Kathy Le, class of 1997

Kathy Le, class of 1997

Kathy Le was born in April of 1975 amidst the fall of Saigon in Vietnam. In 1980 she and her pregnant mother fled Vietnam, joining the hundreds of thousands of desperate boat people who fled the country in the years after the war. After a brief stay in a refugee camp in Singapore where her brother was born, Kathy and her family emigrated to the US where she grew up in Southern California. She came to Brown in 1993, where in her junior year she became a research assistant for the Vietnam War Critical Oral History Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies.

In this interview, Kathy Le, Brown University class of 1997, shares stories about her family’s emigration from Vietnam to the United States, and also details memories of her time at Brown.

Le begins by talking about her parents’ educational and professional experiences and the ways in which the war in Vietnam impacted their lives. She specifically describes reeducation camps, her parents’ struggle to decide whether to leave Vietnam, and her journey via boat with her mother to Singapore and then the United States. Le also spends time considering the nature of memory and her uncertainty as to whether her stories are recollections of her own experiences or stories she has heard from her family. She details the challenge of being on the West Coast of the United States and having to assimilate and explains that similar challenges carried over to her time at Brown.

Le discusses her path to Brown and the difficulties she encountered moving across the country in the 1990s. She recalls great socioeconomic disparities among the students and finding a community of other Vietnamese-American students who could better understand her life experiences. Most notably, Le talks about her work with Professor James Blight on the Vietnam War Critical Oral History Project with the Watson Institute. She explains how working on this project led to her becoming a United States Citizen and visiting Vietnam and her father for the first time since she and her mother fled.

In closing, Le considers her relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement and elaborates on anti-Asian racism in the time of the COVID-19 global pandemic. She says she has hope for her children’s generation because of their open-mindedness and inclusivity.  

Recorded on May 6, 2021


Interviewed by Amanda Knox, Pembroke Center Assistant Archivist