The American dream is alive and well in West Chester—just ask Dr. Phuoc and Sang Tran, first-generation immigrants from Vietnam. You may know them as your local dentistry experts at West Chester Family Dentistry, or the friendly neighbors with a porch that is decorated for every holiday. You may have attended their annual Halloween event or encountered them at a community meeting. The Trans are known for their welcoming spirit, kindness and fun parties.
The life journeys of Phuoc and Sang Tran began on the other side of the world, in 1970’s Vietnam. They recount how their families left everything behind to flee a war-torn country. Phuoc traveled for days to an unknown destination in the belly of a fishing boat that fell under attack by pirates in the open sea not once, not twice, but three times. Sang’s family was separated as they had to leave her elderly Grandmother and two eldest siblings at home. Both landed in foreign refugee camps before they finally set foot on American soil to begin anew. These are the harrowing tales that make up their humble beginnings.
“I was 7,” says Sang, telling her family’s story. “I was holding onto my oldest sister’s hand. She told me ‘Don’t ever let go.’ So many families got separated from each other in the chaos of that day. My Grandma couldn’t keep up, so my two oldest brothers had to take her back home.”
That day was April 29, 1975, one day before the Fall of Saigon. Sang and her family escaped on a fishing boat. They landed at a refugee camp in the Philippines, then Guam where they received American culture and basic English lessons, then to yet another camp in Pennsylvania. After four months, Sang and her family were welcomed to Cincinnati. American churches sponsored Vietnamese families from the refugee camps so they would have a support system for the transition to their new homes.
“Luckily St. Lawrence Church in Price Hill sponsored my family and Our Lady of Lourdes, 10 minutes away, sponsored my uncle, so we got to stay together,” says Sang.
Landing in America brought instant luxuries young Sang had never known: an escalator at the airport, Juicy Fruit gum, flushing toilets and apples, a fruit reserved for the wealthy in Vietnam.
“I started first grade that fall,” she says. “We learned English from school and watching cartoons.”
“When we fled Vietnam, my parents were younger than I am now,” shares Phuoc. “They just picked up everything and grabbed their kids and went into the unknown to seek freedom and opportunity on the other side of the world. I’m not sure I could do what they did,” he says.
“I was 10 years old,” says Phuoc of his family’s departure from Vietnam in 1979. “I remember my father talking about gold bars—8 gold bars for each adult and 3 or 4 for each child. That was the price we paid to get on a small fishing boat packed with others that were leaving.
“Dad knew the captain of the boat, so we were seated by the kitchen and had access to food,” he says. “We ate dry ramen noodles and raw garlic. My father later told me that he wanted us to eat the garlic to keep us from getting seasick.
“We were in a refugee camp in Malaysia for over a year,” he continues. “It was about two years from when we fled Vietnam to our arrival in the U.S.
“Union Lake Baptist Church near Walled Lake, Michigan sponsored my family,” Phuoc adds. “Michigan became our new home.”
Their Stories Come Together
For both Phuoc and Sang, education and hard work was highly valued by their parents. They were brought together by chemistry—a BioChem class Phuoc was taking in the Pharmacy School Sang was attending. When a homesick Sang spotted another Asian face in the hall, she blurted out “Are you Vietnamese?” And the rest is history. After six years of dating and earning their degrees, Phuoc in Dentistry and Sang in Pharmacy, they married in 1996.
“Tradition said we should get an education, get a job, get married, then have a family,” explains Phuoc.
“We had to graduate before we got married,” Sang agrees.
They followed the traditional plan, step by step, those steps leading to a successful family dentistry practice, four children and life journeys that led them to put down roots in West Chester. Their home is a hub for family, friends and neighbors.
“We love being in West Chester,” says Phuoc.
“Being a part of the community and giving back is really important to us,” adds Sang. “We are surrounded by supportive friends.”
“We’ve been blessed,” Phuoc reflects. “We are very thankful for what we have and for the opportunities we have been given.”
The inspiring stories of Phuoc and Sang Tran have a humble beginning with a Hollywood ending—together, happy, successful and grateful, with a lot of joy on the journey.
West Chester Family Dentistry | WCFamilyDentistry.com
9000 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester