A fight for freedom: Retiring custodian tells his harrowing experience in coming to America from Vietnam in search of independence


The end of the school year is coming. Students and teachers are preparing for finals. Administration is concluding the busiest time of the year with paperwork and meetings. Other staff members are working to end the year as well.

Although this time of year is busy, there are some faculty, administration and staff here concluding there careers.

One person who will be retiring after 22 years of service at Delta College is Tan Mai.

Mai was born in Vietnam before the South Vietnam versus France war.

As he grew older the Vietnam war broke out.

At the time he and his brother were enlisted in his country’s army.

Mai was able to serve with the U.S. Army Special Forces, the green berets.

“I do miss my homeland, it is very different than here with no freedom,” said Mai.

Life after military service led him into public service as a policeman in Bien Hoa.

Shortly after the communist party took control, all the men with any power or military involvement were forced into prison camps.

Mai’s sister had married an American serviceman and had already been in the United States. She wrote encouraging the family to move to the U.S.
After the communist party took over they did.

Mai’s journey to get to America was not easy.

It included a dangerous trip through the Khmer Rouge-ravaged Cambodia and Thailand.

He tried two times, once by boat and a second time by land, each time being caught and imprisoned.

“It was hard to get to America, my family and I faced death to get here,” said Mai.

His third attempt was a success.

Mai made it to a refugee camp in Cambodia.

Three months after his arrival, his family was able to meet up with him and the wait to come to America began.

A two-year wait.

In 1983, Mai and his family arrived in Beaumont, Texas, staying there a little over a year.

Coming to the America was a life changing experience with safety and freedom according to an email sent out by Director of Admissions and records Catherine Mooney to the campus community about Mai.

After finding a childhood friend and his sister living in California, he and his family decided to move to Stockton.

Prior to working at Delta College Mai was a student, taking auto mechanic classes and English as a Second Language in the mid 1980s.

Working here at Delta College as a custodian,  in the administration building, he was able to help put three of his five children through college.

“I like working here at Delta College,” said Mai. “I am greeted by many people here each day from administration and students.”

After retirement Mai will be visiting his mother and sister, who still live in Vietnam.

His mother is in her 90s and needs all the help he can offer, he said.

After years of service on this campus, Mai considers those he worked with a second family.