Vietnamese Boat People – Riches to Rags

Vietnamese Boat People POdcastEpisode: Riches to Rags

Series: Stories of the Vietnamese Boat People

Release Date: 12/18/2018
Host: Tracey Nguyen Mang

Episode Link:

Tags: History, Vietnam, Vietnam War, US History, US, Victim, Boat People, Vietnamese Boat People, Asian American History, American History, Immigration, Immigrant History, War, Oral History, Autobiography, Memoir, Refugee




Narrative/Interview/Oral History/Autobiography The story revolves around an oral history interview between the host Tracey and her brother Steve as her attempt to understand the traumatic experience of her family’s escape from Vietnam by boat. As an immigrant coming of age story, fleeing Vietnam changed Steve, transforming him from a comfortable and rich boy to a reliable provider and man for the family.

Notes: Lean Agravante: The podcast, though very rich in detail and narration, can be a bit difficult to understand because of the host’s brother, Steve’s accent. At some times, you may have difficulty comprehending words and especially the names of places in Vietnam, which could affect your understanding of the podcast. Kera Lovell: I really like this podcast because it feels raw – deeply emotional, not as precisely edited as some other series we review here, but ultimately I love assigning the episode because it captures the emotions of these refugees. Their story of escape is abrupt, traumatic, and incredible, but may not be a good fit for your classroom. Also, note that this series is new and that newer episodes might be a better fit for your classroom.

Andy Huynh, in the striped shirt, is interviewed by immigration officer John McEachern, left. McEachern conducted the interview that allowed Huynh and his brother entry to Canada in 1980. (Photo by John McEachern) Read more at CBC:

Assignment Ideas:

1) Primary Source Analysis: This website offers many letters written by these Vietnamese refugees translated in English:

2) Poetry Analysis: The Poetry Foundation includes a selection of poems on the Vietnam War, including poems by Vietnamese immigrants as well as those by soldiers and activists organized by time period:

3) Memoir Comparison: There is a growing collection of memoirs published on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees, including those by Vinh Chung and Bich Nguyen both migrating and forming their own identities within America. Thi Bui’s award-winning illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do, could be a quick accessible read that could elevate your students’ understanding of this subject.

4) Storyboard It: Steve’s story is incredible with vivid imagery and emotions. At times you’re not sure if they’ll make it through this experience, moving back from Vietnam to Indonesia and beyond. An exercise I’ve used before when assigning oral histories is to have students create a three-part storyboard that captures what they think were key moments in the text. Students can draw their storyboards on paper or use a service like Storyboard That to create a digital storyboard: 

Baby Steve (shown above) was born in 1961 in Vietnam. According to Tracey Nguyen, “A wealthy boy who had never had to do anything for himself but enjoy life, he quickly felt the burden of having to provide for the family.” Learn more about the Nguyen family at

Discussion Questions

1) What tactics did the North Vietnamese take to change the ideologies of kids like Steve who were middle class?

2) Describe the sensory experience (touch, sight, taste, smell, and emotionally feel) of Steve’s escape. 

3) Steve and his father were told that they had to sink their ship in order to be saved by the Coast Guard as part of a strategy of “boat push back.” What was the reason why Steve’s family were turned away. What was “boat push back” according to the interview, and what types of similar strategies can be seen today within contemporary refugee crises?


Andy Huynh, in the striped shirt, is interviewed by immigration officer John McEachern, left. McEachern conducted the interview that allowed Huynh and his brother entry to Canada in 1980. (Photo by John McEachern) Read more at CBC:


Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview:

Book: Long Bui, Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory:

Primary Source: Learn more from first and second generation Vietnamese refugees at Project Yellow Dress:

Website: This archive of primary and secondary sources related to Vietnamese refugees who migrated to Canada might be a good way to have students put the podcast within a larger transnational perspective:

Op-Ed from Vietnamese Refugee: Thuan Le Elston, “Syria Crisis Evokes Vietnamese Boat People: Column,” USA Today:

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