We moved to a small town called Palacios my 5th grade year. As it turns out, it was one of the best moves of my life. Even though we were a small town, our school system was financially blessed. Due to a power plant on one side and a chemical plant on the other; we had plenty of school taxes. We had facilities that similar sized schools would have died for. I was able to experience a real quality music program. Others were able to participate in a quality Theater, Athletics, and etc. programs. We each had text books, use of a computer lab, and a fine library. I know how blessed we were because I live in the middle of a very poor school district now.
But, this isn’t about schools. It is about missed opportunities…
As it turns out, a small Vietnamese community was transplanted into the area by the Catholic Church. Other kids like An, Chi, Long and Vu made my life richer by their very existence. There was also a great Hispanic population in the town. To this day I think that Mrs. Llanes is one of the best cooks on earth, and Mr. Llanes has no peer when it comes to making a cocktail sauce and boiled/chilled shrimp. They’ve both ruined me for Tamales and Shrimp Cocktail.
My mother used to take me to this little Asian restaurant in Palacios. I don’t even remember the name. It was a small place, and the sweet lady that owned it was always the one manning it. I don’t think she ever had anyone working for her. I remember that she had some of the best egg-rolls, and there is where I learned to love Lo Mein.
The owner was always so kind to my mother and me, and her food was great. I remember one time that my mother mentioned that the owner was somewhat of a loner. Maybe that wasn’t the exact wording, but she different than the rest of the Vietnamese community from which she hailed. You see, she was a Buddhist. As far as I know, she was the only Buddhist in town. Everyone else from the Vietnamese community was Catholic. It never hit me how alone she must have felt. She, a Buddhist in a small Texas town, surrounded by Catholic and Protestant Christians.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have volunteered at her restaurant. I would have attempted to get to know her, her beliefs, what leaving Vietnam-her home was like. I would have sat at her feet and learned from her experience, and been richer for it.
I wish I would have gotten to know more about the Vietnamese community in Palacios. I remember the family driving to either El Campo, or maybe Bay City one day. The Vietnamese community was along the main highway heading out of town. Looking across the way, we saw something being built. At first, we didn’t know what it was. But day by day, as we continued to travel up and down the highway, we saw the form of a boat take shape. A boat, a large boat, in the end a large Shrimping Vessel was built not a hundred yards from the highway. I don’t know if this is true, but I was told the boat was built by the community for a couple that was newly married. This was going to be their livelihood, a gift from the community. Again, I don’t know how true the story is, it was the “rumor” of the boat floating around town at that time. Maybe some of my old school mates could fill us in on what really was going on.
All this to say that right there, in my little Texas town was a wonderful variety of faiths and cultures. What a beautiful thing, something that I’m not sure many of us really valued. Now I live in a much larger Texas city, Fort Worth. I pray that I am able to not only participate in some multi-faith/cultural activities; but more importantly – that I can give those opportunities to my children. They don’t know the significance of them, but I do.
P.s. Dear Mom, Thank you for taking me to every little Asian, Mexican, and whatever hole-in-the-wall restaurant that you found. My life is richer for it.
P.s.s. A friend from FaceBook, who was also a member of the Vietnamese community, clarified some things for me. With his permission, I’m adding his comments for clarification’s sake.
The village building a boat for the newly wed couple is not true. The facts are we all built our own boats. At the age of 7, I still recall building our boat with my Dad. I put nails into the framework on a boat that put 7 kids through college and still supports my parents to this day.
The name of the Chinese restaurant escapes me, but I believe you are referring to the one across from C&B belonging to Stephanie Chau’s parents. Yes, they are Budhhist. No, they weren’t alone. The Vietnamese community is close knit despite differences in religion, idealogy, and dialect.
As it pertains to growing up with Vietnamese community, we were taught to keep to ourselves and not bring attention to ourselves…be it good or bad. That’s unfortunate as we all missed out on the time and space that we shared in that unique town.