IT TOOK Hue Nguyen only two weeks away from home to realize she had made a big mistake. She was staying in a motel room with 10 other Chinese-Vietnamese boys and girls when several of them suddenly began snorting cocaine. Hue, 17, refused to join in. The next day, she returned home to San Gabriel.
"I tasted what I thought was very good fruit, but it didn't taste very good at all. So I stopped eating it," she says.
For her younger sister, Nhung, 16, the realization came much more slowly and only after a painful yearlong odyssey in which she dropped out of the ninth grade, ran away from home with a 16-year-old boyfriend, and returned only to discover that her mother no longer wanted to care for her. Nhung became a ward of the county, alternating between McClaren Hall and a foster home.
This summer, Nhung and her mother patched things up. She moved back home and got a job as a waitress. Since she's returned to school, her English has improved steadily. But her relationship with her mom remains rocky. "I'm just waiting until I turn 18," she says.