by Kathie Jenkins--
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Friday, April 9, 2004
Before we left Vietnam, we went out to eat a lot. My mom, Xuan Phan Wagner, was trying to find a way to escape the communists, and she wanted to make sure I would still have the culture in me, once we left the country.
After four attempts to escape, my mom arrived here in 1979 with four kids and 5 bucks. I was 11. My father is Korean. He met my mother when he came to Vietnam to work. When the communists took over, we lost touch with him.
After my brother passed away, my mom adopted a little girl in Vietnam. When we got to the refugee camp off the coast of Malaysia, my mom took in two others — a boy and a girl. We stayed in the camp for a year and a half. I remember every Thursday we got fresh chicken. But mostly, we got a lot of sardines and beans, which my mother used to grow bean sprouts so we would have something fresh to eat.
Our family has always loved to eat. Back in the 20's, my grandparents met over food. They each pushed a noodle cart. My grandfather was a widower with a son, and my grandmother was a window with a daughter. They got married, worked hard, saved their money, opened a restaurant and sold noodles. My mom helped out at the restaurant.
Over here, she was a single mom, and we couldn't afford to go out to eat, so she would make noodles for us at home. We'd all sit at the table and fold the wonton's for wonton soup. She said if we wanted to eat, we had to help.
When I got married, my mom taught my wife, Kelly, how to fold the wonton's, too. Now, we serve wonton soup and noodles at our restaurant.
My grandma lives with us now — she's 94 years old. She came over after my grandpa passed away in 1993. She missed all the kids. She stays in Phoenix in the winter with my mom, and in the springtime, they both come here. Right now, we have four generations living in our house.