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Families Traumatic Escape Inspired The Vietnamese Boat People Podcast

By Seven Million Bikes

Edited by Chelsea Gallagher

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This episode’s guest, Tracey Nguyen Mang, is the founder and creator of the award winning podcast: The Vietnamese Boat People. This podcast shares the stories of hope, survival and resilience from the Vietnamese diaspora during 1975-1992.

The youngest of seven children, Tracey was born in Nha Trang Vietnam before her family risked their lives to flee in three separate trips. She was only three years old when her family arrived in the United States. They settled in New Jersey and joined the small immigrant community. Growing up, Tracey spoke Vietnamese at home, and learned english from attending public school. She recalls the feeling of trying to assimilate, while suppressing her “history and heritage to adapt and assimilate”.

Tracey’s parents had originally come from a wealthy background, but post-war he family struggled to get by. Even when they arrived in the U.S, it was not easy and they struggled to get by. Partly due to the trauma of their journey and the will to fit into their new surroundings the family didn’t talk about their past.

After this modest and humble start in America Tracey and her husband built a successful career in the corporate world, but she realised that while providing more for her children than she ever had, she was distancing them from the values that she had been brought up with.

As Tracey became a mother, she came to the realisation that she didn’t know how long her parents would be around. She wanted to know more about her history so she could share it with her children.

“Finally, one day I said, you know what, I should just record my family’s story.”

Tracey had only heard her mother’s side of the story growing up. So she bought a microphone, and travelled to her parents house to finally listen to her dad’s experience.

“My dad is a typical Vietnamese man; very quiet, very reserved. I don’t remember having a real conversation with him longer than 10 minutes. So for the first time my dad and I talked for 6 hours!””

Tracey Nguyen Mang

The story enthralled her as she learned untold details of their families escape from Vietnam. With over 20 hours of recording she then didn’t know what to do. The original idea was to just have this as a record for her children in the future and not lose this information before it was too late.

This inspiring and heartbreaking discussion with her dad led to the creation of the Vietnamese Boat People Podcast.

It dawned on her that she couldn’t be the only person trying to document family history. And while there are some records of oral histories of the time, they were stored in university libraries and not easily accessible to people outside of academia.

As a fan of podcasts she decided, “I’m gonna start my own podcast and my family’s story is going to be the first season!”

Tracey points out the beauty of sharing an individual’s experiences is that it is completely unique to them and cannot be retold by anyone else. She launched Season 1 and still doesn’t know if her mum and dad have even listened to it!

Wanting to share these unique narratives and create a resource for future generations gave Tracey the confidence to move forward.

It is fascinating to hear Tracey’s dedication to the format. She knew before she started that she didn’t want to simply share the long form recording of people’s interviews, but craft it into a story. “From her career in management consulting, Tracey was confident in her storytelling abilities but knew nothing about podcasts. She spent hours researching and enrolled in night school. She wanted to curate a unique listening experience, and it’s clear her hard work paid off!

Crafting these stories into a 30 minute episode can be around 60 hours!

From here things grew and people started contacting her and reaching out to Tracey about sharing their story with her.

From escaping war, the Vietnamese diaspora worldwide is now announcing themselves on the world stage. Traditionally Vietnamese have been known mostly for their food, seen in the cringe-inducing King of Queens episode where Kevin James is blown away by a simple bowl of phở. This modern influence can be seen through designer Cong Tri, actresses Kellie Marie Tran and Tien Tran, and the numerous guests on A Vietnam Podcast such as DJ Levi Oi or celebrity chef, Nickie Tran.

“Am I just seeing this because of what I do or is this really happening?” Niall asks Tracey.

Tracey assures Niall it is not just him and she has noticed a similar phenomenon, but they both may be exposed to it more due to what they do. Tracey attributes this to a “coming of age” of young Vietnamese people who don’t have the same experience of survival as their parents and forge their own paths in the world.

Especially with the technology available now it is also easier for these young Vietnamese to share their voice and creations with each other and the world.

Despite being from widely different backgrounds Niall and Tracey connect on many different levels, from using the same microphone when they started to both wishing to record their families stories, as Niall had also done with his grandfather.

It is also obvious that Niall is a big fan of the Vietnamese Boat People podcast and very excited to hear as much as possible from Tracey. Despite the time difference meaning this was being recorded late in the evening the conversation stretched into a second hour. For those listening or watching the episode it was split into two parts to make it more manageable!

