Leaving Vietnam as child begins Lam’s journey to caring educator


Bailey Lai

Coppell High School assistant principal Ryan Lam’s family photos share his story of being a Vietnamese refugee. Lam explains how these photos are the last memory his mother brought from Vietnam.

Umama Suriya, Staff Writer

In the sparkling moonlight, a little boy and his parents flee from their beloved home country, having no idea where they would go next.


Coppell High School assistant principal Ryan Lam has a unique backstory that many do not know. CHS associate principal Sean Bagley has worked with Lam for nearly a decade.


“The love he has for people, I think, has a lot to do about where he came from,” Bagley said. “He has a heart of gold and I think that where he came from has made him the person he is today.”


Some students were able to hear the story directly from Lam during their history classes. One of those students is CHS senior Siddharth Maskara.


“When you get away from somewhere like that, you don’t think about yourself as much,” Maskara said. “You’re thinking about yourself in the first place to get yourself out of there, but after that, you think about other people. He’s an [assistant principal] so people always go to him. Mr. Lam is very outgoing, and very easy to talk to, and that’s the reason why I think most people go to him for help.”


Lam’s journey begins when Ho Chi Minh took over Lam’s birthplace Saigon, South Vietnam, and named it after himself. Under the control of Ho Chi Minh, many Vietnamese were forced to flee their home country, including Lam and his parents.


Leaving everything behind, Lam and his parents were three of about 1.5 million people who were forced to evacuate their childhood country to safety. Lam’s family and their forced adventure was from Vietnam to Singapore, and eventually to Iowa after his mother’s sister sponsored them to get a visa.


“When given the choice between life or death or living a life that’s not what you’re used to, you have to start figuring out: well, what’s the better choice?” Lam said. “And if it’s leaving a country where you were pretty much born in, raised in, and that’s all you know, you can imagine how frightful it can be to learn a new language, learning a new culture.”


Although many of these people were Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh’s men only allowed those who knew how to speak Chinese to reach safety. Fortunately, Lam’s parents knew how to speak Chinese, and were able to escape harm. Lam was only 18 months old during this time and was given a sleeping pill so he would not make noise. Noise from him would have compromised the safety of the passengers.


“The fishing people would take all your stuff, so if you had luggage and clothes, they would take that away because they got paid to stow us away but they all wanted more,” Lam said. “They took everything, but my mother had a couple of pictures she kept in her pocket that they didn’t want and that’s all we had.”


Although Lam and his family had nothing valuable from Vietnam to remember of their journey, they still had a couple pictures that Lam still has as memories of his childhood.


“We are all important, we all have significance,” Lam said. “Everyone has their own stories. And some stories, of course, aren’t as glamorous as other stories but [it benefits] by just knowing that we have a history that puts us where we are.”


In the end, they all reached safety. But before that, they went through a lot: losing their properties, businesses and most importantly: their homes.


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