Vietnamese Americans re-visit NU
Family sponsored by local churches moved here in 1977
NEW ULM — Thanks to the compassion and elbow grease of volunteers from six New Ulm churches, an 11-member Vietnamese family emigrated from a refugee camp in Malaysia to New Ulm in 1977.
Two members of the family, Richard and Solomon Huynh, drove to New Ulm from the San Francisco Bay Area and visited Judy and Marlyn Sellner in New Ulm on Thursday.
A retired Bay Area Asian restaurant owner who lives in San Jose, Richard came to New Ulm at age 21. Solomon was 11 when he arrived with his family.
Solomon now owns a commercial building maintenance company and lives in Palo Alto. After moving to California, he earned a bachelor’s degree at San Jose State University and an MBA at UCLA.
The brothers said most of their family continues to live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have done well.
“I just want to thank the community and all the people for giving us the opportunity to come here and live,” said Solomon. “We’ve worked hard, but we’re living the American Dream. We’ve been thinking about coming here to visit for a long time.”
Solomon was quick to thank the Sellner family for their help.
“When I got here, I didn’t know my ABCs. They helped me learn English,” Solomon said.
Life wasn’t easy, to put it mildly.
A 1977 story by Beth Linnen in The Journal documented the family’s journey to New Ulm that took more than a year.
The family was sponsored by six New Ulm churches. Before the Huyhns arrived in New Ulm, volunteers from Holy Trinity Cathedral, St. Mary’s, Redeemer Lutheran, Our Savior’s Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church worked hard to paint and furnish a home for the family.
“Granted, New Ulm is on the other side of the world from Vietnam, but distance was not the greatest obstacle the Huyhns faced,” read the story.
The family left Tra Vinh, south of Saigon in 1977. A storm battered the small boat they rode before they were captured by a Vietnamese coastal patrol and jailed for trying to escape the communist-controlled country.
The mother of the family, Chung Thi Tien and her nine children were released after eight days and sent to work in government-owned rice fields. Her husband, Dan Xuong and her eldest daughter’s husband, Ta Duc Thanh, were kept in jail for two months.
The children were not allowed to go to school.
Jail time didn’t shake the family’s will to leave Vietnam.
“My mother and father felt they must go because of us,” said Hung, the oldest son. “There is no freedom in Vietnam. No future. Only work.”
The Huyhns planned another escape by boat at night. Two families, totaling 29 people, including a baby, set out for Malaysia, a 350-mile, five-day trip, in a 42-foot boat in the South China Sea.
The escape was a success. The family waited in a crowded, fenced-in refugee camp for the opportunity to emigrate to the United States, Australia, Canada, and France.
With a U.S. government loan for a plane fare and sponsorship by the six New Ulm churches, the family flew to New Ulm.
In New Ulm, two of the Huynhs began working at Kraft Foods. One of the older daughters got a job at AMPI.
(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@