Dr. Toan Leung

As interviewed by Anika Patel, March 21, 2019

Dr. Toan Leung in his own words

This is a story about one man’s journey from his homeland, Vietnam, to America following the end of the Vietnam War. This story comes to us from Toan Leung.

I am forty six years old right now and I'm currently working as an E.R. physician. We've been living in Austin for fourteen years.

I was born in Vietnam in 1972, and my parents decided to immigrate to America for the children to have a better future. So we left Vietnam when I was eight years old, in 1980. We were considered the second wave immigrants from Vietnam. The first wave was in 1975 when the Southern Vietnamese government with the support with the American government, when we lost the war to the North Vietnamese in 1975. At that point, Vietnam became a Communist country so my parents decided for the better future for the children and education, they decided to take us to America.

We escaped by boat. The boat was built and commissioned by my parents. We left at the tip of the most Southern part of the country. I remember when we left Saigon, so my dad was like, “Okay, tomorrow morning we are going to go on a trip.” They wouldn’t tell us what it was for. So I still remember he took me out to eat, we had a good meal and the next morning before sunrise we secretly get into a taxi. Remember, you don't want your neighbors to know. You live in a Communist country there is a manager in the town that keep an eye on all the people. If you have something new, this manager of the town take notice of it. They're like, “Hey. This family has a new car. Something is going on.” They watch you very carefully. So we left Saigon in the dark. We went to this little town. I still remember people were holding weapons trying to lead us into the woods onto the boat. So we were walking in the dark, in the forest, in the woods through different trees and trenches, and you can’t see anything. I still remember the local people there. I mean they would have big swords, big knives and guns. So this is an escape. It’s not like you go on a trip. This is an escape. If you get caught they'll put you in jail. So in 24 hours we got to Thailand. At that point the U.S. government has a lot of refugee camps around the world so we spent a year in Thailand refugee camp and then they move us through Indonesia refugee camp for a year. So you have to have the family anywhere in the world to sponsor you. But for us, my uncle was here in California so he sponsor us. So it took us a year in Indonesia and we went to Singapore for two weeks, San Francisco for two weeks, and then to L.A., Los Angeles, and then we settled in California, started going to school there in 1982. So that’s the time period where we left Vietnam and went to America.

I still remember when we were in refugee camp, my mom would trade pieces of gold for bread. Like a loaf of bread. And then when you come to this country and you go to a supermarket, you're like “Oh my god! There's food everywhere.” Going from like nothing to going to an American grocery shop. It makes you appreciate where you’re coming from.

Coming from basically like a third world country and going to a refugee camp, and then growing up in an environment where your teachers were your supporters, they help you through the years, and you stay in school, do well, you get successful. It makes you appreciate things more. Definitely makes you think twice of how lucky and how blessed you are.