The Remembrance Project: Tich Don Truong03:20

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Tich Don Truong in 2012. (Courtesy Tien Truong)
Tich Don Truong in 2012. (Courtesy Tien Truong)

Tich Don Truong was only 14 when he left China on a cargo ship. The seven children he would someday have did not exist yet. But almost 80 years later, his youngest daughter Tien understood what drove him.

“He grew up with a very large family in China, and life was difficult back then,” his youngest daughter, Tien Truong, recalls. “He decided that he wanted to venture out to find his own destiny.”

Don landed in Vietnam, saved money, became a street vendor, and eventually, an entrepreneur. He also became a husband and father. History was tumultuous, but Don was not.

“He put his 100% heart and soul into working and saving for his family,” remembers Tien.
After the Vietnam War, military friends warned him to leave the country.

“My dad said, ‘What are you talking about? This is my life. I settled here, I live here all my life, all my children are grown up here, I’m not gonna leave.'”

But escape became imperative once the communist regime took over. A desperate Don sent four of his children off on a fishing boat.

“And I had no clue where we were going,” Tien recalls. “We just kept asking the question, ‘Where are we going?,’ and he said, ‘Well, you just follow your brother, and you’re going to go to the countryside, and you’re going to meet the fishermen, and there — you’re going to go.”

“But when we got there, the boat wasn’t there. He took off, with my dad’s money, all our belongings,” Tien remembers.

The third boat finally arrived in Malaysia. Eight months later, a Lutheran Church sponsored the family’s migration to a small Texas town. Don — an entrepreneur no longer in this new world — worked as a machinist, a janitor, a dishwasher. The children saw him on holidays.

“My parents were much older, so they had a language barrier. So, living in Texas was a challenge for them,” Tien recalls.

No one understood his history; no one grasped his destiny. It was a foreign-ness difficult to endure. Then, a friend mentioned that Massachusetts had a Chinatown.

“He was so excited. He said, ‘You said what? They have a Chinatown? I’m coming up next day. Pack our bags and we’re going to go!”

Thirty-four hard-working, satisfied years later, Don died in Boston last December at the age of 93. His wife, children and grandchildren were around him.

Did you know Tich Don Truong? Share your memories in the comments section.

This segment aired on March 8, 2016.