From Saigon to Davenport


By Hieu Q. Nguyen
For The Catholic Messenger

When I was 11 years old I began learning English, and my interest in America was born. I began to dream about coming to America. Three years later that dream came true when my family emigrated from Vietnam to Iowa. Still, I often reflect on the life I had in Vietnam.

Hieu Nguyen, center, stands in line for his first Communion on July 24, 2005, at Ninh Phat Parish in Saigon,Vietnam, as a child.

I lived in a brick house in Binh Chanh, a suburban district of Saigon. We had enough space to place two mopeds and two bikes. My parents raised chickens; we also had cats and dogs. There were trees behind the house and some plants around it.

Rain was an essential part of life. I remember taking showers under the rain and going home in the rain. Since my family did not have internet, I entertained myself by spending time with friends, listening to cassettes tapes of favorite songs and reading Manga (a serial comic book style popular in Asian countries.) Looking back, I had lived a simpler life than I do now.


I went to Cau Xang Elementary School and Pham Van Hai Middle School. In Vietnam, the schools required students to wear the communist uniform. This uniform consisted of blue pants, a white shirt and a red pioneer scarf. Students also wore name tags with the school name and student number inscribed. I wore the uniform until eighth grade.

From sixth grade onward, I generally rode my bike to school; I had to pay a fee to park the bike. I had a French style bicycle called a Martin 107 with a small bell, a basket up front and a backseat. My classes took place from morning until 5 p.m.

English was my favorite subject and my skills improved because I had a tutor after school. Mr. Nguyen Van Phuoc, an English teacher from Goi Xoai Secondary School, organized a small class to learn English outside school. Enthusiastically, I took his class. I studied with friends such as Huy, Van Anh, Hau, Tan, Ngoc Anh, and Thuy Kieu. We all had fun while learning together.

Church was a part of my life, as well. Vietnam is a secular country with a small population of Catholics. Despite being a communist country, Vietnam is known for its religious tolerance. On Sundays, I went to church at Ninh Phat Parish and participated in Bible studies and other activities.

My other favorite childhood memories include visits to Dam Sen Park with my family and relatives and celebrating the Vietnamese New Year, which is called “Tet.” I also visited Da Lat, a city in Central Highlands, with my father when I was 4. I remember going to a friend’s birthday party with Van Anh, my first crush.

In 2008, my dream of coming to America came true as my family left Saigon for Iowa on Friday, July 25. It was hard to leave because I lived there for 14 years. I felt sad and cried as we left the house. However, I also felt excited to see America.

I will share more about my experiences in Vietnam and Iowa in future columns, so stay tuned.

(Hieu Q. Nguyen, 23, is an undergraduate student in journalism at the University of Iowa and a member of the Newman Catholic Student Center on campus.)

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