Voices of New Iowans: Ted Tran

Can you imagine leaving your parents behind to board a small boat bound for an unknown place? In April 1981, 9-year-old Ted Tran did just that.

The aftermath of the Vietnam War was a time of chaos and pain for many Vietnamese. Like many others, Ted Tran’s family was torn apart. Ted’s father put him and an older brother and sister on a small fishing boat to escape the country. Ted’s parents and four younger brothers stayed in Vietnam.

The conditions on the boat were awful.

I just throw up day after day. We have no water, no food, I got maybe a sip of water a day for six days and when we were on the boat the sun was just beating on us. The boat was a very small fishing boat, we had close to 90 people, we were crammed in like sardines in a can.
-Ted Tran

Ted was one of the lucky ones. Many Vietnamese “boat people” died from starvation, dehydration, or illness while trying to escape.

In October 1981, after six months in a Malaysian refugee camp, Ted and his siblings arrived in Iowa. Once here, he and his siblings were put in foster care. Ted lived with five different foster families—permanent and temporary—before he joined Vickie and Lynn Farmer and their two sons near Cedar Rapids. Ted found a place where he belonged. He became a part of the family as they traveled on family vacations and celebrated family events. Like every teenager, he had chores which he disliked. The Farmers encouraged him to get involved in school activities and go to college. And they are still close today even though they don’t get to see each other as often as they would like.

And I am just in awe of how he could do that, how he could adapt to a whole new country and he had to miss his birth parents and they had to miss him and to know that he was able to overcome all those things and become such a fine young man that he is today, that’s not a credit to us, it’s a credit to him.
-Vickie Farmer, Ted Tran’s foster parent

Ten years after arriving in the United States, Ted became an American citizen. As a district representative for 3rd District Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, Ted appreciated American freedoms and its political system. A role model for other younger Asian Americans, Ted started an Asian American professional’s organization to help the next generation of Asian Iowans enter the professional world.