Rise Above Adversities - My family's story as refugees of war - Podcast EP004

Podcast -

Rise Above Adversities - My family's story as refugees of war - Podcast EP004

Hi Friends, 

On today's episode, I share a wild story of how my parents/grandparents and extended family rose above adversities on their journey to America as refugees of war and creative ways to share your own family history with your kids.


Right-click here and save link as to download the episode to your computer.

In This Episode Mary Discusses:

  • The inspirational story of her family's journey as refugees of the Vietnam war.
  • Creative ways to document your own family history.

Mentioned in This Episode:

What Did You Think?

Leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast! It really helps us get found and be able to serve more people. I appreciate you so much!

Rating + Review

Episode Typed Out

Hi friends, I'm your host, Mary To-Saturnio. I am a mom to 2 little munchkins and creator of IZZAROO and Mindful Moms Movement. Join me in honest conversations about motherhood. Learn creative ways to strengthen your relationships with your kids and husband, optimize your health and home, and leave a legacy of fun and intention. I'm so excited to be spending this time with you today, let's get started!

 Hi Friends, welcome to episode 2 of the Creative and Intentional Family podcast.

On today's episode, I wanted to share a wild story of how my parents/grandparents and extended family rose above adversities on their journey to America as refugees of war and creative ways to share your own family history with your kids.

I originally created this as a youtube video, which i'll link to in the show notes on izzaroo.com/podcast - episode 2. You will definitely want to buckle up for this crazy adventure full of dangers, hardships, over-crowded boats and storms. Through shear will and determination - my family survived their journey as refugees of the Vietnam war.

This is their story, told by me:

Who am I?

My name is Mary.

I was named after a compassionate sponsor that helped my family immigrate to the United States.

I am the daughter of Vietnamese refugees known as "boat people"

I was born 3 months after my family arrived to the United States as refugees of the Vietnam war.

Many refugees failed to survive the passage, facing danger and hardships, pirates, over-crowded boats and storms.

Through courage and determination...my family survived.

This is their story...

