In an emotional and sometimes gut-wrenching presentation, CCUSD Superintendent Quoc Tran spoke to Culver City High School’s 10th graders this week about his life as a Vietnam refugee. Mr. Tran was invited to speak to the students by CCHS English teacher Rosemary Quintero. The classes recently read Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories: “The Things They Carried” (1990), about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War.
From his very personal point of view, Mr. Tran shared his journey from his birth in Vietnam, to war refugee as a teenager, to U.S. immigrant and successful student, educator and administrator, and father of three.
Even as he held up his now deceased father’s military backpack filled with clothes worn during their fighting and escape, Mr. Tran shared, “The things we carry aren’t always things you can touch,” as he recounted memories of his tumultuous childhood that occur to him in unexpected modern-day moments. As a child, riding a bike was Mr. Tran’s main form of transportation. An avid bicyclist to this day, sometimes vivid childhood memories will pop up while he’s riding his bike around town or out for exercise.
Mr. Tran concluded by sharing with the students that he has worked hard and diligently all his life in order to try and salvage and honor the millions of people who lost their lives during the war and are now unable to contribute to our collective society. “The people who died means one less father, one less educator / scientist / artist, one less decent human being in the world. I carry their legacies with me as I pursue my profession, my vocation, my passion and my mission.”
Students are being asked to write about one particular impact of war. No doubt several will be drawing on Superintendent Quoc’s personal story.
It is wonderful that our superintendent can offer his own story in addition to the reading the students are doing for class.
I hope that the students also will be assigned stories about Vietnam that are told from a Vietnamese or even Vietnamese American perspective. So many of the stories told about Vietnam in American films and books and news stories center an American perspective and completely lack a Vietnamese perspective. They could be reading Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, for example, who like our superintendent had to flee Vietnam and whose family settled in the US, centers Vietnamese experiences.