When the Vietnam War ended in April 1975, it was supposed to signal peace, rebuilding, and rehabilitation — an opportunity to start again. However, because of extreme poverty, political oppression, and continued conflicts, many Vietnamese fled the country.
Before reaching the US and European territories, Vietnamese refugees’ first destinations included the Philippines. At the end of April 1975, the first refugees arrived in the Philippines, entering the archipelago in two ways. First, those thousands who received temporary accommodation from the American officials and second, those hundreds of “boat people” who risked crossing approximately 1,560 km and spent a week on treacherous seas to reach the Bataan Refugee Camp. A couple of thousands found new homes in the archipelagic province of Palawan.
It was their only way to survive. And while it was a tragedy for those who didn’t survive the journey, some Vietnamese built homes and started a new life in the Philippines.
Enough of the war. This isn’t a sob story, but the opposite. Here we have Vietnamese-Filipino Michael Audrey Sagonoy, the man behind the Pobreng Laagan (Cebuano for poor explorer) Facebook page, who gladly told us about the story of his father being one of the boat people and his hopes of one day meeting him in person. Michael also showed us his travels and took us on a drone adventure.
A proud Vietnamese
Growing up with a loving mother supportive of his passion and life ventures, Michael learned how important it is to have compassion and respect toward others. One of his fondest childhood memories was how his mother gave him the freedom to play outside and explore life with kids his age.
“I used to break my toys, particularly my mobile cars and choppers, to see what’s inside and examine how it works with the remote control,” he shared. Who knew? Now Michael flies his drone and is studying at Cebu’s premier aeronautical school.
Michael is half Filipino and half Vietnamese. “I am proud to be Vietnamese by blood, and I am always grateful to my parents for giving me life and letting me see the wonders of this world.”
Michael’s father was one of the boat people who sought asylum in Bataan, Philippines, in 1985, where he met his mother. But his father left for California when Michael was just five years old, and they eventually lost touch.
It was just recently when they were able to talk again on Viber. While the communication was limited, he somehow learned about what his father had been up to in the US — and realized they shared similar interests.
His father worked as a stage performer and singer in the US before venturing into business. Michael, who plays the guitar well and has an award-winning talent for digital content creation, is also a self-taught entrepreneur.
“When I was in high school, I used to buy goods, such as ready-to-wear items, above costs where I earned a minimal yield and helped sustain my needs and grow my capital.”
When it comes to celebrations, there’s no denying Michael is part Vietnamese. They celebrate Chinese New Year (in the Philippines, Chinese New Year is widely celebrated) “with a bang, similar to Vietnamese traditions.” Perhaps, in Tet 2023, we’ll see Michael in áo dài.
Seeing the world from above
Pobreng Laagan has over 180,000 followers on Facebook — what started as a mere exploration turned into a hobby, shared Michael. And that hobby has earned him the “Best Cebu Facebook Vlogger of 2022” in this year’s Best Cebu Blog Awards, recognizing Cebu-based content creators.
“Through the Pobreng Laagan platform, I receive an allowance for every feature I post,” he said. “Then I use it to finance my daily grind in producing memorable and worthwhile content.”
Michael started flying his drone in 2016, and since then, it has become his creative weapon in capturing the beauty of Cebu, other parts of the Philippines, and with his fingers crossed, soon Vietnam. In fact, if there’s one place in Vietnam he wants to fly his drone for Instagram reels, it would be in Saigon.
Besides his physical features, the Vietnamese-Filipino gentleman is convinced he got his attitude and taste in food from his Vietnamese side of the family.
On top of his business ventures and content creation, Michael’s priority and hope for 2023 is to continue learning and “meet my biological father in California.”