The Vietnamese Diaspora are now bring recognised for more then just food. Niall references this cringe-inducing Kevin Can Wait  episode where (Not King of Queen’s as Niall says!) Kevin James is blown away by a simple bowl of phở not before being supremely unflattering.

The Vietnamese Boat People podcast has now become a registered non-profit organization in the USA. This has allowed them to gain access to funding to create even more resources for the Vietnamese community to share their stories from a painful past.

A common question Tracey is asked, “how do I even start talking to family members about their story?” One of the resources now available on their website is the ‘Conversation Starter Kit’. This helps people connect with a family member and make these questions less intimidating.

Through games and simple questions it helps that family members open up and share more than they would have otherwise.  One person emailed that when she brought this up with her father it was the first time she had learned about his upbringing. Some people even share their recordings with the team.  

The podcast is currently based in America. Tracey and her team primarily highlight Vietnamese family’s immigrating to the states. She was surprised to learn they have listeners in Canada, Australia, the UK, and Vietnam. This has led to the creation of a new digital tool allowing people to add their own story and showcase this without Vietnamese Boat People having to curate it for them. This will create an unbelievable digital resource of an important time in history and make sure that these unique stories aren’t lost. 

The Vietnamese Boat People has touched many people. Tracey explains the deep meaning behind the stunning Vietnamese Boat People logo that you can see behind her on the YouTube interview. This was put to a community competition with a monetary prize thanks to some fundraising. 

People were invited to submit their artwork with Tracey choosing the logo for the show and also a People’s Choice award. The winner was Phung, a design graduate from Yale who was originally from Saigon until his teenage years.

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Tracey was impressed with the detail and meaning behind this simple, modern and impactful design. Phung went as far to choose a font type that was inspired by a common typography used in 1960s / 70s Vietnam to the flecks of white in the water representing the families being torn apart. “Once I read his proposal that was it, this is exactly what our stories are about.”

Make sure to listen to Tracey’s detailed description of the logo while you look at it.

When Tracey is asked where she would go on a bike in Vietnam she has a profound answer; “I’d like to trace all of the different cities that my parents have grown up or lived in. I’ve been back to most of them, but not all of them. I’d love to visit the catholic school that my mum spent so much of her time in.”

Niall shares a similar experience when he traced his grandfather’s in Malaysia to a small town called Slim River.

The conversation shifts to the past year, focusing on the challenges and surprising positives of lockdown. For Tracey, the lockdown felt like a blessing to spend more time with her family. As days turned into months, the biggest challenge became juggling working online, with her doing online classes at the same time.

The biggest takeaway from lockdown for Tracey was how short and valuable our lives are. After much consideration, she quit her corporate job and now dedicates her full attention to The Vietnamese Boat People podcast. Similarly, Niall lost his job due to “covid cuts” and took that as his sign to pursue Seven Million Bikes full-time.

Tracey and Niall are both also lucky to have spouses that are fully supportive. hey are also overwhelmed with messages of support they receive from the listeners to their shows and how enriching that is. “That happiness makes you a better person,” Tracey adds.

This was an hugely interesting and entertaining episode of A Vietnam Podcast with a fascinating guest. Many of the subjects talked about with various guests over the seasons came up in this interview and it was not only great to hear the genesis of the Vietnamese Boat People Podcast but the experiences it has created for people who have benefited from listening to the podcast and inspiration to talk to their family more.

We’re glad Tracey and the Vietnamese Boat People podcast can continue to illuminate the stories from a dark period of time.

Here are the shortened answers to the questions asked of every guest at the end of the show.

Where would you go on a bike in Vietnam?
“I’d like to trace all of the different cities that my parents have grown up or lived in.”

Biggest challenge of lockdown?
“Being at home with the kids, but still working.”

Best part about lockdown?
“Spending quality time with my husband and children.”

What about Vietnam shocks you the most?
“Compared to other Asian countries I’ve been to, the pace that the country evolves.”

What pleasantly surprises you about Vietnam?
“The artistry of people in Vietnam”

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Many people struggle to find English entertainment in Vietnam. Seven Million Bikes hosts the popular show A Vietnam Podcast, stand-up comedy and events. Have fun, connect with others and share experiences of Vietnam.