Gambling Addiction Breaks Up Vietnamese Families in San Jose

Gambling Addiction Breaks Up Vietnamese Families in San Jose

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As I was growing up, my family faced problems because of my stepfather’s addiction that led to financial problems, which eventually led to family trust issues among other things. He was addicted to gambling. I found out later on in San Jose that there are many, many people from the Bay Area of all sorts of backgrounds that have the same problem. But once I started talking to friends of mine, I noticed a lot of families in the Vietnamese community in San Jose have suffered in the same way.

Many Vietnamese people, young and old in San Jose, seem to have a great passion for gambling. At many Vietnamese shopping plazas, there would be people playing Ba Cau, dice, chess, and card games like Black Jack on a day to day basis. The group would be as many as twenty to fifty people sitting around tables, watching others gamble, and waiting for their turn to gamble whatever they had, even it may be their family's last money. People would talk in both Vietnamese and Chinese yelling at the players trying to figure out how to win.

At casinos like Bay 101 and Garden City, women would go there to fish out their husbands and family members so that they could pay their bills that month. That was our family. Usually the people sitting around the casino tables and the tables in the Asian plazas were middle aged to older adult Vietnamese men. My stepdad was one of them.

My stepfather's gambling addiction had gotten so bad that my mother was always chasing him everytime his paycheck came. And I, along with my younger siblings, sat in the back of the car as she chased him. My mom would pick us up from school to drive to his workplace and have us wait there while she went to confront him. He would usually be working on some shift in the afternoon while my mom forced him to hand over his check at the company’s payroll office. He was a machinist and she worked as an assembler in a semiconductor company making satellites.

Even though they pulled in a double income, they still had to rent out all the rooms (including the garage) in the house to afford the mortgage and necessities for our family. We (kids) were in elementary at that time. I didn't know what to think of it since I was only ten. We lived coldly with each other as a family, not knowing how to relate to people both outside and inside the family after a series of years. Even though my younger brother and I were consciously naïve about the whole situation, in reality we knew we only had each other. I felt a lot of pressure to make someone of myself, since I knew I would have to contribute to my familly even at a young age. I didn't know what I would want to be but I knew not to be anything like my father, at least in terms of how to handle money. My brother felt the same way. Our family experience was defined by our financial struggles.

I even tried to research the issue, and according to America's Mental Health Channel, some signs of gambling as an addiction are loss of control, illegal acts, lying, bail out, preoccupation, and withdrawal. These are things that I grew very accustomed with.

It gave me comfort finding out that I wasn't the only one but at the same time that comfort felt strange. My friend Nga’s situation almost completely mirrored our situation at our household. My friend Nga Nguyen and I had a lot of similar experiences in our family’s journeys through gambling addiction.

Our mothers were the ones keeping our families together when things went down. Her mother took some of the same measures to remedy their family’s finances. Her family spent a lot of time being as frugal as can be, more so than the incomes would imply. They scrimped and saved after any purchase that they would make for the livelihood of the family. There was a time when her father staged a burglary to cover up for the money lost at that time from the casino. She said, “I felt angry, disappointed, and betrayed by my father’s actions."

Sometimes I feel what we could have done a better job to help my stepfather with his problems. I sometimes think his actions were a result of a long rocky marriage, feelings of depression, and a loss of hope that things would ever get better. In the end there was a lot of analyzing we all did, the "what if's" or the "could be's." But at the end of my mom’s marriage to him, the finalization of their divorce was his only wake up call to his gambling addiction. There was nothing that could get him to stop his addiction. I think things could have gotten worse, and at least, we all survived.