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Vietnam refugee finds the life he sought
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Gianhập: Nov.4.2002
Nơicưtrú: Global Village
Trìnhtrạng: [hiệntại không cómặt trên diễnđàn]
IP: IP ghinhập
Vietnam refugee finds the life he sought

By: Kathleen Luppi

Hue Nguyen has been an employee for 30 years at textile manufacturer Hoffman California Fabrics in Mission Viejo. Hue creates fine art oil paintings every year to raise funds for the Smile Train organization. Hue was among the groups of refugees who arrived in California after the Vietnam War. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Boarding a helicopter in search of a new life, Hue Nguyen, then 36, carried three pieces of clothing, clutched his 5-year-old son's hand and joined his wife on a military craft that seated 23 people.

It was a situation that so many had taken before him as they fled squalor and tragedy in Vietnam for hope in the United States.

"They couldn't take everyone," said Nguyen, whose brother stayed in Vietnam because he didn't want to leave his children. "I felt terrible hearing my brother's voice."

Little did they know, as the family huddled together for 10 days at Camp Pendleton, the first stop for many Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., that he would become a successful textile artist who would create thousands of freehand pencil drawings and hand-painted artwork for Hoffman California Fabrics, a Mission Viejo-based design and manufacturer of screen-printed and hand-dyed fabrics for independent retailers.

Nguyen has contributed to what is referred to as the "authentic Hoffman look," creating designs for surfing-focused companies like Roxy, Volcom, Stussy and O'Neill.

It is a world, a life, a career that he could not have imagined growing up in Ben Tre. The capital city of Ben Tre Province has been called a flashpoint in the Vietnam War. In 1960, the Viet Cong attacked and took temporary control of several districts in Kien Hoa Province, now called Ben Tre Province, and confiscated land from landlords and redistributed it to poor farmers.

Nguyen, 74, of Westminster, said he and his wife and son were fortunate to have been among the groups of Vietnam War refugees that the Lutheran Church helped bring to the U.S. in 1975. After staying at Camp Pendleton for almost two weeks, the three were assisted by sponsors and relocated to Shawnee Mission, Kans.

There, the family got an apartment and a 1969 Chevy Nova.

While living in Kansas, Nguyen, who had been a student of the National School of Decorative Arts in Gia Dinh, Saigon, became a member of the Greater Kansas City Art Assn. He placed second in the oil painting category at the association's 1977 art exhibition.

After living in the Midwest for two years, he and his family moved to Westminster, Calif., where he took a job as a sketch artist, making $5 per portrait.

But after seeing a help-wanted newspaper advertisement for an in-house artist at Hoffman California Fabrics, Nguyen applied.

Tony Hoffman, Hoffman Fabrics president, vividly remembered Nguyen's application interview.

Nguyen came into the office carrying a large frame wrapped in brown paper. Hoffman and his father, Walter, asked to see Nguyen's portfolio.

"He rips the paper off and it's a huge oil painting of then-President Jimmy Carter," Hoffman said with a laugh. "We had to hire him after that. I mean, who does that? Hue always had a great spirit and he always smiles."

"This is like family," Nguyen said smiling as he pushed up his black eye frames.

Three generations of the Hoffman family are currently involved in day-to-day operations at the Mission Viejo office and warehouse, which employs more than 50 people and creates nearly 800 designs for its collections. The business, founded 90 years ago by Rube Hoffman, is now led by Tony, grandson of Rube.

Rube's son Walter is a onetime big-wave surfer and beachwear industrialist who, though in his late 80s, still walks around Hoffman Fabrics, checking in on employees and holding meetings.

When Nguyen is not at his workplace — it takes him three days to draw and color a layout — or transporting his three grandchildren to and from school as his son and daughter-in-law work, he is involved with Smile Train. The international children's charity provides free cleft-repair surgery for children in developing countries. Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that can make it difficult to eat, breathe and speak.

Nguyen creates oil paintings for his art exhibition and donates all the proceeds to the charity. He has done this for five years and helped to pay for 15 children's surgeries.

At an art show earlier this month, held at the Nguoi Viet Gallery in Little Saigon, Nguyen displayed paintings capturing images of Rome, Santa Barbara, Switzerland and London, among many other locations.

He and his wife of 47 years, Diep, welcomed visitors. At one point, in walked John "Blue Moon" Odom, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who won three consecutive World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics in 1972, '73 and '74.

"How lucky am I?" Nguyen said pulling his hands to his heart when he Odom walked in.

"He's very good," Odom said, noting that Nguyen made a painting of him. "My wife really loved that picture."

Nguyen is already thinking of working on a second portrait of Odom and doesn't see himself putting down the paintbrush any time soon.

"Painting is relaxing and makes anyone happy," Nguyen said. "I'll be 80 or 90 and still painting."

Source: www.latimes.com/socal/weekend/news/tn-wknd-et-1213-refugee-textile-artist-20151211-story.html


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