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Lam Le: 'When I came here, basically I had nothing'

Emily Hunt/WXXI

During the Vietnam War, Lam Le served in the South Vietnamese navy, working on a ship to support the combat troops on the ground.

Everything changed in 1975, though, when Saigon fell.

“Everything fell apart,” he said. “I get a friend and we go up to the base and go up to the boat and went.”

He had to leave his family behind.

“It left me hurt because my family is still there, my parents and all my sisters and brothers who were there,” Le said.

“That’s why when I came here, I become citizen so I can get my family. My parents and my brothers and sisters come here.”

That would take some time, though. First, Le went to a refugee camp in Guam for about six months. He then went to New York City, thanks to a sponsor, and he worked and went to community college to study electronics. He later moved to Rochester.

“When I came here,” Le said, “basically I had nothing. A few clothing, a few books, and that’s all.”

He’s thankful for the opportunities he found in the United States.

“I get a lot of chance,” he said. “I get help from everybody. I really appreciate that.”

Le has never returned to Vietnam; he said he has no desire to visit. He said he’s explained to his two children why he chose to live here and not there.

“With the way they treat the people, I don’t think I want to go back,” he said. “I have no reason, also, with my family here.”

Looking back, he’s not sure if the war in his homeland was worth fighting.

“You see the big buildings, the nice buildings, but under that, it’s still communists, and they’re still controlling it,” he said. “You can not be out there talking about the government, and (there’s) a lot of pressure to you and the family when you live over there. … You don’t see any improvement at all.”