Minh’s Journey: From Boat to Boss
|by Frances Joyce, November 2013|
It’s over 8,300 miles from Vinh Long, Vietnam to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania if you could take a direct flight… for Minh Knight the journey was much longer. When she stepped onto a nineteen meter boat with 39 other refugees, her only goal was to escape Communism.
Minh was born in the city of Vinh Long in the Tra Vinh province of Vietnam which is located in the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam. The French considered Vinh Long a resort area, and it was approximately 200 kilometers from any actual fighting. Evidence of the war was present on the television and radio, and occasionally, Minh could hear artillery fire in the distance.
Minh had four older brothers and one younger sister. Her mother ran a successful grocery business, and her father raised ducks and chickens to sell at the market. Business was good, and at one time he employed twenty-four workers. Minh’s aunt ran a clothing business and in the afternoons she taught Minh and other local girls how to sew and do alterations.
“In middle school, I was given the opportunity to learn a second language. I had the choice of French or English, and I’m so glad I decided to learn English,” she laughs.
“I was eighteen in 1975 when Saigon fell to the Communists and ended the war. It completely changed my country. There was great poverty and suffering everywhere. The Communists came and took over the government of my town and every business in town. My mother’s grocery business was closed. She opened a bakery under government control. My father’s business was taken over, and instead of selling his ducks and chickens at market, they were traded for other goods. My brothers, my sister and I had jobs selling those goods in the wholesale market at government controlled prices. No matter how hard we all worked, there was barely enough to live on. We began trying to find a way to escape.”
“In 1984, my four brothers escaped by boat. After spending time in a refugee camp in Malaysia, they found asylum in Calgary, Canada. My parents, my sister, and I waited patiently for our turn. In 1987, I got my chance. There was only room for one of us on the boat. My parents refused to be separated and my younger sister didn’t want to go alone. I was frightened, but I couldn’t waste this opportunity. I stepped onto the boat with 39 other people in the middle of the night. I took only a change of clothes. We stayed in the hold for eight days and seven nights without food or water. There was no bathroom. The ocean was rough, but we couldn’t give in to sea sickness. If the boat had been stopped, we all could have been killed or forced to return to Vietnam.”
“I was so thankful when we made it to Malaysia. After a year in a refugee camp, my brothers were able to sponsor me to join them in Calgary. I got a job in a factory and worked there until I found work at a dry cleaning business doing alterations and sewing repairs. I was able to use the skills my aunt taught me, and I learned the dry cleaning business from my boss.”
In 1992, Minh’s parents and her sister were finally able to leave Vietnam, and they eventually joined the family in Canada. In 1995, Minh married a fellow refugee whom she met while he was visiting family in Canada. He had immigrated to Pittsburgh, so Minh once again found herself headed to a new country. She opened her own dry cleaning, alterations, and tuxedo rental/sales business in Dormont, and continued to work after her son Preston was born.
Life seemed to have come full circle for Minh, and she thought her future was settled. She loved her family, and her new country, and she loved owning her own business. In 2001, Minh went through a painful divorce and became a single parent. She relocated her business to the Parkway Center Mall, and started raising her son alone.
“Wonderful things happen when you least expect it. I met Michael in 2003. I didn’t think I would ever be happy again, but he changed my life. We married in 2007, and he has become a wonderful father to Preston. Michael is very supportive of my business, and he encouraged me to move to the Scott Towne Center when I had the opportunity. I have been here about nine months and all my old customers have followed me here.”
“I look around me, and I am still amazed at how my life has changed since I stepped on that boat twenty-six years ago. I own Minh in Stitches, and no one tells me how to run it or what I can sell. I have never been afraid of hard work and here in the United States I have been able to realize my dreams.”
Minh in Stitches is located at 2101 Greentree Road in the Scott Towne Center Suite B105. Call 412-520-0004 for more information.