Ngoanh & Tam Love Story

Several weeks ago I received a phone call from my friend Shelly (of Orchid Dynasty & Kado Designs), suggesting a collaboration surrounding Valentine's Day. The concept consisted of simply photographing a couple and hearing their story... how they met, their love, their trials, plainly their "love story". A very simple, but meaningful attempt to explore what brings and keeps us together.
As we considered couples, Shelly's parents were our first choice, their story is quite unique and triumphant. Ngoanh & Tam, immigrants from Vietnam as a result of the "Fall of Saigon" in 1975, share their story in their own (translated) words.

Tam "My best friend had an older brother who was coming home from the war. She introduced me briefly. I didn’t think much of it. We were neighbors and I had seen him before but he was never home and I had never talked to him. I was maybe 19 or 20 at the time and my mother was very weak and ill. Being a single parent, my mother was afraid that she may not make it and that I would be alone, unmarried. My friend, brother and mother decided that the neighbor’s son would be a great person to marry. After a week of deliberation... permission & blessings, we were getting married!"
Ngoanh "I guess we are getting married."
Tam "A few months later, we were married."
Tam "Flash forward 10 years of really getting to know someone, having 4 children... life in Vietnam prior to the War was extremely harsh and difficult. I raised pigs and chickens for food and took care of the family."
Ngoanh "I was away a lot. This was during the time of social uprising and wars. It took its toll on the both of us."
Tam "My brother was a successful businessman and he had seen the changes in Vietnam, he warned us about the imminent danger ahead and wanted us to leave before it got bad. We attempted to leave several times but when we finally had the chance, we along with 200+ people were able to escape on a boat. We had heard awful stories of piracy, rapes and even murder. There were boats that sunk or disappeared, thousands of people did not make it. We were lucky, everyone on our boat survived but suffered dehydration, sun exposure, diarrhea and sea sickness. Sailing for days and nights, we arrived on the shores of Bidong. An island off of Malaysia. We were reconsidered refugees and lived in makeshifts camps for over a year. I don’t know how we made it, but we did."
Nyoanh "After we arrived, the Malaysian government separated us, the men and boys from the women and girls. We had no idea what to expect, we did not know who would help us. We just had to survive. I worked in exchange for food by slaughtering chickens and whatever jobs I could do. Our youngest was 2 at that time (Shelly). We stayed at the camp for over a year before the United States accepted us as political refugees. After a long process, we arrived in Utah the winter of 1979. We were sponsored by a lovely family."
Tam "We lived with the sponsored family for 6 months and moved out on our own. During that time, I had given birth to my son and we became permanent residences."
Ngoanh "I was so excited the first time I went to the grocery store. They had so much of everything. I bought chickens and meat and thought to myself, this is good. We can make it. I worked 2 jobs for a while, a fortune cookie maker by day and dishwasher at night. We had our own place, and for a little bit it felt safe."
Tam " When the kids were little, I cleaned houses to help. We worked so hard to save for a down payment on our new home. I was so happy. Looking back, the interest rates were like 13%. We both worked full-time at different times so we didn’t have to pay for childcare. The kids were in school and all of us worked hard to assimilate."
Ngoanh & Tam "We have a good life, the kids are all grown up now, and we have 8 grandchildren. We are healthy and retired. We are happy.
How did we fall in love? By living."

As I photographed Tam and Ngoanh in their home, heard their story a great level of emotions were felt. An incredible appreciation for their endurance, admiration for the host family that sponsored the Huynhs and pure awe. Culturally physical affection is not prominent, but the silent pride and love of what they two had accomplished, was strong and felt through their words I (literally) could not understand. Ngoanh & Tam will be celebrating there 43rd wedding anniversary this year.

Thank you Shelly for inspiring this project. And thank you Tam and Ngoanh for inviting me into your home and sharing your love story.


Sarah Knight said...

Heather, that photo of them at the kitchen table made me cry. That is incredible! So sweet!

Elizabeth said...

SO beautiful and emotional!!!!

Justin Hackworth said...

That picture of them smiling and laughing, sitting at the table is a perfect picture. They are all great.

Garrett said...

So, so, so, sweet! Beautiful photography Heather! Love!

brooke said...

LOVE this idea and how it all turned out--beautiful.