“It all for her, everything. She lucky girl.”
My Viatnamese Lyft driver, Tuan, beamed as he talked about his daughter, navigating the car through the mild hills of San Diego. I smiled back.
“How old is she?”
“Oh, she 12. Her name Lina.” He indicated a photo of her that he kept nearby of a beautiful young Viatnamese girl, black hair and bright smile. “Her mother and I, we work always just for her, just so she can focus on education, have a different life.”
I commented on how beautiful Lina was, and Tuan asked if I had children. I mentioned I had two sons, ages 8 and 5, and he laughed heartily.
“Oh, two boys! They so busy, I guess! Girls more focused, more emotional. You lucky.”
We both laughed.
When Tuan asked, I told him I was a therapist, and he gave a cooing sound for a moment, seemingly impressed. He went on to explain how he worked as a driver all day long, stopping only to eat and relieve himself, and how his wife worked impossible hours as a nail technician. “We both work hard, too hard, but it good for us, for our family. We take care of Lina.”
I looked surprised, raising my eyebrows slightly as we sat at the stop light. “With you both gone all day, who takes care of Lina?”
“Oh! I should have said,” he laughed again. “My mother and father, they live in home with us. Mother is 84, father is 91, but they in good health. They wake Lina, take to school, pick up and feed. We take care of them, they take care of Lina. Wife parents still back in Viet Nam, but we not visit, too far, 20 hours by plane. Lina want to go to Viet Nam all the time, but we cannot go. We cannot even travel California, too expensive, have to pay bills and raise family. Education what important.”
I found myself asking the obligatory American question, the same question any white person has of any person from another country, before I could stop myself. “Oh, how long have you been in the United States?”
Tuan grinned broadly again, the smile almost constantly on his thin face. “We be here almost 20 year. I met my wife back in Ho Chi Minh City, where we grow up. It hot there, too hot, California nice weather. I meet her on a date with another girl, she was dating my friend, but I like her. We get married and move to San Diego, bring my parents here. Have our daughter. We citizens now. Very happy family now, but we work too hard, I think.”
Tuan asked me where I was from, and I said that I’d grown up in the Midwest but that my current home was in Salt Lake City.
He laughed. “Oh, that place have lot of mountains and lot of Mormons. Big families, lots of kids!”
I found myself laughing back. “Yes, that describes Utah very well.”
We drove through several more lights as Tuan talked about the San Diego weather, the seasons, the tourists, and driving. I muttered a few questions from time to time, but had difficulty slowing my own thoughts. I found myself wanting to ask a hundred questions, but refused to ask any of them, thrilled at Tuan’s narration of his own story. I thought of recent immigration policies, of the vastness and beauty of the world, of the rhetoric and fear spreading through the Hispanic and African and Latino and Middle Eastern people I know in central Utah as they wondered what would happen to their families in today’s America.
We pulled up to my lodging, the little Airbnb I would be staying for the weekend, and Tuan gave me a hearty handshake. “You enjoy those boys of yours,” he smiled.
I grinned back. “Thank you, Tuan, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for telling me about your family.”
“I am lucky man,” he said, “but must go back to work. You enjoy vacation in San Diego. Maybe someday I visit Salt Lake City. And maybe someday you visit Ho Chi Minh City, too.”
“I’d like that,” I said, and closed the door as he drove away. I gave a quick wave, one proud dad to another, and both Americans.