Vietnames version
Old Saigon Echo website
from 2008 - 2012
Play
Director: Bai An Tran, Ph.D.

               Reflection:

  • Font size:
  • Decrease
  • Reset
  • Increase

"Boat person" tells her story at Cal Poly Pomona

POMONA - Carina Hoang was 12 when the Vietnam War ended, but she would not reach safety for another four years. 20111109 024657 ON09-BOATPEOPLE

Hoang, who earned a Master of Business Administration from Cal Poly Pomona, was one of millions of Vietnamese refugees, known as "boat people," who fled communist rule in wooden boats after the end of the Vietnam War in the late 1970s.

Hoang's story was one of several she recounted during a book launch on Tuesday at Cal Poly Pomona for her book, "Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnam Exodus 1975-1996."

"What I found from this story is not only the strength and courage people have to survive these ordeals, but their spirit, and these people not only overcame adversity but actually made a new life for themselves and contribute back to society," Hoang said.

When the communists took over South Vietnam, Hoang's father was taken as a political prisoner, and her mother was unable to get any work because of their military background.

Hoang tried to escape with her family four times before finally securing a place on a wooden boat with her younger brother and sister and more than 370 other Vietnamese refugees.

The boats were often faced with strong storms, overcrowding and engine failure, she said.

"They would drift on the ocean for days until they would run out of food or water, and that's when cannibalism took place," Hoang said.

Pirates, or Thai fisherman, would steal belongings, beat up and

kill passengers and rape the females.

"We sat with our knees to our chins for seven days and seven nights," Hoang said. "We relieved ourselves there. We vomited there. We cried. We screamed. We ate. We prayed together in the same spot."

Hoang's boat eventually landed in Indonesia. Ten days later they were shipped to an uninhabited island, where they were left to survive in the jungle for three months until the Red Cross arrived to set up a refugee camp.

"The whole time I worried that if I died first who would look after my little sister and brother, and if they die and I was alive, I couldn't face telling my mother that news, so I thought that's easy. I'll just kill myself," Hoang said. "That's the best I could do at 16."

Hoang made it to America in 1980 with her siblings, who now live in Sacramento.

She reunited with her parents in 1994 and sponsored their move to America.

Hoang makes annual trips to remote Indonesian islands searching for grave sites of those who died during the exodus.

She posts photos of the grave sites on her website www.carinahoang.com for people to identify.

She made her first trip in 1998 seeking the remains of her cousin, who died of malaria when he was 18.

After some prayers, she was able to find where her cousin was buried and had his remains cremated for her aunt, who lives in California.

"I can see as if a load of tumor was removed from her chest," Hoang said. "She was able to laugh, to breathe, to talk again. She found closure. She found peace of mind even though her son was dead."

Switch mode views: