Tallahassee , Florida (Tallahassee Democrat, March 18,2017):In 1975, a 19-year-old Nga Nguyen came to Florida from then war-torn Vietnam as a refugee with just a suitcase, all her sweaters layered underneath a London Fog overcoat and platform shoes.
Her father had died in the Vietnam War when she was just a year old, and her mother had raised Nguyen and her five siblings alone.
Nguyen has some stinging memories of the protocols she underwent preceding her coming to the U.S., like being sprayed with D.D.T. on the aircraft carrier ship to be “disinfected,” when she felt like she was “rinsed off like a pig.” And security took away her late father’s keepsake scissors since she couldn’t travel with them.
During her childhood up until 12th grade, Nguyen had attended a boarding school for orphan girls or girls who lost their fathers in war. That’s where she learned to develop resilience. It “made me stronger,” she said. Nguyen carried that self-reliance with her to the States.
After just two years of being in the U.S., she bought her first house at 21 years old. She started her own sewing business called A Fabulous Fit — she learned sewing techniques at the boarding school — that still runs today. At her current house, Nguyen sets aside a large downstairs “basement” sewing studio equipped with hangers upon hangers of both wedding dresses and casual alterations she’s fixing up for customers.
A realtor who runs her own real estate agency by day, Nguyen fills her free time by volunteering, often at Habitat for Humanity. She also runs marathons and focuses on growing her garden. That’s how she tries to stay energetic. She has a plethora of indoor cacti that adds green to her living room, but outside she’s growing persimmon, peaches, key limes and dragonfruit.
Coupled with keen optimism, her strategy to living an eclectic life? Every year on her birthday, she does something new and symbolic or that fulfills a goal. Last year, she renewed her real estate license. And the year before, she planted a tree. Now, she’s studying to reinstate her mortgage broker license and recently finished running a marathon.
Despite her tough outer shell, Nguyen said she’s a very sensitive person.
“I’m very sentimental and I don’t look it,” she said. “I can open the same pages (in a book) and a tear would come out.”
But she doesn’t think that takes away from her strength. “I’m not ashamed of it — it’s a good way to rinse your tear ducts,” she said with a laugh.
The local entrepreneur was named Business Woman of the Year in 1989 by the Tallahassee Democrat. Before her sewing business took off, she started pursuing real estate. Nguyen said she used to be an Associated Press freelance photographer and Mary Kay sales director.
But aside from all these accomplishments, if you ask Nguyen what she’s most proud of, she’ll say it’s her four children.
“I see so many great women come through my shop — several women come through my shop who are so strong, raising kids and happy. It’s not easy,” she said, explaining how other women going through their own mothering journeys inspire her.
That core appreciation for sentimentality and motherhood stems back to her own single mother’s strength, raising her six kids in Vietnam.
Despite her childhood, Nguyen always tries to see a silver lining.
“I always enjoy (life) no matter what happens,” she said.”You decide everything in your life and don’t look back. Don’t let your conscience eat you alive — because they have sharp teeth.”