COMPASSION COMMENDED. Vuong Nguyen, left, a former Vietnamese
refugee, found a way to express his thanks to former Washington
governor Dan Evans, right, by giving the former governor a
bonsai tree landscape. Nguyen was one of the first Vietnamese
refugees that Evans welcomed to the state in 1975. (Photo
courtesy of the Pacific Bonsai Museum)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #2 (January 18, 2016), page 8.
Former refugee thanks governor who welcomed him in
By Melissa Santos
The News Tribune
TACOMA, Wash. ó Vuong Nguyen has spent the past 40 years feeling
indebted to former Washington governor Dan Evans.
This year, the former Vietnamese refugee finally found a way to
express his thanks: by giving the former Republican governor a bonsai
Nguyen was one of the first Vietnamese refugees that Evans welcomed
to the state in 1975. After Saigon fell that year, some Americans ó
including California governor Jerry Brown and protesters at Fort Chaffee
in Arkansas ó said they didnít want Vietnamese refugees coming to their
Not Evans. He sent his staff to California to tell hundreds of
Vietnamese hunkered down at Camp Pendleton that they would be welcome in
Among those refugees was Nguyen, then 35 years old. After settling in
Washington, Nguyen became a translator, and later an auditor and
consultant for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Nguyen is also a skilled bonsai artist and maintains about 40 of the
plants at his home in Olympia. He said the 40th anniversary of the
Vietnamese refugee resettlement program got him thinking about a way to
thank the former governor.
"I told my wife, ĎWe are very lucky, because they opened up their
arms to help us,í" Nguyen, 75, said of coming to Washington 40 years
Evans, however, wasnít sure he could care adequately for a bonsai
tree. Bonsai require careful pruning and watering; maintaining the
miniature trees and landscapes is an art that the Japanese perfected
Versions of the art are also practiced in China and Vietnam.
So the former governor, who is 90, suggested an alternative plan:
that he and Nguyen together donate the long-lasting specimen to the
Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, where it can grow and thrive for
years to come.
The two men met with museum officials to hand over the Penjing-style
bonsai in a ceremony.
"I want just to express my gratitude to Dan, and I want my children
to thank people who help them in their life," Nguyen said. "Without him,
who knows where I might have ended up?"
Evans, who also served in the U.S. Senate, said he has been thanked
before by former Vietnamese refugees who found new lives in Washington
state ó but never with a bonsai.
He said he viewed the Vietnamese refugees in 1975 as no different
from other generations of Americans who immigrated to the U.S. in the
"Thatís how we grew over the centuries, was through immigrants,"
Evans said. "Virtually all of us except Native Americans are
While current Washington governor Jay Inslee has compared the plight
of Syrian refugees with the Vietnamese that Evans welcomed 40 years ago,
Evans said he sees some differences ó mainly, the modern threat of
terrorism that he said didnít exist in 1975.
Evans said that while he thinks U.S. states should welcome Syrian
refugees, he also thinks more thorough screenings are needed today than
were used when resettling the Vietnamese 40 years ago.
"But I think that can be done, and when it is done we ought to
welcome the people in the same way we did during the Vietnamese crisis,"
Nguyen said the bonsai he gave Evans ó in which plants grow out of a
landscape made of volcanic rock ó is a symbol of longevity.
"Thatís what we wish him: a long and healthy life," Nguyen said.
Evans said he hopes the bonsai will serve as a testament to the
partnership formed between Washington state and its now-thriving
"I canít think of anything that would be more gratifying, as far as
Iím concerned, than a living gift of that nature, which will live for
centuries if itís well taken care of," Evans said. "It has a permanence
ó and because it will be housed at the museum, it is one that will be
enjoyed for many centuries to come."
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