AAPI Story :  “Never Give Up”

 “Never Give Up”

By Joe Luu

Phuong Say Phan was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, on October 29, 1943, to Chinese parents, Ich Thien Phan and Hoa Doung Ngo.  They escaped from the Japanese atrocity in Hainan, China, during World War II and fled to Nha Trang, a coastal city with many opportunities in Central Vietnam.

Phuong met her husband, Minh Luu, and was married on December 25, 1971.  The couple has three sons and one daughter.  Phuong had a tailoring business in the booming city, and she provided sewing services for U.S. service members and overseas clients.

Grandpa and Grandma, Mary and her older sister

The Luus were forced to leave their new country because of their Chinese ethnicity after the Fall of Saigon, Vietnam, on April 30, 1975.  The Vietnamese government took over their business and properties immediately after their departure.  The Luus escaped with 249 other refugees on a 20-foot by 50-foot wooden boat.

The unreliable boat navigated off towards Hong Kong for 11 days on a single diesel engine with no GPS and a limited amount of food and water.  Many Vietnamese refugees did not make it to their destinations.  Some got lost at sea and capsized, many died from starvation, and others became victims of Thai pirates.

Mary’s four children

They landed in Hong Kong and lived in a concentrated refugee camp from April 1979 to April 1980.  After that, they resettled in an underprivileged Los Angeles, California area.  Gangs, crimes, and drugs surrounded the place where they grew up.  It was a challenge for the Luus to assimilate to American culture because they were unfamiliar with the new area.  They had to adapt to new customs, culture, language, etc.  Luckily no one in the Luu family ended up in a gang or prison.

Phuong Luu had to work at many sweatshops to support her four little children.  She diligently sewed in horrible working conditions 12 hours 7 days a week to provide shelter and food for her kids.  It was not typical for the Luus to skip a meal because of their lack of resources.  The Luus had to move from one housing unit to another during the 80s and 90s as tenants.  Finally, as of March 2003, they settled in Rosemead, CA, as proud homeowners.  Phuong became a U.S. citizen in June of 1997 and changed her name is Mary Luu.

Mary Luu

Mary Luu is currently a grandma and is retired.  Ann Luu is the youngest daughter who owns a 2-unit home in Altadena, CA, and is a proud Farmers Insurance agency owner In Pasadena, CA.  She is married to Robert Silva and has a daughter named Chloe.

Joe Luu is the youngest son who graduated from UCLA and holds an MBA.  Joe is also an army veteran who earned the rank of an army Captain.  Currently, he is entertaining people and veterans with his comedy shows.  Joe is married to Thuy Nguyen, and they have two wonderful boys, Bruce and Lee.

Martin Luu, the middle son, is a care provider for his father, a stroke patient at a convalescent home.  Finally, Rick Luu, the oldest son, owns and operates a thriving Swiftlet edible bird nests business in Bac Lieu, Vietnam.  Rick and Joe own properties where Minh Luu used to live in Southern Vietnam.

The Luus story is a classic immigrant story that faced tremendous adversities.  The Luus made the best of their situation regardless of their circumstances.  Next time, if one feels one has not given one’s best or has given up on hope, visualize the 249 Vietnamese refugees in a tight wooden boat with a single diesel engine.

Furthermore, if that is not compelling enough, perhaps explore one’s backyard, and look up one’s parents’ story.

(This is one of  a series of reports about Stop AAPI Hate Sponsored by CA State Library SH Grants )