to bring coffee from the 'land of Mocha' to the world

About a year ago, a friend of mine invited me to a cupping at the back of a coffee shop in San Francisco. Coffee professionals, several who flew in, sampled the liquid from small cups, spit it out in mugs and consulted each other on the taste.

There were a lot of “Whoas!” and “This is amazing.” But …

Coffee Beans

How 'Khmerican' connects Cambodian Americans

Phatry Derek Pan first heard the term "Khmerican" in the mid-90s when Phanit Duong used the term to describe a martial arts kick.

In 2003, he began using the word atThe Phnom Penh Post as a catchy way to identify a Cambodian American. When his then-girlfriend held a photo shoot called, "I am …


1st American believed killed in latest Yemen violence; scores more trapped

When Mohammed Alazzani's uncle told him the news, he couldn’t believe it. Are they sure it's Jamal, he asked? Jamal al-Labani?

"I couldn’t believe it for the rest of the day," Alazzani says. "I was like, no, it’s probably just a dream."

It wasn’t. On March 30, Labani was killed by shrapnel in Aden, a …

Middle East

On the Texas border, they're fighting for the right to have street lamps

The word colonia means "neighborhood" in Spanish, but when people say colonia in the Rio Grande Valley, they’re talking about the makeshift communities — more than 1,000 — that have sprung up just north of the US-Mexico border.

Developers buy land, divide it up and sell the plots, mostly to Mexican …

Public Broadcasters

California's gardens tell an immigrant story

The people who run California's ever-buzzing leaf blowers, weed whackers and lawnmowers are almost always Latino immigrant men. They call themselves jardineros, Spanish for gardeners, and it’s their labor that gives curb appeal to so many homes, keeping lawns neatly trimmed, hedges pruned and weeds …

Meet the harmonium king of Queens, New York

Mindra Sahadeo shares an apartment in the Richmond Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York, with his mother, sister and a rotating cast of about a dozen harmoniums.

Several of the instruments packed inside thick aluminum cases and piled inside the front door. More are stacked up in the living room, …

New York

How returning home to Mexico gets complicated after years in the US

Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula juts into the Caribbean like a defiant fist and, 3,000 miles away, the San Francisco Bay Area looks like a miniature version of it.

The two may be separated by distance, but they depend on each other. The Yucatán needs the work and San Francisco needs the workers. Their …

Escaping from North Korea was just the beginning for this American immigrant

When Kenneth Rowe stepped off a plane in San Francisco and began his new life in America, he made national news. It was 1954, the height of the Cold War, and Rowe had escaped from North Korea in dramatic fashion just a few months earlier.

He stole a Soviet-made North Korean MiG-15 fighter jet and …

You're a Muslim who's not supposed to date. How do you find love?

The first time Arif Shaikh's parents met was on their wedding night.

"The only evidence that they had that the other person existed before their marriage night was simply a small black-and-white picture and the good wishes of a couple of relatives," he says. "That's all they knew."

Shaikh's parents …

The federal government is pushing back against Texas' immigration block

On Thursday, the Justice Department filed an appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the block against President Obama's immigration action, citing the policy as a matter of public interest and national security.

The block by a Texas judge of Obama action has meant that hundreds of …

Ever thought you were on a watchlist? Share your story

Fauzia Din, a US citizen from Afghanistan, says her husband is being refused entry to the US because of suspicions that he is involved in "terrorist activities." Stories like this seem to be increasingly common, though they rarely make it into the public eye.

We want to change that.

Fauzia's husband …

Why one woman's fight to be with her husband wound up at the Supreme Court

Sometimes, it can take a while to get a visa. But Fauzia Din’s dilemma is of an entirely different magnitude.

Nine years ago, it appeared that Din’s husband in Afghanistan would receive a US visa without much problem. Din is a US citizen and she had recently married Kanishka Berashk in Kabul. Her …