This year’s theme of International Women’s Day is #BreaktheBias. Working towards a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. Working towards a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
This year I would like to take the opportunity to talk about a remarkable woman in my life who was able to break the bias against immigrants and women. This person is my mother. A beautiful, petite, stylish Asian woman who looks years younger than her age. At the age of 78, she has a stronger work ethic than anyone I know, often working an average of 15 hours a day, 6 days a week as the owner of a successful restaurant.
My mother was a refugee during the Vietnam war. She was born in Laos in 1944. At a young age, she lost her father, and her mother was left alone to raise 5 children. My mother had to start working early in life to help support her family and put food on the table. At 9 years old she helped her mother by making Vietnamese desserts and dumplings to sell after school. With no source of water at home, she would walk to the Mekong River and carry home heavy buckets of water. In her teens, she took up sewing and hemming clothes after school to help make ends meet. At the age of 18, my mother moved to Vietnam to live with her aunt.
In April 1975 during the collapse of South Vietnam, President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans from Saigon, officially named Operation Babylift. My mom who had been volunteering at an orphanage was given a coveted spot by the Irish nuns as an escort on a flight full of orphans bound for America.
Years later once my mother was settled in Portland she married my father. It was important to my mother to have some financial independence. She didn’t want to have to rely on her husband for money to buy clothes for herself or her kids.
When us kids were still young my mom decided to make cakes for the Vietnamese community in Portland. My mom was famous for her Vietnamese pandan cakes. The interior of the cakes was a signature green color that comes from pandan leaves. She made beautiful flowered birthday cakes and elaborate multi-tiered wedding cakes with staircases and water fountains with pink dyed water (it was the 80’s). Her cakes were works of art and she had a waitlist of clients. My parents built a second kitchen in the back of our house so she could stay home and watch us kids while she worked.
Later my mother decided to buy an Asian market which she ran for several years, 7 days a week. When I was not in school my sister and I were often hanging out in the storage room on the huge sacks of rice, eating candy from the market and doing our homework. Her next project was a Thai restaurant. I spent my weekends working as a busgirl and waitress. It was a good work experience that forced me to break out of my shell. My mom’s magic touch turned the restaurant into a success with lines of customers out the door often. My mom then sold the restaurant and tried out retired life but she is a woman who has to be busy.
She ended up opening another restaurant, a Thai/Vietnamese bistro with a French touch. And as usual, it was a huge success that did well even through the pandemic. At age 78 she is still going strong and can usually be found in her bakery in the back of the restaurant making baguettes and macarons.
My mom’s success in life was not due to luck. She was so successful with whatever project she worked on because she has the hardest work ethic I know. She is also a perfectionist. If she is going to do something she is going to do it well.
Throughout her time in the US, she has had to deal with discrimination because she is a woman, Asian, and speaks with an accent. People would often talk above her to my dad thinking he was the boss and he would always refer them back to his wife and make sure people knew it was all her, he was just there to help.
After the difficult life she had growing up poor in Laos and fleeing during the war, she could have easily given up. Many people did. But for her, that was not an option. She had help along the way, in Vietnam and when she first arrived in the US, and she has paid it forward many times. She is one of the most charitable, giving persons I know.
My mother inspires me to be a better person. It is people like her who are doing their part to break the bias.
-Audrey Bonnet, Partner, PLUS QA