Tuyet Hua grew up in Gò Công, a small town south of Saigon and west of Vũng Tàu. Her father was a teacher, and her mother focused on raising the three boys and three girls in the family. Tuyet grew up “very modern,” participating in sports like table tennis, badminton, and track and field. When she was 21 in 1973, she met her future husband, and he asked her parents if they could marry. In the traditional Vietnamese society, the courtship was not long, and marriage was preferable to having a young girl go to the city to become a singer or dancer to earn money. By April 1975, the situation in the country had deteriorated, and some doctors in the town planned to purchase a boat (a plan that never came to fruition), but no one was openly talking about leaving. On April 29, 1975, Hung Nguyen, her husband, rushed in and told her to grab the baby because it was time to escape. Putting only a few necessities in a pillowcase, they ran to a waiting helicopter that took them to catch a small boat, which sailed to a larger ship. She was hoisted aboard the ship in a net, clutching her son and the pillowcase containing diapers and baby formula. The ship lingered for a few days off the coast of Vietnam to pick up more refugees before sailing for the Philippines, and she remembers being “packed like a fish in a can.” During the voyage, her son became very ill and could not take the formula because there was no hot water to mix with it. The family was dropped off in the Philippines with others requiring medical attention before continuing on to Guam. After processing through a refugee camp on Guam, they traveled to Camp Pendleton, California, to finish processing, complete medical requirements, and await sponsorship. One of her husband’s former American counterparts lived in Houston, and the family eventually relocated there.
In this interview, she talks about her childhood, her family, and meeting her husband. She describes fleeing Vietnam as refugees, and the stress of caring for a sick infant on the journey. She remembers cooking rice without enough water on board the ship, how good a pack of instant noodles tasted in the Philippines, and her son developing diarrhea that lasted until they finally arrived in Houston. She recalls feeling alone because she could not speak English, and her son coming home from pre-school crying because he was being bullied and called “Japanese” by the other children, who had little exposure to Asians in the late 70s in Texas. She discusses finally being able to communicate with her family in Vietnam though a friend in Hong Kong, and how she self-censored her letters, knowing the communists would read them before her family received them. Finally, she reflects on America and Vietnam, explaining how her family was eventually accepted into their community in Houston, and declaring “this is my country now.”