From Saigon with Love: How Noelle Nguyen Hopes to Rebuild the American Dream
December 16, 2013 - 11:20 am
As we’re getting ready for the holidays and buying presents for our loved ones, it’s worth stopping and thinking: What if I made the decision to buy American-made products? Would that help our ailing economy?
It would, and one immigrant from Vietnam has made it her career and life’s work to make buying American easier.
Her name is Noelle Nguyen. Her American love affair begins in one or our nation’s darkest hours, the military defeat in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon.
“Oftentimes I just don’t like talking about” my back story, she tells me. Hers is a life of overcoming extreme danger and hardship to become an American original. Recounting the details of her early life doesn’t seem to get any easier.
“When I was a very young girl, my parents and I escaped Vietnam by boat.” Her father, a high-ranking officer in the South Vietnamese army, had been captured and imprisoned by the communists. He attempted to escape 10 times before succeeding, and the family fled Saigon. They spent seven harrowing days at sea in rickety boat escaping Vietnam. Pirates accosted their boat during the journey, and her mother swallowed her wedding ring rather than lose it to the brigands. That decision would prove to be wise, as that ring would later pay for the family’s provisions. Noelle’s mother negotiated the family’s release from the pirates, and the family ended up in a Thai refugee camp. Her first contact with Americans was a soldier who helped her by picking her up out of a ditch. The American Red Cross would introduce her to American generosity. Her family spent a total of three years in refugee camps, two years in Thailand and another year in the Philippines. The Nguyens eventually made their way to Baltimore, where churches helped them survive and, eventually, thrive.
Fast forward and Noelle Nguyen establishes herself as a successful fashion designer whose clothes have sold in most major department stores. But with success, she felt the call to give back.
“With all of our blemishes, we’re the most amazing country on earth,” she says of the nation that took her family in.
She found a way. Today Noelle Nguyen is a highly educated self-starting dynamo with a dream: rebuilding the American manufacturing base so that American workers are competing for every job in the global economy. It’s an ambitious goal to be sure, but spend a few minutes talking with her and you’ll believe that it’s possible. To someone who has been through everything, nothing is out of reach.
She founded American Love Affair in 2012, which she describes as a “small-scale Amazon.com for things made only in America.”
“I want people to know where to go first to buy things only made in the USA.” While it’s mostly a portal to find American-made products, American Love Affair also manufactures its own products. Specifically, fashion items and now jewelry.
“There are so many reasons” to buy American, Nguyen says. “We have to compete for every job. You see what’s happened to manufacturing” over the past few decades, she says. “Economists are saying that it’s a very global economy, but we have to recognize that the developing world is now able to compete with us because they have the technology and the human capital.” Fighting only for high-tech jobs is “fatalistic,” and we should fight for every manufacturing job to come back to the United States.
“What most Americans don’t realize right now is that our American-made products are so popular overseas,” she says, noting that American-made products are popular in China, Thailand, Europe and even her native Vietnam.