x went from being a Vietnamese refugee to a career as a dentist in the United States. But his path was not a straight or easy one.Born in Vietnam, x came to the U.S. and worked hard as a child. But then, he became involved in drugs and crime. Later, he learned the nail beauty business, carrying for and shining customers' finger nails and toe nails. It is from this job he met the woman who told him he could and should become a dentist.
Three years after the Vietnam War ended, six-year-old x and his family fled his birthplace. His parents had both been sent to reeducation camps after the fall of South Vietnam. His father and others worked together to build a boat in which to escape.
One of three children, x was the middle child. His younger brother died in an accident in Hong Kong, where the family lived in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. Later in Southern California, x worked hard, helping his parents earn money for food and housing. They would compete on weekends with other refugees for seats on buses which took them to farms to harvest fruit. He remembers his parents worked long hours at several jobs. They bought machines for their home, where x and his sister helped the parents make baby car seat covers, and other products made out of cloth. The children also cooked and took care of themselves while their parents worked. x's mother and father grew up poor in Vietnam, and neither had much schooling, but they wanted education for their children.
They didn't have any education. So they don't have anything other than, you know, their determination and physical labor, you know. Their hopes for my sister and I is, you know, to have a better opportunity to get education.
So for x and his sister, homework came first. But when he got to high school, x made some bad choices. He began abusing drugs, became involved with a criminal group and went to jail. x told VOA he was guilty to crimes he is not proud of.
I think the reason ? for the most of part of my life I didn't really have an identity. It was really hard to simulate ? California, and that the only people ? other refugees, and I think there are a lot of ? just growing up. Because of the Vietnam War, ?
His father died suddenly in 1994. Then a break came. A telephone call from across the country. In 1996, a friend called x from Richmond, Virginia. He asked the young man to come live with his family and work in their nail beauty business. When his plane landed in Richmond, x had less than 20 dollars. His hope was to live a clean, drug-free and honest life. 14 years later, he would graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with a dentistry degree. With determination, he stopped using drugs and stayed off of them.
He learned the nail business. One of his best customers was a woman named x. She worked at the VCU School of Dentistry. x urged the young man to do more with his life. x learned to work in a dental laboratory at a nearby community college. But he later decided he did not want to work in a lab. He likes people too much. x told x he would like to go to dental school, but was not sure if he could do it. It would mean up to ten years of classes.
And she said, you know, if may take you ten years. But in ten years, you can either be a nail technician where you are now, the whole-life technician or dentist? Which title would you prefer to have?
It was, he says, the big moment. And he decided to try. x met a man who gave him determination to finish. x worked at the VCU Dentistry School. Dr. x gave him a list of the classes he would need to take for admission into dental school. x put up the list at his home. Every time he would complete one of the classes, he would mark it off the list. x told VOA he is happy that x followed his plan, and says he is proud that he
became a dentist.
x was also driven by a dream he had after his father died. In it, his father was angry, telling him how he sacrificed so much coming to this country for him.
x finished at VCU with a degree in biology, becoming the first in his family to get a college degree. Then he was accepted into the VCU School of Dentistry. Up until then, he had worked 50 to 60 hours a week to pay the cost of schooling. But when he went to Dentistry School, he stopped working as a nail technician.
In 2010, he finally graduated and became a dentist. Yet he had large loans to pay back. His plan was to work for a few years at a community health center in x, Virginia, to pay back the money he owed. But he has never left.
The rewards are, this is, immeasurable, the people ? help, and the families, kids. And there are three generations of some families that I treat. It's the smiles that they have and the joy they bring to me kept me in the program.
Now married and the father of two young boys, x says his education path was not a traditional one. But it is one that is possible, he says, because we live in such a great country.
I always tell people, in this political climate, that I still feel this is the greatest country ever. Because if I put myself when I was 20 years ago in any part of the world, I feel like I couldn't turn my life around and become a dentist, have the opportunity to help the people that I help everyday.