Interviewed HUONG TRAN on Oct. 14, 2010 at her home, which she calls a "free hotel." Interviewed by Khoa Le, Van Tran, Ngoc Uyen Nguyen, Tuan Anh Vu. Photographed by Frank Bui.
Mrs. Tran, affectionately known to many youths in the Vietnamese community as "co Huong" or auntie Huong, is a successful entrepreneur in Louisville noted for her famous vegetarian restaurant Zen Garden located on Frankfort Avenue. Crediting her positive stubbornness, trust in people, and self-imposed pressure to be a good Vietnamese immigrant ambassador as the ingredients to her success, she now enjoys a comfortable life of meditations in the morning, travels on impulse, and good company to her zen-like "free hotel" on the weekends.
Of course, like many immigrants featured in this project, she had to put in her time toiling towards financial success. She recounted with squint eye giggles the early days of coming home from an ice cream packaging factory job in tears from shock of the manual labor that she was not accustomed to as a daughter of a privileged family in Vietnam. Eventually prevailing over the emotional and cultural obstacles with diligence towards her work, she was soon rewarded an opportunity to pursue her "Vietnamese McDonald's" restaurant dream: The Eggroll Machine Restaurant. An inspiration from a simple hamburger lunch she had with her American sponsor at a downtown McDonald's. She shared with us her moment of eureka, "Hm, why serve them when they can serve themselves? It's so easy! (big laugh)". It was only the beginning of her many successful ventures.
Not only did she let in us into her stories of success as a business woman, she also shared with us her private sentiments towards Vietnam. Nostalgic for the good old days of community and human relationships, she confessed to having been disappointed on her return to Vietnam to find that economic progress of Vietnam has somehow regressed the human and communal integrity of the people. Which is why she remains in Louisville. She is someone who values human connectivity and community -- virtues that she senses Louisville still possesses. And like others immigrants who have succeed by the grace of kind Louisvillians, she wants to give back something to a city and people that have given her much of what she has today.
Co Houng is an optimist and with many wonderful stories of her early times in America. Like when her $200 car's entire engine caught on fire but she refused to junk the car for she thought it would be a waste of an entire car for just a broken engine. Or how she cried from her feeling of shame for having taken out a mortage because only the poor in Vietnam borrows. Fortunately, she was consoled by her neighbors that only good people with good credit can borrow in America. For some of us at the interview, these stories and many, many others were truly a cultural clash of comedy. At the end of the interview, we all walked away with a full stomach of delicious vegetarian food and a reinforced appreciation for the power of optimism, trust and hard work.