The Rebirth of Hope
My Journey from Vietnam War Child to American Citizen
Jerrel James Salon
4636 Pershing Ave
Fort Worth 76107
If you ever feel a bit down about your fortunes in life and snarl a silent curse at your fate, then I’ve got a solution for you. Better yet, if you’ve been born to wealth, privilege and status and consider your life problem-free, I’ve got a solution for you, too.
Run, walk, send out your manservant Jeeves or whatever and get a copy of Sau Le Hudecek’s powerful memoir The Rebirth of Hope: My Journey from Vietnam War Child to American Citizen.
Why, you may ask, since you don’t know Ms. Hudecek? But you probably do. If you don’t know her, you’ve likely seen her work around town; she has been working in or running a salon in town for years. Hudecek owns Jarrel James Salon on the city’s west side and her clients include a Who’s Who, Who Was Who and Who Will Be Who of Fort Worth, as well as those ladies of a certain age who get their hair done every week – rain, sleet or snow.
Her story, told in a just-released book from TCU Press, chronicles her life beginning in Vietnam and ending up here. It grabs you from the get-go:
“When I was six years old, the night before school started, my sister was killed by a land mine.”
Her sister, her biggest champion and protector, was gone. For Sau Le, so was hope.
I’ll summarize a bit to give you a flavor of the story. Born in a demilitarized zone during the Vietnam War to a Vietnamese mother and an African-American soldier, she was bullied and abused in childhood, like many mixed-race children of the war.
Sau Le, though often ostracized in her small village, was a person of intense – well – intensity. She was persistent, eventually convincing her family to take advantage of her mixed-race heritage and emigrate to the United States.
They arrived in Fort Worth in 1993 with $20 between them. Even that didn’t do any good. Spending their first night in a home on McCart Avenue, she and the family did not recognize the church casseroles left in the refrigerator for them as food.
From the book: “We all just stared at it. I covered it up again and returned it to the shelf in the fridge and tried something else. Pulling out another glass dish and uncovering it, we discovered a mass of stringy something that sort of looked like the glass noodles we eat in Vietnam. But atop the strands was a thick red sauce, nubby with something brown, all covered in a latticework of white something.”
So they walked to a nearby grocery store on Seminary Drive. Plenty of food, but they had no idea how to purchase it. There were no stalls and vendors like in Vietnam.
They were starving in the land of plenty until someone explained to them how grocery stores operated and that casseroles were in fact – usually, at least – edible.
Casseroles were hardly the only cultural shocks she and her family had to overcome.
But overcome them she did, eventually receiving her state license for cosmetology, becoming a property owner, and eventually a business owner.
Though successful, her challenges are hardly over. There will be betrayal, illnesses, deception and heartbreak, to say nothing of the language barrier.
No spoilers here, as the title says it all. Sau does eventually find that rebirth of hope, and along with it love and a hard-earned patriotism.
I’m in good company praising the book. Fort Worth author and sportswriter Dan Jenkins has, too, along with several others who have read it.
She re-discovers hope, but she also uncovers a large vein of generosity in herself, because she’s given all of us this book.
Send your man Jeeves out for a copy. Better yet, get two.