When Vi Tran was a young boy growing up in Garden City, Kan., his mother made the most of what the refugee family had. She would take rice and roll it into a ball, adding a little bit of soy sauce.
“Honey, look,” she’d say. “It’s an egg, it’s a treat.”
The journey from Saigon to Garden City took two years, beginning when Tran was so young that he remembers it mostly through a scar on his forehead. After a period of capture by Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and time spent in the refugee camps of Thailand and the Philippines, he arrived stateside with his parents and sister to start a new life in Kansas.
That they landed in Kansas was the result of a desperate plea on his father’s part. In the refugee camp, Tran’s his father told a clerk, “We don’t want much, we’ll do anything, we’ll be farmers.”
The clerk’s eyes lit up at the mention of farming. “There’s farmland in America,” the clerk replied.
And with that, the Tran family was shipped off to Wichita, knowing only rudimentary English.
Tran’s love of the arts began when he thought his life had ended. An ambitious teenager who carried his family’s hopes and dreams across an ocean, he thought his life was over because he lost his 4.0 grade point average.
“If my life is over now because I’ve lost my 4.0, I might as well do what I want,” he recalls thinking.
Nowadays, Vi Tran likes to say he’s equal parts sea salt and wheat fields. His autobiographical play, The Butcher’s Son, explores the immigrant experience through his own family’s lens.