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The Journey from Vietnam Refugee to North Carolina Farmer

 

April 30, 1975 changed Ngockhanh (NG) Le and Gio-An Ho’s families forever. That day changed the course of their lives, and would ultimately lead them down a path they never could imagine. April 30, 1975 marked the Fall of Saigon, and the communist takeover of Vietnam, forcing thousands to become refugees.

Gio-An and NG live in Laurinburg, NC, raising chickens for Mountaire Farms. They have three children—Aiden, Jacob, and Zaria. The family didn’t always call North Carolina home, and they weren’t always farmers. It has been a long road to where they are now, but farming has been better than they could have ever imagined.

NG’s parents worked for the former government of Vietnam. When the communists took over, her father was sent to prison (also called training camps) for 6 years. NG was only able to visit him maybe once a year, and when he was finally released, he was not the same man. He was withdrawn, afraid, and would hide anytime he saw communist officials. Not only that, but NG couldn’t go to college under the new government. Because her parents worked for the former government, she would automatically be penalized for that in classes. They would also deduct points for various reasons like religion. NG and those like her couldn’t compete in such an environment. They knew it was time to get out of Vietnam.

Gio-An escaped Vietnam with his family in 1981 by boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The boat was only 36 feet long but carried around 120 people on it.

“We floated on the ocean for seven nights and six days with no food and no water. That’s something you don’t forget,” Gio-An recalled.

His family stayed at the refugee camp in Malaysia for about a year to learn English and the American lifestyle. Thankfully, both he and NG had siblings in the USA that could sponsor them. Gio-An’s family went to live in Wisconsin with his sister in 1982, while NG Lee and her family came to live with her brother in California in 1991.

“We had many struggles and challenges in this new land—the culture, the language, the food, the weather. Everything was different. We tried to adapt and look for opportunities to become better,” Gio-An said.

NG didn’t know much English when she came to California but learned from her brother and his wife. She went to college and eventually graduated with a master’s degree. She and Gio-An met through the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement and for many years, had a long-distance relationship. Eventually, they would marry and live in California where NG worked as a financial analyst and Gio-An worked for IBM as an engineer. 

“When we heard about the opportunity to become farmers, it was something I would have never thought of,” NG said who was drawn to the idea so she could stay at home with her kids. “Being able to be home with my kids growing up—that’s more important than anything, so we decided to give it a try.”

Gio-An came to North Carolina first to care for the farm. The rest of the family followed a few months later. When NG first saw her husband on the farm, riding a tractor, she was amazed. “Is that my husband? It was a change, and he adapted to it very well. I’m very proud of him,” NG said with a smile.

Their decision and desire to start farming was largely centered around the interest of their children.

“That was the only reason why we made the decision to move here—to have a better life for them and a better environment with less pollution and less traffic,” explained NG who decided to name their farm AJZ after their children, Aiden, Jacob and Zaria. “Everything we do is for our kids, so the name reflects that.”

Gio-An and NG and their families went to a land they knew nothing about, but knew they needed to find freedom. They left desk jobs and 20 years of family and friends in California to live in North Carolina to pursue an opportunity to farm. While they have faced many challenges, they have found a community here in North Carolina. That community includes Cape Fear Farm Credit.

The Ho family chose to become patrons of Cape Fear Farm Credit because of the service provided and the close proximity to the farm.

“Whatever we need, they are right there. They are ready to help us,” said Gio-An about Cape Fear Farm Credit. His wife added that Cape Fear always gives back too.

Giving back is something the family feels strongly about and tries to do their part as well. They do not take for granted the opportunities they have been given in America.

“We are doing our best to give back—not to the community but to the country that nurtured us,” said NG as she brought her family’s farming story to an end.

Out of the turmoil and life-changing events that followed the Vietnam events of 1975, Gio-An and NG lost much, but they gained much too. They gained freedom, opportunity, each other, and life on a North Carolina farm.