I was only 13 years old when my family had to flee our country.
In April of 1975, Saigon, Vietnam fell to the communist regime. My father, a high ranking official in the South Vietnamese army, was high on the list to be “reformed” by the communist soldiers – a euphemism for political imprisonment, torture, and often death.
My parents instructed us to pack a small bag with a couple sets of clothes, a little food, and some money in case we were separated. My family and relatives joined 300 other scared refugees on a small fishing boat, and as we fled Vietnam, we huddled together as waves bounced us around and bullets flew past us at a terrifying rate. Many families, fearful of their lives, left the boat in an attempt to find another way to escape. As Saigon erupted into flames behind us, we pressed on until the small boat hit the open ocean. After several days, we were picked up by a US Navy ship and transported to the Philippines. After several days of not eating, we found ourselves traveling, desperate to find shelter and safety. For an entire year, we traveled from camp to camp. After much turmoil, we finally left the final US camp upon clearing the mandatory quarantine, passing the required testing, and finding a sponsor in the United States.
Once we arrived in Dallas, Texas – things were better, but they were still hard. My parents struggled to support our family with their meager minimum wage jobs. We struggled, we worked hard, and we were almost always hungry. As a family of 10, it was incredibly difficult to make ends meet – with myself and my siblings having to work from a very early age in order to help our family. The struggles were intense, and much of the innocence of my childhood was lost as I began working several jobs by the age of 13. By the age of 16 while other children my age were getting their license and cars, I began working a midnight shift for a factory job. Life for our family was a daily struggle – but we made it work.
...and then, one day, I was accepted into college – and everything changed.
The opportunity to go to college was a dream for me. Understanding that education is the surest pathway to freedom and growth, I longed for the opportunity to go to college and create a sustainable future for myself. While I still worked several jobs during college, I knew that getting my education was about more than just making money – it was a pathway to freedom.
Finally able to live out our Dream, I got a degree and began my 35 year career in the IT industry. I was able to help my family, create a stable future, and become a productive member of the country that graciously took me and my family in during our darkest time.I created the Be Kinder Coffee Project to help bring opportunity, support, and kindness to everyone who needs it in this life – with a special focus on refugees. I wanted to create a community that celebrates delicious coffee, kindness, and opportunity. As a former refugee myself, I understand the terror, sadness, and frustration that comes with that title – and I also understand the judgement, mistreatment, and misconceptions placed upon refugees by others. I hope that together, we can share a cup of coffee, a bit of compassion, and spread the kindness that this world desperately needs now more than ever.