WXXI AM News

Ginny Nguyen: 'We wanted democracy, we wanted freedom'

Sep 11, 2017

Ginny Nguyen and her family escaped Vietnam in April 1975, as South Vietnam fell. "My mother and my father left everything behind to save our lives," she said.
Credit Emily Hunt/WXXI

As a child, Ginny Nguyen went from a life of privilege in Vietnam to one of poverty in the United States.

Through hard work, she and her family ultimately found success in their new country.

Getting there, however, was a harrowing experience.

Nguyen’s father, Doi Chanh Nguyen, was a lieutenant colonel with the Green Beret special forces with the South Vietnamese army. He came home one day -- it was April 29, 1975 -- and told the family they had to get out immediately.

“He said, ‘We got to leave, we got to pack, we got to leave now. The country is overrun. ... So we packed everything within like 10, 15 minutes, and we jumped in my father's Jeep and he had a couple of his soldiers that work under him and still there at the time, and that's when we get out from Saigon.”

They escaped via her father’s ship, but a mechanical malfunction left them adrift in the ocean for a couple of days, she said.

“We were so scared that the communists would come out and get us,” she said.

Luckily, a fishing boat encountered them and let them board. A few days later, an American ship picked them up and the family went to a camp in the Philippines for a couple of months, Nguyen said.

“From there we go to another camp, Wake Island, and from there, we go to Arkansas, and then we waited for a sponsor to come to Rochester,” she said. “So it was quite an experience.”

Her father knew about Rochester and its big companies like Kodak and Xerox, so he decided that the family would pursue the American dream there.

“We could have gone to Paris because we have relatives in Paris or California, where the weather is warmer ... My dad said, ‘Nope, we go to Rochester.’ That's the end of it and he worked very hard. He worked four jobs, my dad did.”

The life in Rochester was a far cry from what they had been accustomed to in Vietnam, where they had maids and chauffeurs.

“My mother and my father left everything behind to save our lives. We wanted democracy, we wanted freedom, so it was a lot of adjustments. ... So we don't have much, but we have a lot of love.”

Nguyen and her siblings went to school and established successful careers; she works as a licensed real estate salesperson. And she couldn’t be prouder of her two sons. Her older son works for Windstream and owns a karate school.

As for her younger son, Nguyen said he was inspired by his grandfather’s military service.

“He come home one day and he says, ‘Mom, I want to be in the military. I want to serve like Granddad. I want to make him proud and I want to give back to this country.”

Ginny Nguyen holds a photo of her father, Doi Chanh Nguyen, who was a lieutenant colonel with the South Vietnamese army. After the family fled their country and ultimately ended up in Rochester, her father would work several jobs to provide for his family.
Credit Emily Hunt/WXXI

He graduated from the United States Naval Academy last year, and he's currently serving and continuing his training in South Carolina, Nguyen said.

Nguyen, who now is a member of the Blue Star Mothers of America, makes it clear that the United States is her country now. She deeply loves it and its people. 

“At first we were scared when we came to this country because we were minority and people looking at us and we were nervous, but then after we'd been here for years, I realized that once you become part of the community, they look out for you and they support you and they protect you.

“What I have here wouldn't be without all the veterans that came (from) America to sacrifice their lives.”