Excerpt from memoir, “Soles of a Survivor”


I’ve been told that, though I’m only 4’9”, my story is immense—so I’m now sharing it with the world. With you. Several anthol­ogies and a documentary that aired on PBS have profiled my harrowing journey as a child refugee who went on to live the American Dream.

But I’ve only told part of my story. Until now.

I’ve written my memoir because the world desperately needs more stories about tolerance, unity, and how to work together for a common good.

I’ve also written my memoir because my story isn’t much different than the story of the many millions of other refu­gees who’ve fled, or are fleeing, their countries for safety and opportunity.

The soles of my feet still bear the scars of my horrific escape from Vietnam—where I trudged through the jungles of Cambodia as a child with a group of strangers seeking the land of opportunity: America. My only possessions at the time were two pieces of clothing and a heart filled with hope.

My physician father worked for the US government, and the Communists imprisoned him for doing so when the war ended. To avoid the rest of our family meeting the same fate, my quick-witted mother bribed a driver to put us on a bus headed for Saigon.

At the age of ten, I struggled to survive on the streets of the fallen city until I escaped, not knowing if I’d ever see my fam­ily again. My harrowing trip through the Cambodian jungle, and eventually on a boat to Thailand, led me to an orphanage where I lived for two years until I qualified for refugee status in the United States.

Soles of a Survivor isn’t just another inspirational survival story, however. It’s about the lessons I’ve learned about humanity and diversity since arriving in the United States. After I met my Jewish beau, we married.

I now have a deeper appreciation for the parallels between the Jewish and Vietnamese cultures, and others. I eventually converted to Judaism, though the process of conversion was chal­lenging. It’s difficult for most people, but it was particularly diffi­cult for me, an Asian woman adopted into a Christian household.

Now I relish being a Vietnamese Jew.

Soles of a Survivor shows it matters less what religion we’re part of, as long as we radiate goodness to those we meet. For example, I honor and greatly admire the Christian family in Kentucky that adopted me, when I had nothing to offer them but love. Thanks to their support and devotion, despite over­whelming barriers, I graduated high school as class valedicto­rian in just three years.

While in college, I had the opportunity to return to Vietnam with a film crew and reunite with the family I never thought I’d see again. A second trip to Vietnam with my legal guardian brought my two mothers face-to-face.

It wasn’t a storybook ending.

Life isn’t like that, at least not most of the time.

When we went to Vietnam, my birth mom—who at one time only wanted the best for me—showed signs of jealousy during the visit and considered me “too Americanized.”

Maybe she’s right.

I’ll leave that for you to decide.

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of one of the five toilets in my current home. It has fancy features such as a heated seat, automatic lid opener and closer, sprayer, and dryer. I am awed and deeply grateful regarding how far I’ve come, from the days I had to immerse myself chest deep in a pool of sewage trying to hide from soldiers.

I can also now afford to cover my scarred feet with any shoes I desire.

But my shoes aren’t who I am.

Neither are my scars.

My heart is.

This book is an invitation, from my heart to yours.

I’m filled with gratitude for all I’ve been fortunate to accom­plish and become in this great country. I hope my story inspires and empowers you. And I hope that, like me, through your challenges, you, too, will find healing and joy.

There is light at the end of every tunnel.