Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is recognized during May in the United States, and nine Intel Employee Resource Groups are sponsoring celebrations with the theme The Tapestry of Connections: Weaving of Culture, Language and Society.
As part of the celebrations, today we are sharing a recent conversation with Steve Bui, program manager on the Graphics Debug Team in the Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) Group. Steve talks about coming to the U.S. as a refugee during the Vietnam War and how he found a sense of belonging in his community and career.
I understand that you came to the U.S. as a refugee during the Vietnam War. Would you tell me about your experience?
I was born and raised in Vũng Tàu, South Vietnam until I was 13 years old. On April 27, 1975, three days before the fall of Saigon, my dad placed our family on a boat and told us not to get off for any reason. He had to stay behind, so I had to take care of myself, my pregnant mother, and three younger siblings.
After several days at sea, we came across a huge raft with a fence around it. We guessed it must be from the United States to rescue us, but we were afraid to get on it, so we waited from a distance to see what happened next. Our thought was we would climb into it to save ourselves in the event of a storm. A few hours later, many boats arrived suddenly and tied their boats to the raft, so they could climb over the fence to get into the raft. Chaos ensued. When we saw this, we reacted quickly by coming closer, but we had to tie our boats to other boats before us, then hop over several others to get to the raft. Then we climbed over the fence to get into the raft. A few hours toward the evening, what a surprise it was when a huge U.S. aircraft carrier approached and lifted all the refugees onto the aircraft carrier via the netted basket.
We weren’t sure what to expect in the U.S., but when we arrived in New Albany, Indiana, we were welcomed with open arms at the airport by the local Boy Scouts of America chapter, who became our sponsors. I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped my family through these challenging times. I am forever grateful, and to this day, I still consider New Albany my hometown.
What sparked your interest in engineering?
I wanted to prove myself in America, to become somebody so I could provide for my family and help my siblings. When I was 14, I started working anywhere that would hire me.
For a while, I worked delivering newspapers and as a groundskeeper, where I mowed the lawn and buried the dead at a cemetery in New Albany. We moved from New Albany to Tampa, Florida, after our dad (and another older brother) escaped Vietnam and finally made it to the United States. A few years later we moved from Tampa to Sacramento, California. I worked as a janitor while studying engineering at California State University, Sacramento.
Like many Asian immigrants, I’ve always felt I had to work twice as hard with English as my second language. Nonetheless, I love engineering because it gives me another “language” that makes perfect sense to me, a language of math, theory, and puzzles that I feel more confident in solving.
Why did you choose Intel?
Intel is a great company. I was thrilled when I was hired as a supervisor with the graphics validation team. It felt like all the hard work I’d put in and all the barriers I had overcome were recognized.
There are still challenges. Presentations can be difficult, and sometimes when people speak too quickly or use too many idioms, I can get lost. But a company’s values and culture are key for me. I respect the sense of community among people of diverse backgrounds at Intel, where discrimination is given zero tolerance. I especially appreciate the way Intel supports risk-taking.
Intel has great programs coupled with management support and guidance that helps each employee own and grow in their career path.
What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
AAPI Heritage Month is very close to the day that Saigon fell. So, for me, it is a time of remembrance and gratitude for the opportunities that I have been given. I also see it as an opportunity to build an understanding—of the challenges that our community has overcome, the challenges that we still face, and the contributions we have made to the U.S.
What’s your advice for aspiring A.A. and P.I. engineers?
To second-generation Asian American and Pacific Islander engineers and future generations, I say don’t be afraid to express yourself and pursue your dreams. Stand up for your beliefs and do what’s right for you and others. I, and many other first-generation immigrants to this country, did not have the appropriate language skills and cultural fluency to do that—but you do, so try to make a difference.
Fast Facts with Steve Bui
Advice to second-generation A.A. and P.I. engineers: Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and go after what you want. Stand up for your opinions, for others, and for what you believe in.
Why STEM: I love engineering because it gives me another language that makes perfect sense to me.
Ask me about: Soccer.
At Intel, we are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion at every level of our company and the broader industry. Read about our initiatives, employee stories and more at intel.com/diversity.
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