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VIETNAMESE FAMILY IS PLEASED TO BE HERE BUT STILL FACES HARDSHIP

There will be no self-pity or cry for help this Christmas from Hoang Nguyen.

This year, she has only gratitude.

Mrs. Hoang, 41, came to Buffalo in June from Vietnam. The mother of three children, including a deaf-mute daughter who was fathered by an American GI, Mrs. Hoang took advantage of a congressional decision to accept all Amerasian children as refugees, deciding that the unknown of life in the United States was better than living in the ranks of the "unwanted" in communist Vietnam.

What she found here was a small but solid two-bedroom apartment on Rother Street twice the size of the wood cabin in the "new economic zone" she and other Amerasian families were forced to live in after the war. Her children are in school, rather than home farming to pay for food for the family.

Hong, 21, who lost her hearing when she was 5, is attending school at St. Mary's School for the Deaf. Within three months of moving to Buffalo, Mrs. Hoang found a job working a machine at T & B Enterprises in Buffalo. And she's slowly learning English in a course teaching English as a second language.

"I am very happy with my status right now," Mrs. Hoang said through her two caseworkers and interpreters, Tam Tran and Dung Tran.

"There is a lot of wealth compared to Vietnam."

On Oct. 29, Mrs. Hoang had a hysterectomy after doctors found a tumor on one ovary. She had been ill in Vietnam but never could afford to see a doctor. Even her operation is a excuse for Mrs. Hoang to be thankful.

"I feel happy for the opportunity to have the surgery and see a doctor about my sickness," she said. "No such possibility would exist in Vietnam."

Ask Mrs. Hoang about her illness and she says she's happy that there is no chance of her tumor reappearing. She expects to go back to work after a six-week leave from her job.

"I hope I can get better sooner than that," she said.

But those familiar with her situation at Catholic Charities of Buffalo, the agency that sponsored her move, say the outlook is not as clear.

They say that her prognosis is still clouded: The tumors may reappear or she may be cured. When she can return to work depends on what happens with her surgery.

Mrs. Hoang has the respect of those who have watched her since she came to Buffalo.

"She really has made the most of her opportunity," said Ann Britain, program director for the Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Assistance Program. "She's trying to take advantage of this opportunity to make things better for her kids."

"Instead of sympathy, I would say I have admiration for her," said Mrs. Britain. "She sees every obstacle as just that. It's an obstacle, but nothing is going to stop her. She is confident she will be able to overcome them and move forward."

"Many Vietnamese women abandoned their Amerasian children because they were ostracized because of them," Mrs. Britain said. "But she is a woman who kept her child and kept her family together. It's amazing."

Hong, an attractive woman, is learning sign language at St. Mary's.

Mrs. Hoang said Hong's father was a serviceman from California named Frank Smith who left Vietnam in 1969.

"He did say he would come back after the war, but as you know (after the war ended), there is no coming back," Mrs. Hoang said.

From 1969-73, her husband sent her money through another Vietnamese, according to Mrs. Hoang. She said she had a document with his name showing they were married, but she threw it out when the new government took over.

Mrs. Hoang got one more letter from him, in 1981, with a Swedish return address, Mrs. Hoang said. Except for that and "California," Mrs. Hoang said she has no idea where Frank Smith is.

Besides Hong, Mrs. Hoang also has a 17-year-old daughter, Mai, attending Grover Cleveland High School, and a 13-year-old daughter, Kieu, a sixth-grader at School 45. Both are Vietnamese.

These are the reasons she is so anxious to get healthy again and return to work.

"There are a lot of Vietnamese people who have come here before me and now own a house," Mrs. Hoang said. "I love to go to work because we are trying to save money for the future, and maybe later my children can go to college."

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