Posted on: September 5, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Sierra Docks, COM 101 Student

Her first encounter with a snake in the jungle was something she would never forget.

Five-year-old Hoa Vu scrounged around for fruits with her father and older sister as they trekked their way through the muddy forest floors. A hissing sound startled little Hoa as she reached her arm out to grab a lychee. She screamed as the snake pierced through her pale flesh, knocking her off her feet. Her father, armed with a hatchet, sliced through the snake, leaving its head detached from the rest of its body. He examined Vu’s bite and breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing that the snake was not poisonous.

“That moment stuck with me forever. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die,” says Vu, now 54. “I had decided in that moment, at five years old, that I did not want to live like that anymore. I am forever thankful that I came to America.”

As part of a course themed around empathy, students in Lisa Couch’s COM 101 write profiles allowing readers to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

Today, Vu works at Tru Vue, a museum glass manufacturer. She has worked there for more than 17 years and has raised two children since coming to the United States. She recalls that the difficult decision to leave her family was necessary for her to be able to have a life of her own.

Vu remembers what it was like for her as a little girl: “Life was very hard, no easy way out. We were dirt poor. People looked down on us. I remember my father telling me I had to work because I had no brothers to do the work for me. We would travel through the jungle searching for fruits to sell to people in town to make some money. 

“My mom had six girls before me. I was supposed to be a boy. My mother made me go live with people at five years old so I can work for them and make money for my family.”

Vietnamese people looked down on those who had many children, especially if they were not able to care for them financially. 

While still a young girl, Vu made the difficult journey to the United States. 

“I came over on a boat,” she says. “I had no money, nothing to my name. I begged the guy driving the boat to let me on even though I had no money to pay. I am so thankful he did. My family did not want me to go and I did not want to leave my sisters, but I needed a life. I did not want to be poor forever.”

But the challenges didn’t end once she arrived here, alone and 14 years old with no family here. 

“I did not go to school in Vietnam,” she says. “In America, you have to know something to get a job. I did not know how to speak English or where to get a job. Only thing I knew how to do was work.” 

My mom had six girls before me. I was supposed to be a boy. My mother made me go live with people at five years old so I can work for them and make money for my family.”

Hoa Vu

Vu became acquainted with a man, also of Vietnamese descent, whom she met on the street while looking for opportunities for work. She ended up marrying him. Unlike her, he was born in America and had an education.

“It was hard not seeing my family,” Vu said. “I had to deal with them being upset because I left. They did not want me to go. I met Phin and he help me to learn the language a little bit. I got a job at a cloth shop. 

“I remember I walked up to the place, and it had these doors not like any other doors I had seen in Vietnam. I ask him, ‘What is that?’ He told me they were revolving doors. I say to him, ‘I feel like that’s my life right now. I keep going in circles and I don’t know what to do.’”

After finding work, Vu realized that her lack of education was holding her back. A coworker who had also come from another country helped her to join a class to learn how to read and write properly. After starting the class, she realized she wanted to help others who weren’t given educational opportunities in their home countries. 

Years later, she got a job working at Tru Vue working mostly with immigrants with limited education and knowledge of the English language. She has since helped more than 45 individuals to learn to read and write in English. 

“It was hard and a lot of work,” she says. “It’s not easy when you’re still learning yourself and you don’t know everything. I think it’s worth it though. Every time I see how happy I make someone, it makes me happy. I have to share what I learned because that’s the right thing to do.”

Today, she has a good life now, with two adult children who both pursued college degrees and are in the medical field. 

“What can I say? I’m happy now. I think everyone deserves to be happy. If you can help someone else, then why not do it? It might be what you are meant to be doing.”

Vu expressed how grateful she is for everyone who was willing to help her. 

“I don’t know where I would be if not for every person who has helped me,” she said. “I’d probably still be somewhere in Vietnam, going in circles, trying to figure out why I don’t deserve to be happy.”