Standing Up for Freedom in Atlantic City

By Quang Ha

In 1980, I owned a small factory in Hanoi that manufactured bicycle tires. One day, the police knocked on my door and arrested me—the communists were angry because I was making money. They seized my business and sent me to prison for 62 days.
The government temporarily released me to wait for my hearing, and I decided that I needed to escape. I wanted to come to America because here, I could be free. America is freedom.
My brother and I joined 23 others and fled by boat in the middle of the night for Hong Kong, and eventually the United States. We spent 32 days at sea with only enough food for ten days. Some of us nearly starved to death. The propeller broke and we had to tear the sail down and make a new one. Our boat crashed onto China’s shore, and we all had to sleep on the side of a mountain. We never thought we would make it to Hong Kong.

Finally, we reached Hong Kong on our way to the U.S., but our request for amnesty took longer than expected. We spent five months in a refugee camp until we were able to come here. It was 1982.
I moved to Austin, Texas, and got a job as a housekeeper at a hotel during the day. At night, I worked in a photo lab and then as a night watchman. Sometimes I would walk 12 miles to and from my jobs.
I studied hard and received my citizenship. I was so happy and proud to become an American citizen. I started volunteering at a jewelry store so that I could learn the trade and one day own my own store—one that the government couldn’t take away. In the late 1980s, I visited my brother in Atlantic City. I never left. I knew that here, I could open my own jewelry store. I worked hard and saved up money, and in 1995, I did just that.
A few years later, my business partner and I bought another piece of land, right across from where the Sands Casino once stood. I opened another jewelry store there and sold it to my nephew.

Then, in 2007, I received some shocking news, something I didn’t expect to ever hear again after leaving Vietnam. A letter I got in the mail said that there would be a public hearing on whether or not the city should declare my property “in need of redevelopment,” because Pinnacle wants to build a new casino. The city was going to force me to sell my property to Pinnacle.
On Wednesday, September 3, the city was supposed to decide the fate of my property, but they’ve delayed their decision. If the city decides my property is “blighted,” it will be able to seize it from me against my will—just like what happened to me in Hanoi—and give it to the casino developer so he can make more money. They are stepping on me because I’m too small. That is wrong. We are not going to let Pinnacle step on us.
I came to America because America is freedom. We will continue to fight for freedom, and we will win.