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Artists: Amelie Shears and Jaylin Isaac


Writers: Wendy Orr, Sofia Zander and Zach Franklin

Completed in 2018
Link to full Interview video

Aimee Phan’s parents were both born and raised in South Vietnam, growing up during the Vietnam War. They both came from big families. Her mother was one of seven siblings and her father was one of 13 siblings. Her father worked in the army. He taught US soldiers how to speak Vietnamese, and taught Vietnamese soldiers how to speak English.


Both of her parents left Vietnam to study in the Philippines in the 1960s, where they met and fell in love. Her mother won a scholarship to study social work in Kentucky, and her father went to Missouri. They lost track of each other, but Aimee’s mother was able to work with the American Red Cross to relocate her father. They were married in Missouri.


In the 1970s, the war ended, and many South Vietnamese families had to flee their own country to avoid persecution. The US took in many of these refugees, particularly since many of these families had supported the United States’ involvement in the war. Many refugees settled in Orange County, California, and Aimee’s parents moved there as well. Aimee’s mother worked as a social worker helping refugees start a new life in the US.

Aimee’s parents also worked to bring the rest of their family to the United States. Leaving Vietnam was not easy. Many people left on tiny, unsafe boats. Because these families were bringing all of their belongings with them, refugee boats were often targeted by pirates. The world referred to these refugees as “Boat People”. Many did not survive. 


By the 1990s, all of Aimee’s relatives had safely relocated in the United States. Aimee began teaching at the California College of Arts and settled in Berkeley with her partner and children. Aimee decided to write a book about Operation Babylift, an effort to bring thousands of orphaned Vietnamese babies to the United States. 


When she was writing the book, Aimee found out that her own mother had been part of that story as well. Aimee’s mother had returned to Vietnam to persuade her mother to move to the United States. While she was there, the US Adoption Agency asked her to help with Operation Babylift as a social worker. She came back home on an airplane full of babies, helping these children who had lost their parents start a new life in a new country.

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