SAN FRANCISCO — A San Jose couple who were forced to leave a daughter behind when fleeing Vietnam a decade ago were reunited with her recently beneath the glare of television lights.
Seconds after a teary embrace with her parents and 10-year-old sister, 13-year-old Chau Manh Quay was met with a barrage of bright lights, cameras and reporters' questions. It was her first taste of life in America.
"She didn't know this would happen to her. But I've explained it," said the girl's mother, Chau Thi Thanh, as Manh Quay stared silently at the cameras.
The Chaus had not seen their daughter since she was 3 years old. In 1978, the family was fleeing Vietnam on a fishing boat and the captain told them he had room for only one child.
The couple were forced to make a nightmarish choice and ended up leaving Manh Quay with her grandmother and departing with their 5-month-old daughter, Dong.
"I was terribly sad, horribly sad. But later, I saw that we had no choice," the mother said last week. "I always wished and thought I would get her back."
Since they were separated, her family has communicated with Manh Quay only by mail, Chau Hung said minutes before he greeted his daughter.
"I feel great, very excited. It took a long time to get her into this country. Finally, our dream has come true," he said.
"My other daughter always felt lonely and kept asking me, 'When is my sister coming here?' I keep saying, 'Soon, soon, soon.' That's all I could tell her."
Flanked by two friends, Dong was clearly delighted to meet her older sister and presented her with a cluster of shiny helium balloons. She said she has planned activities that will help Manh Quay get to know the United States.
First Stop: the Mall
"The first place I want to take her is the shopping mall," Dong said. "My friends and I will help her to learn English."
For years the Chaus tried, to no avail, to get their daughter out of Vietnam.
Last week's reunion may be linked to a letter that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News about three years ago. A friend of the Chaus wrote to then-columnist Bruce Miller telling about the family's struggle.
The letter was read by Bruce Burns of the Amerasian Registry, who contacted the Chaus and offered to help them. While he was visiting Vietnam in 1987 and again in 1988, Burns requested that the bureaucracy speed up its processing of the girl's exit visa.
The Chaus also sent letters to Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Santa Clara County Supervisor Zoe Lofgren.
Attracting a bit less media attention last week was the Tikalsky family, who came to the airport to greet five Vietnamese relatives they have not seen in 13 years. Cu Thi Tikalsky has been trying since the mid-1970s to gain the release of her sister, her sister's husband and their four children.
Her husband, Dan Tikalsky, was serving in Vietnam when they were married in 1965. He said he has a 3-inch stack of correspondence between himself and the Vietnamese government on his desk at home.
"It looks like the U.S. and Vietnam have finally gotten it together. What's confusing is there's people who get out in months, and others, like us, who wait for years," Dan Tikalsky said.