The war in Vietnam was over and thousands of Vietnamese families were immigrating to the United States as soon as sponsoring families were found. This is the story of one family and how they came to be in the seaport town of Palacios.
It was January 1976 and a Vietnamese Catholic priest, Father Joseph, and five Vietnamese families then living in Brownsville decided to move to Palacios to find a better life. One of these families had relatives that had arrived in the States and were living in Ohio. The head of this family in Ohio was Tu Viet Vu; later fondly know at “Big Tu”. Big Tu’s family had come to the U.S. under the sponsorship of the West Liberty Baptist Church in West Liberty, Ohio. The church very graciously supplied them with a brick home, well stocked with food, and a car and proceeded to try to fulfill their every need and make them feel at home. However, as wonderful as these people were, this was not home nor did it resemble home in any way. The weather was so foreign to them; they certainly were not accustomed to the cold winters. And these people were predominately farmers. Big Tu had been a fisherman and there wasn’t a body of water in sight.
The Red Cross was in the process of trying to help these refugee families by contacting other members of their extended families that were scattered about the States. They were finally able to put Big Tu in contact with his brother in Palacios. So it was in July 1976 Big Tu brought his family to Palacios, Texas, in order to be near family, near the water and away for the cold weather. The people in West Liberty Baptist had been so kind to the Vu family that when the government offered to give the Vu family, ($300. per member of the family), some money to help them get started, the Vu family asked it be given to the church. The church, however, refused to take it and asked that it be used to help other families.
Upon arriving in Palacios, Big Tu went to work for Tom McCorley at Southern Net Works. Housing was a problem, but they made out, with three families living in one trailer and two families in another. By 1977 there were thirty Vietnamese families in Palacios. Although all of the men of these families were fisherman by trade, most of them were working at the South Texas Nuclear Plant. Big Tu was working there, but he also worked heading shrimp in the evenings and when he finished that he worked at the crab processing plant before finishing his day’s work. He held down these three jobs until he began building his first bay boat in the evenings after work. In 1979 five bay boats were built by the Vietnamese. Parts for these boats were purchased from salvage yards in Houston. By 1982 there were thirty-five Vietnamese bay boats in operation.
In 1983 Big Tu built his first gulf trawler with a 65-foot wooden hull. In 1984 five more wooden hull gulf trawlers were built and in 1985-87, twenty more bay boats. In 1987 three steel hull trawlers, 85 feet long were acquired. In 1990 Big Tu opened Captain Tom’s Seafood, which had an unloading dock, he also had ten gulf trawlers and four bay boats. In 1993, he acquired an ice plant and fuel dock. The Vu family now operates two unloading docks, a fuel, and ice plant and eight trawlers.
The Vietnamese have made an economic impact on the city of Palacios. They operate five fish houses and unloading docks, approximately sixty gulf trawlers and forty-five bay boats. There are approximately 140 Vietnamese families now living in Palacios.
Big Tu and his wife, Hue, and their family have prospered in this City by the Sea, but they also have worked very hard. The whole family has worked. On their first bay boat, Hue was her husband’s deckhand and worked alongside him daily. Their family consists of seven children, four daughters, and three sons. Most of the children are now married, they are Thuy and husband, Tuan; Tom and wife, Hanh; Nikki and husband, Tony; Julie and husband, Huy; Tuan and wife, Tina. Janie and Ricky still live at home.
Betty Scurlock as told by Thuy Vu