by: John Knicely Updated:
SEATTLE, Wash. - Seafair annually highlights the best of Western Washington, and this year is no exception. The float that will lead the Alaska Airlines Torchlight Parade down the streets of Seattle tells the inspirational story of many who help make our community better.
Trong Pham and his team of volunteers with the Vietnamese American Coalition are hard at work finishing their float, “The Boat People.” It’s a theme that is very personal for many who are working on the boat.
“This is a refugee boat,” Pham said. “A smaller version of the one we used to escape from Vietnam.”
From front to back the float tells a story. Part of a real boat is attached to the front of the float with waves and a rock symbolizing the trouble they had escaping communism.
The scene on the float progressively turns to one of the spring season, representing a new start for those who escaped to find freedom and opportunity in Western Washington.
“You see all the flower and this is where success come in,” said Pham. “After the school (the immigrants) start contributing.”
It’s Pham’s story as he escaped communism to find opportunity in Seattle. He is a portfolio manager for Morgan Stanley. And it’s the story of Adam Nguyen who owns Speedway Collision auto body shop in Lynwood where the float is being built. Nguyen was 14 when he escaped on a boat.
“With 12 other boys and I'm the youngest,” Nguyen said. “But I'm the captain.”
Nguyen’s small boat with small motor made it to the shores of Hong Kong and eventually a Western Washington family took him in.
“They open their arms to welcome another child,” Nguyen said.
Through hard work Nguyen now represents the American dream as a successful business owner. He used his skills to turn the float into a self-sustained vehicle. He took an engine out of a truck and built the float from scratch. Each volunteer brings to the float the same skills they use to contribute to society.
“We have each organization responsible for different part of the construction and also the event,” said Pham.
When it’s complete the “Boat People” float will pay tribute to the lives lost in the search for freedom, and it will serve as a big thank-you from Vietnamese Americans to their neighbors.
“Thank you America and American people open their arms and welcome us,” said Nguyen.
Mayor Mike McGinn’s wife, Peggy, will be a guest of honor on the “Boat People” float. It will be the first float in the Torchlight Parade which kicks off at 7:30 Saturday night.