Sara Massey

Dr. Massey’s project, titled “Never Far from the Sea: The Vietnamese of the Texas Gulf Coast,” was nominated for the award by Dr. Joe F. Dahlstrom, director of libraries for Victoria College/University of Houston–Victoria Library, who commended Massey’s collection of interviews with Vietnamese men and women who migrated to the Texas Gulf Coast following the fall of Saigon. The interviews are available to researchers in the Victoria Regional History Center of the Victoria College/University of Houston–Victoria Library, the University of Texas at Austin Center for American History, and the City by the Sea Museum in Palacios.

Dr. Massey first saw the need for the project in 1998 while she was employed by the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. As she edited the book The Asian Texans, she could find no primary source material on the Vietnamese in Texas. Two foundations in Victoria and one in Palacios furnished funding for Dr. Massey’s project to fill in the gap in the historical record. During 2008, she recorded interviews with forty-eight individuals whose families fled Saigon and settled in the Texas Gulf towns of Palacios, Port Lavaca, Seadrift, and Rockport. The interviewees ranged in age from twenty-one to eighty-two, all born in Vietnam except one who was born in Guam.

Dr. Massey began by acquiring background information through researching materials on Vietnam, the fall of Saigon, the refugees, and their arrivals at US camps. From her research, she developed a set of questions. All the subsequent interviews followed the same general pattern, thereby providing future scholars a rich primary resource on living in Vietnam, memories of the war, the escape from South Vietnam, life in the refugee camps, coming to the US, obtaining a sponsor, finding work, learning English, moving to Texas, finding better work, getting married, and building a new life.

A press release in the Palacios newspaper announcing her intent to interview Vietnamese people in the community yielded Dr. Massey the names of a few potential interviewees. She found other interviewees by visiting places Vietnamese people gathered, such as restaurants, nail salons, and local hangouts like the Dairy Queen and a bait shop where older men played dominoes. When meeting a person of Vietnamese origin, she handed them a one-page flyer explaining the project and providing her contact information. Some people refused to be interviewed or photographed. Some were embarrassed by the difficulty they had in responding to questions in English, and others never had told their stories of leaving Vietnam, even to their children. Among the forty-eight people who agreed to take part in the project, several required the help of family members or friends to serve as translators during the interviews.

Each interviewee signed a release form beforehand to donate their interview and photograph to the archive. In exchange for participation, each one received a copy of the transcript and the photograph. After the recordings were transcribed and deposited in the chosen archives, Dr. Massey presented her findings to local county historical commissions and wrote an article for Sound Historian. She held a “Thank You Reception” at the Museum of the Coastal Bend in Victoria to honor the interviewees, their extended families, project funding agents, and others associated with the project.