Tung Nguyen chose the name “Hope” (Hy Vong) for the Miami-based Vietnamese restaurant that she opened with Kathy Manning in 1980. While reading Mango and Peppercorns, Tung’s and Kathy’s memoir, written with writer and restaurant critic Elisa Ung, I began to think about the specific meaning of hope within Tung’s personal context. For Tung Nguyen, having hope meant that she eventually managed to see her Vietnamese family again after a decade-long separation. Having hope meant that she found a way to successfully raise her daughter in a country whose culture and language often confounded her. And having hope meant that her hard work earned her recognition and respect within her community of American customers and Vietnamese expats.
As I became absorbed in her story, I had my own personal hopes for Tung Nguyen. I hoped that living in the US would help her look at Vietnamese culture from a different perspective, help her see through the shallow prejudices that she, born a peasant, suffered in her own country. I also hoped that she would overcome the trauma in her rich personal history and find a way to connect with people across cultural and class boundaries.