  • My Aunt was living with her family in Cantho, Vietnam and working for the US State Department (draw map of Vietnam with star on Cantho)
  • She was given the opportunity to flee the country - but she had to travel alone, leaving her entire family behind.  ("draw April 30, 1975")
  • My grandparents urged her to take the opportunity.  (" draw helicopter ")
  • On April 30, 1975 the day that marks the end of the Vietnam War due to the Fall of Saigon my Aunt waited on top of the US embassy to board a helicopter to flee the country. (draw embassy building)
  • She then took a boat with over 3,000 other asylum seekers to be transported to a refugee camp (drawing of boat at sea)
  • The boat was over-crowded and illness spread rapidly (" draw people ")
  • She survived for 10 days at sea with only the clothes on her back and very little to eat (" draw sea ")
  • She arrived at Wake Island refugee camp (draw wake island)
  • After 1.5 months she few to the United States in July of 1975, settling in Southern California (draw US map)
  • She was on her own, in a new country and had to work 3 jobs to support herself
  • After about a year she moved to Northern Virginia to start her career and settle down. (draw line from CA to VA)
  • She was afraid to contact her family in Vietnam after hearing horror stories of others receiving severed hands and limbs of family members as blackmail from the communist government if they knew they had family in the US (start drawing eiffel tower)
  • To get around this, she mailed letters to her friend in Paris who then sent her letters on to Vietnam for her (draw eiffel tower)
  • My grandfather was thrilled to receive her letters and hear she was still alive 
  • After months of anticipation, she received a response letter from my grandfather. Everyone in the family was alive and well. (draw mail)
  • Disheartened by the capture of the country they once knew and loved - they felt they had no choice to flee the country.
  • In 1979, it costs 8 bars of gold per person to board a ship to leave.
  • My family was 17 people large and did not have enough money for all of them to flee together (draw gold)
  • My grandfather, being a skilled civil engineer who built boats and bridges for a living decided it was imperative for them to build our own boat if they wanted to stay together. (draw our boat)
  • Fearful the communist would not allow him to build the boat, he told them it was for fishing. He could not build on the boat himself in fear of suspicion, but he drew plans for my dad and uncles - who had no prior experience - to build the boat for our family  (" ")
  • After selling nearly all their possessions to buy materials and months of building - the boat was complete. (" ")
  • In March of 1979, my great grandmother (76 years old), grandmother (52), dad & mom (32), brother (5 years old), sister (2 years old), 4 uncles, 2 aunts and 2 cousins boarded the boat and headed out into the South China Sea on a journey they would never forget (draw people on boat)
  • My grandfather stayed behind in case they did not make it and had to return. One of my aunts also stayed behind with my cousin who was severely ill.
  • They endured 5 days at sea 
  • They were faced heavy storms and starvation
  • On the 4th day at sea, Thai pirates raided their boat and stole all their money, jewelry and belongings. (draw money & jewelry)
  • Finally, they arrived at a refugee camp in Malaysia only to be denied entry because the camp which was only equipped to hold 4,500 people had over 40,000 refugees already there (boat beng towed)
  • The Malaysain government took their small boat and put them on a larger boat to tow them to the next refugee camp
  • In the middle of the night, the rope which was towing them was cut, leaving them stranded in the middle of the ocean
  • To their luck, a fisherman found them and showed them the way to an island in Indonesia
  • Although, the island was over-crowded with thousands of refugees who landed their before them - it was uninhabited (draw Island)
  • They had to live off the land, making crude shelters, fishing and scavenging for food
  • 3 months of living on the island, US humanitarian organizations started to arrive - providing food, water, medical care and sponsorship opportunities (draw crude shelter)
  • My family remained on the island for another 8 months trying to coordinate sponsorship and contact my Aunt in the US
  • My father wrote countless letters to my Aunt in America and gave them to missionaries traveling from the US (draw letters)
  • Amazingly, one letter arrived to my Aunt - without a single stamp on it
  • She was overjoyed to hear that everyone was alive and learn where they were located. 
  • Feeling determined to rescue the family, she contacted the Red Cross for help. (draw red cross)
  • The Red Cross coordinated to rescue efforts to transport my family from the isolated Indonesian island - which was 6 hours by boat to the a refugee camp in Singapore.
  • Meanwhile, as unbelievable as this may seem, my Mom was actually 7 months pregnant with me and one of my aunts was 8 months pregnant with my cousin. (draw pregnant lady)
  • In the US, my Aunt was frantically trying to find an agency or church who could sponsor our entire family. 
  • Sponsoring 15 people together was unheard of.
  • She was denied repeatedly because the family was just too large.
  • In an effort to keep the family together she coordinated sponsorship from multiple Baptist churches in Virginia (draw church)
  • As a result of hard work from my aunt and numerous sponsors
  • My family arrived to the United States in March of 1980
  • My cousin, Richard was born a few weeks after they arrived.
  • I was born 3 months after they arrived (draw babies)
  • On January 16, 1981, my grandfather, aunt and cousin who remained in Vietnam, arrive to the US and our family was reunited (draw year with heart around it)

Today I am 38 years old. My family has grown to be 48 people large. I made this documentary as a way to help my own two children understand their rich family history. My hope is that they understand the sacrifices that were made and hardships that were endured so that we may have the freedom and opportunities in the country that we cherish - the United States of America. Thank you to our many sponsors and all the humanitarian efforts along our journey - we are forever grateful for your compassion and generosity. I am deeply humbled to be part of my family and the voice behind their story.

There you have it. I wanted to share this with you for a couple of reasons:

First, I feel like that story is a true testament to perseverance. Although many of us will never experience these extreme setbacks and obstacles in life, we will all encounter our own challenges and circumstances we need to overcome. And it's up to us how we handle those challenges, we can either let them cripple us and keep us from moving forward or we can pivot, think creatively to find solutions and above all, never give up. If my family gave up hope mid way through their journey I would likely have been born on that remote island with little chance to survive.

