Fortune 8

Father Inspires All Eight Children to Pursue Doctorates

When Anh H. Nguyen and his wife Anh T. Nguyen left Kien Giang, Vietnam 42 years ago, they hoped fortune would one day smile upon them. And now with eight doctors in the family, that hope has become a reality.

In their early 20s and with two toddlers, Yen, 2, and Hoai, 1, the family fled their homeland in search of a life that was unconfined by communism the only way they knew how – boarding a 33-foot by 6-foot wooden boat on December 25, 1980.

They shared the vessel with 35 passengers, including Mrs. Nguyen’s parents and cousins, and spent five days and nights on the unpredictable ocean. They were boarded by fierce pirates who kidnapped a young woman but left behind the other passengers due to an approaching vicious storm. Mr. and Mrs. Nguyen thought they would die on that boat but by fortune’s grace, they arrived safely in Thailand.

As refugees in Thailand and then Indonesia, they grew bean sprouts, made hammocks, and cooked and sold sweet rice or traded it for fish to sell. They left by plane from Singapore to California and in December 1981 arrived in Houston. Unable to find work in Texas, they headed to Biloxi where Mrs. Nguyen’s uncle lived.

The couple took English Second Language courses and found work shucking oysters and in seafood processing plants. They were blessed with six more children, Thuy, Nga, Hang, Linh, Ha, and Lam.

Mr. Nguyen spent spare moments at shipyards learning how shrimp boats were built. He sketched plan after plan until he’d saved enough money in 1984 to build his first of three shrimp boats. The Seaquest followed in 1998 and Mrs. Nguyen became captain of their original boat. Mr. Nguyen shrimped overnight on the Seaquest and Mrs. Nguyen met him each morning and hauled the catch to the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor to sell on the dock. The kids nicknamed her “Wonder Woman” because new customers were in awe of a woman boat captain. The third boat, Fortune 8, was built in 2015.

All of the children worked as boat hands at one time or another and witnessed racism and unfair treatment toward their parents by harbor masters’ and other shrimpers. However, the Nguyens always taught their children to work hard and ignore stereotypes.

Family time included walks to Pointe Cadet to fish and crab and trips to Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Mobile. Snacks of sunflower and pumpkin seeds were a family staple. Spare time was spent in the backyard doing tricks on a swing set their dad welded from scrap metal or taking turns in a wooden hammock their father framed and mother weaved. One day the siblings overheard their parents painfully discussing their outstanding debts, and all of the children ran to their beloved swing set and vowed to one day take care of their parents. But no matter what the day brought, the family always gathered at the dinner table for home-cooked meals and family prayers.

Mr. Nguyen, the family jokester, wore the kids’ graduation gowns at high school and college ceremonies for photos. He also suggested Yen attended pharmaceutical school and Yen and Hoai both sought Doctor of Pharmacy degrees at the University of Mississippi. The younger siblings visited them in Oxford and learned to tailgate at The Grove. The whole family now bleeds red and blue.

Thuy, Nga, Linh, and Lam followed in their siblings’ Ole’ Miss pharmacist footsteps while Hang attended Xavier University of Louisiana. Ha chose to be a dentist and attended Touro College of Dental Medicine in New York. While away at college, their parents always provided a safe place to live, healthy food, and a vehicle.

Their parents now provide nonjudgmental advice and special family weekly dinners that Mrs. Nguyen alerts everyone to through a group text message. In 2019, most of the family traveled to Kien Giang and toured Vietnam. Mrs. Nguyen lovingly teased her children that they were too spoiled to survive a two-week trip through their homeland.

In 2013, on their 37th anniversary, the children pooled together and bought a new vehicle as a gift for their parents, and the entire family is excited to celebrate their 48th anniversary later this year.

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