Restaurant owner shares his story at refugee celebration

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Alex Lam, owner of Vietnam Kitchen, spoke about coming to Louisville as a refugee in 1980 during the World Refugee Day celebration at Catholic Charities June 22.

Alex Lam, owner of Vietnam Kitchen, spoke about coming to Louisville as a refugee in 1980 during the World Refugee Day celebration at Catholic Charities June 22.

The owner of Vietnam Kitchen, a popular local restaurant in South Louisville, told a crowd gathered to celebrate World Refugee Day June 22 that he worked hard, saved money and was aided by Catholic Charities to achieve his dream.

“It was our dream to open a restaurant to introduce Vietnamese food to Louisville,” said Alex Lam during the celebration at Catholic Charities’ St. Anthony campus, 2222 West Market St. “Thirteen years after our arrival to Louisville, we were finally able to save enough money to buy our own restaurant, Vietnam Kitchen.”

He was one of several speakers at the event that drew a crowd of about 300, including refugees, volunteers, staff and supporters of Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. The event celebrated the accomplishments of refugees and the dedication of volunteers who assist them.

Lam said he and his wife arrived in Louisville in 1980. They left Vietnam about eight months earlier aboard a small boat — four meters wide by 16 meters long — with 146 other people. It was so packed, he said, there wasn’t room to lie down.

They spent five days and six nights at sea before they reached Hong Kong. They stayed there for about eight months in a refugee camp for “boat people,” he said. Then they were resettled in the United States through Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Migration and Refugee Services.

“Without a penny to our name, my wife and I worked very hard to save money and attended ESL school to learn English,” he said, noting that 13 years later they opened the restaurant. “It was not easy at first as we were new in the business, but through hard work, dedication, many sacrifices and tremendous help from my family, we have become a successful restaurant and well-known throughout the community.”

He credits his success to both his family and Catholic Charities.

“Without the help we received from Catholic Charities, I would not be where I am today,” he said. “Therefore, I am forever grateful to this organization.”

The World Refugee Day celebration also featured other speakers, food, dancing, the singing of the national anthem and other music. It also included a parade of nations in which participants carried flags representing their countries of origin around the neighborhood.

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