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BE stepped up to the plate in ‘75

By Staff | Jul 19, 2020

I still remember my first trip to Andy’s Oriental Cafe.

It was 2007, and I had just moved to Blue Earth. I had noticed this older building on Main Street with the hand-lettered little sign that read Andy’s Oriental Cafe.

Dr. John and Marty Sawyer took us there and the food was incredible. Best Chinese (I mean Oriental) food I had ever had.

I loved going there. And everyone I took there, friends and family from out of town, also loved going there. Some even made special trips to Blue Earth just to go there. And maybe see us as well.

It was a very interesting place to say the least. You could watch Andy scurrying around the small kitchen because the door was always open.

And after he was done cooking for the evening, he would come out and sit with us and do a little visiting.

I loved talking to Andy and Carolyn and hearing all about their life in Vietnam and their escape from Saigon just before the city fell into enemy hands.

I wanted to write a story about it and publish it in the Register, but Andy kept saying no. He was just too worried about retaliation from the North Vietnamese government even 30 years later.

So I agreed not to publish it.

Now with his death last week, his daughter Sarah has graciously told me the story of her family, and given us permission to print it.

I was 25 years old in 1975 and remember all the details of the Vietnam War all too well, so the story of their escape is an amazing one for me to hear.

Another big part of the Andy and Carolyn Huynh story of escaping from Vietnam is the fact they came to Blue Earth, Minnesota, of all places.

Marty Sawyer explains the plan for that had actually been in the works for months. She explains how the Blue Earth Ministerial Association, made up of all the churches, plus many individual church members, decided it was time for Blue Earth to step up and do something.

The Vietnam War was ending and there were going to be refugees.

So this group in Blue Earth agreed to sponsor refugees and began renting houses, buying furniture at auctions, and clothes from a big used clothing store in Elmore. Marty says they even took classes to learn how to deal with folks from other cultures.

The first family they sponsored were Andy and Carolyn Huynh’s group. But eventually they sponsored 10 families and many of them had lots of kids and some aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc.

Everyone had to go get checked out at the doctor first thing, and Marty says that was an experience in itself. The town doctor had a stuttering problem and between that and the refugees broken English, communication got quite comical at times.

The next step was to get them jobs, get all the kids enrolled in school and teach everyone some English and American ways.

Marty says a group of Blue Earth women spent time in the homes of the new refugee families to teach them how to shop, get around, even how the appliances in the homes worked.

And, there were several classes of English as a Second Language being taught every day and evening.

Marty jokes that several teaching positions at the Blue Earth school were saved because there were probably 40 Vietnamese kids in the school eventually.

The church groups had fundraisers and many of the group put in their own funds as well. The new families were so grateful for everything they started having fundraisers of their own to help pay back the community for everything.

Eventually all the families but one moved away. Marty says there were a variety of reasons, from moving to where other family members were, to escaping the cold Minnesota winters, to finding employment elsewhere. Three families went to California, one to Florida, two out East, one to Louisiana and two to Texas. Marty still stays in contact with them all.

But, the one who stayed was always the special one. Andy and Carolyn Huynh loved the people of Blue Earth, and the folks here loved them as well.

After they had been here a while they tore down the tired old house they had first been given to live in, and built a new one on the very same spot.

Andy put the construction skills he had been learning to very good use.

Marty says all the Blue Earth folks involved in this project thought it was a marvelous, wonderful experience.

The new families were all so appreciative of all the help, so grateful for everything and many strong friendships developed, she says.

I think it is a credit to the community of Blue Earth that this humanitarian effort was undertaken back in 1975. Kudos to all those who were involved.