We have updated a Chinese version of this story. Please sroll down to read this story in Chinese.
When Raymond Moc fled to China from Vietnam in 1977—two years after the fall of Saigon—the Chinese government identified him as an overseas Chinese and assigned him to work on a farm. But he didn’t want to be labeled as overseas Chinese. His desire was to be legally recognized as a refugee, which would give him the chance to go to a western country. He had no idea that this goal would lead him to spend one month on a boat, and another six months living in a prison.
Raymond was born to a Chinese family in Haininh, Vietnam in 1954. Moc was 21 when the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as Viet Cong) captured the capital of South Vietnam. One year later, he started planning his escape from South Vietnam with his girlfriend Fanny Moc, who later became his wife. “We thought about every possibility to escape, taking a boat and even walking to Thailand,” said Raymond.
They had indeed attempted to walk to Thailand with a group of people, but failed after a few days and decided to return due to the fear of being killed by the guerrilla forces, kidnapped by bandits or eaten up by tigers. “Only a few made it to Thailand, and some others, we never heard from them since then,” said Raymond.
When he and his wife returned to Vietnam, they stayed a few weeks for another chance to escape. In the spring of 1977, they heard about a conflict between the Vietnamese and Chinese governments, and that China had started to accept some Chinese-Vietnamese from North Vietnam. This time, he and his wife travelled up to North Vietnam and successfully passed through the Chinese border.
Since Raymond is Chinese-Vietnamese and disguised himself as a resident of North Vietnam, the local Chinese government recognized him as an overseas Chinese instead of a refugee from South Vietnam. While this afforded him the chance to stay legally in China, it wasn’t what he wanted. “We don’t want to stay there,” said Raymond, “We escaped from Vietnam because of the Communist party, there is no reason we shall stay in a Communist country.”
In the fall of 1978, Raymond started planning his escape from China. He and his wife gathered 43 people, bought water, food and a sailing boat, and set off from a port in Guangxi’s Beihai City. Their destination was Hong Kong. “It was a gambling of life. Everyone on that boat knew it, we were taking the biggest risk in our life and there were no options,” he said.
None of the 45 people on board had sailing experience. The trip, which was supposed to take only two weeks at most, lasted an entire month.
When Raymond and his colleagues finally arrived in Hong Kong in December 1978, all the camps on the small island were packed with refugees from Vietnam. The local government had to house them in a prison, where he married his wife. “They didn’t treat us like prisoners, and the meals were actually not bad. But we were separated and not allowed to go out,” said Raymond.
Six months later, they were relocated to a refugee camp in Kowloon. He filled applications to the embassies of United States, Canada and Australia in Hong Kong, and got approved to come to the States because they had a relative in Los Angeles who was able to sponsor them.
On September 1st, 1979, a plane carrying the Mocs and other Vietnamese refugees landed in Los Angeles. “$50 dollars, that’s all we had,” said Raymond. They were literally broke and without shelter. Their guarantor in America didn’t welcome them in the airport but asked a pastor to pick them up and bring them to a church. “People scattered over the church, sleeping on the benches and floors. You can barely find a spot to stand,” said Fanny. “You can tell they are all refugees.”
Raymond, after working briefly for $1.99 an hour in a shoe factory, landed a busboy job in a Taiwanese restaurant. “The owner of the restaurant was good to me, so was the chef. They taught me the basics of cooking after work,” said Raymond, “and I learnt it quickly, because I have to.” Fanny also took up a restaurant job, and the two started picking up English. Soon they found an apartment and had their first child in 1980, and their second child in 1983.
Raymond worked his way up from busboy to chef in a few years in the restaurant business, and ended up starting his own restaurant on 7th street in Downtown L.A. in 1985. “I made $3,000 a month as a chef in 1985, and my wife was working in a jewelry store. We saved up some money and decided to have our own business,” he said.
His restaurant business took off after a few months. However, they encountered a big challenge four years after opening. It was 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots. “Our major clientele were African Americans, after the L.A. Riots, they stopped coming to my restaurant, because they thought I was Korean,” said Raymond. Business went down due to these racial tensions, and the Mocs were forced to shut down the restaurant in 1993.
“We came here as refugees, but, we didn’t even have time to think what does that mean.” — Fanny Moc
Raymond and his wife later found work as chefs in casinos. During that period they also began volunteering for the American Haininh Community Association, a non-profit organization that serves the Chinese-Vietnamese community in San Gabriel Valley. “When I get older and finally have sometime for myself. I started thinking about giving back,” said Raymond. “We have gained so much. We feel appreciated.”
Now, Raymond and Fanny are retired and living in Alhambra. Raymond was even elected as chairman of Haininh Community Association. Nowadays his hope is that someone will tell the stories about them and Vietnamese refugees, but he feels that fewer young people are interested in their stories. “After we die, who will be the one to tell the stories?” Raymond wonders.
Fanny, however, takes a somewhat different mindset. She says she saw the news about Syrian refugees, which reminds her about her experience as a refugee and she thinks that living in the present is just as important as acknowledging the past.”We came here as refugees, but we didn’t even have time to think what does that mean, we just strived to survive,” said Fanny. “But it’s just life. We made it, that’s the point.”
The interview was translated from Chinese, edited and condensed.
不久後，經由教會和一個救援國際難民的公益組織“國際救援委員會”（International Rescue Committee）幫助，夫妻倆在洛杉磯市中心的一個皮鞋工廠找到了第一份工作。“那時候老板付我們1.99塊美金一個小時。但做了兩三個月，他們開始裁員，我們也就失業了”。莫華峰說失去這份工作後，他們開始結交一些當地的朋友，並在朋友的幫助下找到一間出租屋，跟別人同住一個房間分攤房租。因為不識英文，他和妻子只找到一份在中餐館打雜的工作。