In the middle of the night, Uyen Nguyen trudged through a grassy marshland with her mother and three siblings until they reached the edge of the ocean, where a small, dilapidated fishing boat was beached on the sand. It set off with 31 people packed on it.
It was 1985, a decade after Saigon had fallen, and their final attempt at fleeing Vietnam. Days later, the boat’s engine sputtered out, stranding the passengers at sea for about a month and forcing them to catch rainwater to sustain themselves. Ten people died, including Ms. Nguyen’s mother and two of her siblings. The others, including Ms. Nguyen, 10, and her 15-year-old brother, were rescued by fishermen and taken to a refugee camp in the Philippines.
Ms. Nguyen thought of that escape after seeing images of Afghans crammed on U.S. military planes in August, desperate to leave a country ravaged by a decades-long war. The unmistakable parallels, she said, have compelled her to help Afghans whose situation is similar to what she experienced.
the Afghan government collapsed, Ms. Nguyen texted a group of friends and proposed starting an organization that would recruit Vietnamese American families to host the Afghans streaming into the Seattle area. The five friends founded Viets4Afghans, which initially aimed to enlist 75 families — a nod to the year Saigon fell. More than 100 have volunteered.
re-education camp for six months following the war’s end. Like other allies of American forces, he was targeted for reprisal. He escaped by boat in October 1978, making it to Malaysia before arriving in Olympia, Wash.
Ms. Tan’s parents would often tell her stories about the Americans who helped them find jobs and resettle. Some befriended her parents, inviting them to their homes and offering meals. Vietnamese people who had resettled in America earlier also helped her father find work cleaning restaurants and schools while he took community college classes.
Her group now hopes to do the same for Afghans arriving with few belongings or relatives in the country. Although Ms. Tan acknowledged that there are clear differences between the two wars, she said there was a shared experience among the refugees.
“We understand the experience of what Afghans are going through in a way that very few others can,” she said.