My parents, Quyen and Lan Nguyen, escaped Vietnam during the war in 1979 on
My one and only brother’s 1st birthday was indeed a happy one on May 11th when they safely arrived at a refugee camp in Indonesia. That day was a happy birthday to our entire family as a whole–like a rebirth. They were “so fresh and [perhaps not] so clean clean.” Fresh off the boat.
Months later, my parents immigrated to San Jose, California. Some of their siblings made it there successfully before them so it only made sense to follow them straight to East Side San Jo–the ghettos of San Jose and what’s now considered the Silicon Valley.
On the morning of February 14, 1983, my dad was in class at Evergreen Valley College, sweatin’ and stressing his final exam while my mom’s pain tolerance was being tested, as she was sweatin’ and stressin’ her labor pains for my big ass arrival. At 8:30AM she gave natural birth to organic me: Uyen Kim Nguyen. As you can see, both my name and my brother’s name are part of my dad’s name so there was a cool meaning there-everything else about it was totally uncool though, as I was known as Ooooyen Nagooyen from that day forth.
We were showered with heart balloons, stuffed bears, and gifts in heart-shaped boxes. My mom seriously thought in her sweet, Vietnamese mind, “Wow, this really is America. Do they do this for every baby every day all day?” No, silly mama, it’s Valentine’s Day (Ngày lễ Tình yêu).
My dad came rushing to the hospital to hold me as he honestly thought to himself – which he openly shared with me repeatedly – that I was the ugliest baby he’d ever seen with my au naturel mohawk. And he said that with love, a choice he didn’t have.
And there you have it, in just one day, I was blessed with not just one, but two awesome names: Ooooyen Nagooyen and Punky (thanks to my rockstar hair don’t). Why not love and embrace every part of you?
And there you have it. Though we were poor, I was rich, and being rich in love made all the difference.