I hope hearing my families story this gives you the courage to rise above adversities you may come across and encourages you on your journey. I hope it helps you realize that your circumstances do not define you and that you have stories worth sharing.  That brings me to the second reason why I wanted to share this story with you.

I want to remind you how important it is for us to talk to our kids about our family history. As a young girl, my family never talked about how they came to America.  I was sure it was a hard journey and an emotional event to recall - so I never asked. Several years ago, I had the courage to ask if they could tell me more about it. I interviewed my grandfather, parents, aunts and uncles. and the stories and recollections that came out were sad, courageous and inspiring. I'm so glad that i took the time and energy to retell their story and document it by video so it can be passed down to generations to come. My original documentary compiled all the interviews and included subtitles, but since that would be difficult for my kids to sit through an 1.5 of video and read subtitles, I came up with a creative way to retell their story in 10 minutes by illustrations. You will definitely want to check out that video, I'll post a link to the show notes at izzaroo.com/podcast.

So I encourage you guys to be intentional. If you haven't talked to your kids about your family history, take the time to tell them. Don't wait for them to ask, just tell them, as much as you know.  Think about all the stories about your grandparents, parents that your kids don't know about. I am sure many of them lived through important historical events, experienced hardships and maybe even achieved breakthroughs in their lifetime. 

Personally, in my own family, it's become more and more difficult for each generation to speak and understand Vietnamese. I am one of the youngest of my generation to be able to communicate with my grandparents. It's scary to think that over a short period of time, our entire family history could be lost if it wasn't documented and passed down.

So think creatively about how you can share and document your own family history to keep it alive and rich for years to come. Here are some ideas I have for you:

  • Interview your ancestors like I did and make a little video.
  • You can compile photos to make a slideshow.
  • Create a family history book/scrapbook. I"m sure you're familiar with photobooks, you can use the same concept to document your families history.
  • Create a family tree together.
  • You can set up a blog to share and have family members contribute.
  • You could put together a genealogy calendar to mark important dates in your families history.
  • Start simple by just talking about it over dinner, or even in the car during your commute. 
  • How about taking them to visit an older family member with lots of stories to share and have your kids ask questions? 
  • Or ask your parents to share their old photos with you. 

I'm sure you can think of more, but these are just some ideas that will help you carry on your families legacy.

There are so many great ways. If you have any other creative ideas, be sure to leave us your comments at izzaroo.com/podcast


Hey Momma, I'm here to serve you! Let me know how I can best do that by asking me any question you have. You might have the same question has another Momma AND you might hear the answer to your question on a future episode. 

If you have a  comment or suggestion about today's episode or the podcast in general, send me an email at hello@izzaroo.com or connect with me on FacebookInstagram.


Create a Vision for Your Life with Karina Klepach Secrets to a great marriage with Yana Gil de Montes
Fallyn Smith Interview on Mindful Moms Movement Podcast 4 Simple ways to connect with your kids every day
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
Rise Above Adversities Podcast EP004 Meditation and Body Positivity for Moms Podcast EP003 
My Story Podcast EP002 Introduction of Mindful Moms Movement Podcast EP001

Hey Momma! Just a quick note, this post may contain affiliate links.

You Might Also Like...

One Month, 30 Day, Family Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
One Month, 30 Day, Family Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
(Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links, and we will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links, with no pric...
Read More
Easy Ways to Get Cash Back on Everyday Purchases
Easy Ways to Get Cash Back on Everyday Purchases
(Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links, and we will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. Read our dis...
Read More
Family Halloween Costumes 2021 - Breakfast Theme - Orange Juice Costume - Cereal Bowl Costume - Donut Costume - Bacon and Eggs Costume
Family Halloween Costumes 2021 - Breakfast Theme - Orange Juice Costume - Cereal Bowl Costume - Donut Costume - Bacon and Eggs Costume
when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. Read our disclosure policy here.) Family Halloween Costumes 2021 - Breakfast Theme - Orange...
Read More