On a weeknight evening, the Nguyen family members gathered in their kitchen to prepare a traditional Vietnamese meal and commune around their dinner table. Their home had a feeling of warmth and their company was friendly. Amanda Nguyen, the wife of Dr. Peter Nguyen, ladled up bowls of steaming hot pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup, as a starter for the meal. While they don’t cook Vietnamese food every night, he said they try to make dinner and eat together as often as they can.
Sitting together as a family and sharing a meal is not only an important tradition in Vietnamese culture but is also a staple in the culture the Nguyen family has become a part of: American culture.
Nguyen and his family fled violence in his home country at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. His mother, who he describes as very head-strong, insisted they press on and not turn back. They spent a week at sea before they were rescued by the U.S. Navy, shuffled around to different refugee camps and temporary homes before finally settling in the small town of Seadrift, where Nguyen’s family worked as fishermen – the only skill he says they really possessed having worked as fishermen in his home country.
Nguyen says that in Vietnam, he wouldn’t have been able to go to school. His family was poor and as soon as you were old enough to work, you did.
His family would eat the fish they didn’t sell, and it all had to be eaten fresh because they had no refrigerator to store food.
In the United States, he became a first-generation college graduate and pursued a medical degree at Louisiana State University, where he met his wife Amanda, also a Vietnamese refugee.
He now sets a stunning example for his three adult children’s success, who are all strong-willed and pursuing careers of their own.
The racial tensions that plagued Seadrift in the late 1970s marked a sad chapter for our region and country. But Nguyen’s will to persevere and bring his talents and family back to the South Texas where his American journey began illustrates the strength of immigrants.
Nguyen is now pursuing something that has been a lifelong dream of his: to join the U.S Navy and use his skills as a physician to give back to the very people who saved his life those many years ago escaping Vietnam.