Asians find NH makes a good home
By PAT HAMMOND
Sunday News Staff
Sanderson, a professional with the International Institute of New Hampshire in Manchester, made sure the newcomers were welcomed at the airport gate and had an apartment with food in the refrigerator waiting for them. She made herself available to help the 500 Vietnamese adjust to the new country whose language was nearly incomprehensible to them.
The fathers were former South Vietnam military officers, 70 percent of whom had endured years in re-orientation camps in which their captors tried to persuade them to embrace the philosophy of Vietnam's communist government. They came to America under the provisions of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Act, legislation designed to assist former U.S. allies in getting out of Vietnam and into the United States.
Michael Duong, manager of Key Nails in the Bedford Mall, does the nails of Hayley McDonough of Bedford, a freshman at West High School. Duong and his family immigrated to Boston when he was 14. Now 30, he went to high school there and when the time came for him to choose a profession, the decision was easy. "I think I like women," the bachelor said, "so I went into manicuring, trying to please all the women. It's a very easy career." (TOM ROY/UNION LEADER)
According to the latest census, Asian people make up one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in New Hampshire.
The census also found that Vietnamese was the only language some of the Vietnamese (237 between the ages of 5 and 17 and the rest 18 and over) spoke in their home.
"Most came in the 1980s and 1990s," Sanderson said. "We only get one or two singles now: the adult children who could not travel when their parents first came" because they were too young.
"They have come, got jobs, purchased homes, and are really pretty independent," Sanderson said.
"They have picked up English. They have assimilated well into the community. They are very proud people."
"It is interesting to me," Sanderson said, "that a young lady who came to New Hampshire when she was six months old was in the state spelling bee."
Khiet Nguyen and her sister Dieu-thi Nguyen, were honored by The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News with Francis Wayland Parker Scholarships of the Month, Dieu-thi as an 11th grader at Manchester Memorial in 2002, Khiet as a junior at Memorial in 2004. Their sister, Sarah, won the Manchester area spelling bee in 2003 when she was in the 8th grade at Southside Middle School.
Sanderson also applauded Chau Kelley of Manchester. (Chau came to New Hampshire as a refugee in the 1980s, attended Southern New Hampshire University and is in the real estate business.) "She is very successful in business, and has played a big role as a community leader," Sanderson said. "She makes sure the (Vietnamese) New Year's celebrations come together."
Barbara Seebart is with the Refugee Resettlement Administration in the Governor's Office of Energy and Community Services.
Asked about refugees who may still be coming in from Vietnam and other countries in Asia, Seebart said, "We are settling very few from Asia. They (Asian countries) are not designated as refugee countries," as Vietnam was under the refugee resettlement program in the 1980s.
"A few Vietnamese are still straggling in but that program is finished," Seebart said.
She referred to the two other countries that, along with Vietnam, comprised the former French Indochina: Laos and Cambodia.
"Many of the Cambodians who settled here in the 1980s and 1990s have gone to Lowell (Mass.) where there is a very large Cambodian community," Seebart said. "There is a large Laos population in Newmarket (they also came in the 1980s and 1990s) but they are well past refugee status."
Michael Druong is well past refugee status. Practically an oldtimer at 30, the Vietnamese native is passionate about his work.
It seems a job made in heaven. The Bedford manicurist gets to hold the hands of beautiful women in the nail salon he manages in the Bedford Mall. But holding hands isn't all roses, Duong says.
Bedford women are "not easy," he confided in a telephone interview. "Some are very tough customers. Demanding. But that's okay. We do our best to make them happy, ("them" meaning) the people from around here. We are patient and talented. We like to do our work and we do it well."
The "we" of Michael Duong are the five women on his staff at Key Nails. Three are Vietnamese and they work on nails. The two others, characterized by Duong as "American," are receptionists.
Duong and his family immigrated to Boston when he was 14. He went to high school there and when the time came for him to choose a profession, the decision was easy. "I think I like women," the bachelor said, "so I went into manicuring, trying to please all the women. It's a very easy career."
"I've been in many salons, mostly in Boston, and I've lived in New Hampshire for five years. It takes a year to be good at it, you practice on family members." Three hundred hours are required in New Hampshire to become an official manicurist, Duong said.
The women at Key Nails do both manicures and pedicures, but Duong only does hands, he said.
Are he and his employees assimilating into the American culture? "We try to fit in with the community in Bedford, but it's not easy," said Duong.
There is a trend among Vietnamese to open manicure shops, Lan Truong of New Hampshire Catholic Charities explained.
"Because of the economy and work force, they tend to become small business owners," Truong said. There's one in the Bedford Mall (Duong's) , one in Wal-Mart, the Mall of New Hampshire, and around Maple Street, she said, referring to some Manchester locations of Vietnamese-owned manicure shops.
"That is progress," Truong said. "Both men and women do the work. Some of them have told me clients say their nails last longer when done by a Vietnamese."
"I think we are good with sewing, good with crafts," said Truong.
Truong, who with her husband escaped from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) when communist troops overran South Vietnam in 1975, is a paralegal who helps Vietnamese immigrants and refugees who come to Catholic Charities for legal assistance.
"They all go through an adaptation process, adapting to the language, for instance," Truong said. Catholic Charities works with 35 Vietnamese families in Nashua, through St. Christopher Church, 175 Vietnamese people in Manchester, through St. Augustine Church, and a few families through St. Joseph Church in Dover, Truong said. "We provide pastoral ministry and also help with immigration and refugee services," she said.
Not all Vietnamese have succeeded in mastering English, a language profoundly different from their own. "The child is forgetting the native language, so there is a problem between the generations," Truong said. "If children are speaking English and the parents are not, there is a communication gap. Really young children have learned only English, and the gap between them and their parents is wide.
"The children's Vietnamese is limited. Even when the parents speak English, it's only basic English," said Truong, whose English 30 years after coming to the United States is impeccable.
But, whether or not they have mastered the English language, the Vietnamese have the reputation of being good citizens.
"We are very proud of what (the Vietnamese newcomers) have done," Anne Sanderson said. "They have tried hard to give back to the community. And they never fail to assist when we call on them."