Issue: 3.06 6/1/2002
by: Sonia Pressman Fuentes
I Lucky Everything

Frequently, someone who’s read my memoir, Eat First–You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter, asks me if I intend to write a second book. My answer is always “No, but I do write articles when an experience moves me and I cannot resist the urge to write it down." This is about one such experience.

On the morning of May 1, Pat Buchanan, erstwhile presidential candidate, was on the Today Show. Since he received less than ½ of 1% of the votes cast in the last presidential election, he’s now a pundit on international affairs. That morning he was questioned about the fact that Jean-Marie La Pen, the extreme right-wing French leader, captured 17% of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election. Le Pen opposes immigration, especially that of Muslims from North Africa. Buchanan opined that Le Pen did so unexpectedly well because the French and Europeans in general are opposed to immigration because it is destroying their identities and cultures. He said much the same thing about the U.S. in his book, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization.

I left Buchanan and his exclusionary views and went to keep my appointment for a manicure with Linh Huynh at the nail salon I frequent. My appointment was for 10:00 a.m. but I was delayed by a long-distance call from a friend and called the salon to say I’d be coming in ten minutes later.

The shop is owned and staffed by immigrants from Vietnam. When I entered, I was warmly greeted by the owner, and hugged by Linh. Linh is a pretty, slim woman of fifty-one who looks far younger. She is always tastefully dressed. As she began to soak my fingers in the small bowl she uses, she also began to talk to me in her strong Vietnamese accent, and she continued to do so throughout the manicure. She told me how pleased she had been when the salon's owner had told her I’d be coming in today. (I’d been away for four months at my Sarasota, Florida, winter condo.). This morning she had planned to buy flowers to greet me at my arrival but she didn’t have time to do that and also get in by 10:00 a.m. Then, when the salon owner told her of my call and that I’d be delayed ten minutes, she was chagrined because she would have had time to get the flowers after all.

Linh told me she had missed me and asked if I might remain in Potomac, Maryland, instead of leaving every year for Sarasota, Florida, if the winters got warmer up North. When I said, “No,” she said that perhaps sometime in the future, she could accompany me to Florida, a state to which she’d never been.

Linh has been in the U.S. with her husband, who works in a bakery, for 6½ years. Her oldest son had preceded them; he’d come to the U.S. over twenty years ago to live with an uncle. He had graduated from college, had a good job as a computer engineer, had sponsored her and her husband’s move to the U.S., bought the townhouse they all lived in together, and made the mortgage payments. Linh's two other children, a 13-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son had remained with Linh's mother, who was now 81, in Vietnam. Linh also had two married brothers living in Vietnam. Linh, who visited Vietnam whenever she could afford to do so, often spoke to me about bringing these two children to the States, but that had not yet happened.

On May 1, as Linh began to file my nails, she told me she had good news.

Her two children had joined her here two months ago and were now living with the family. She was so pleased. She told me they loved the U.S.; her daughter was attending public school and her son would be attending Montgomery College and work “by Tom.” I kept asking her who Tom was and she kept repeating “by Tom.” As I’ve done in the past, I asked the salon owner to come over and explain what Linh was trying to say to me. “By Tom” turned out to mean “part-time.”

Linh is interested in improving her English so that she'll be able to manage on her own after her children marry. She is studying along with her daughter and plans to take an English as a Second Language course at the nearby Montgomery College.

Then Linh said she had even more good news. She had purchased a second-hand Toyota Camry. She said her oldest son had refused to help her financially with the car or go shopping for it with her as he feared for her safety if she drove a car. He told her he was happy to continue driving her wherever she needed to go and all she needed to do was call him. But Linh told me that since her son worked, this was “not convenient.” A “lion” had told her where she might buy a used car. (I didn’t have to call the salon owner over to find out what “lion” meant. I figured it out myself– “client.”) She had gotten “a good deal,” purchased the car, and was now driving it. She hadn't felt "comfortable" driving at first but now, after two months, she did.

After discussing these developments, all of which had occurred during my four-month absence, Linh summed it all up: “I lucky everything.”

She now wants to take a day off work and volunteer somewhere. She is “thankful” to the U.S. for her life here and wants to give something back. The salon owner cannot spare her yet but perhaps in the future, Linh will be able to do that.

Linh sends money home to Vietnam regularly both to her mother and her brothers, and she hopes that her brothers will use it to care for their mother. She would like to bring her mother over to the U.S., too, but is concerned about the cost of health insurance for her. Currently, Linh pays for her own health insurance but she does not know whether she could also afford to pay for health coverage for an 81-year-old.

While Linh was discussing all this, I kept wondering how a manicurist could earn the money to do all this, but then she told me she works six days a week at this nail shop and a seventh day at another. She said, “I want to enjoy life, be happy,” but that now was not the time. Now was the time to work and support her children.

Through her discussion, I frequently had tears in my eyes–thinking about what this lovely woman, with her scant knowledge of English and limited education, had accomplished in a few short years in this country. I was so impressed with her enthusiasm, energy and delight. As an immigrant myself, it was good for me to be reminded of how revitalizing the flow of immigrants continues to be for this country.

Then my manicure was completed. Linh and I hugged good-bye and looked forward to seeing each other in two weeks’ time. This is the kind of person who is imperiling our country and civilization by coming to live in the U.S.

Copyright 2002 by Sonia Pressman Fuentes, author of Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter. Her website is and she can be contacted at
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