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A fresh start: How Rockport helped Vietnam refugees find success on the bay

Long Nguyen is a humble man, whose businesses have thrived on long hours and hard work. And that's the way it has always been.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The month of May celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage, and here in South Texas -- there is a rich Asian culture with deep roots. 

After the Vietnam War the Rockport and Fulton area experienced an influx of Vietnamese refugees in the mid 70s. Many settling in the coastal town, finding opportunity as shrimpers and fisherman. 

Today -- not many remain.

Long Nguyen grew up as a shrimper. He now owns several family businesses along with his wife Nelda, which include a bait shop on Aransas Bay  

"It doesn't matter what color you are, as long as you are willing to work," he said. 

Nguyen is a humble man, whose businesses have thrived on long hours and hard work. And that's the way it has always been. Ever since his family put down roots in the Rockport-Fulton area back in 1975.

"I got here when I was 14 years old," he said. 

For his family, it was a fresh start. 

They were among the first Vietnamese refugees to come to the area following the war. Nelda was very curious about her new classmate. 

"We've seen them in magazines but we never seen an Asian, he was the first Asian here," she said. 

With so many unknowns in their new country, the small town on the water offered the Nguyen family a way to survive with a familiar skill.  

"My dad back in the country on the island, shrimp at night is how I learned," Long said. 

Nelda's family welcomed Nguyen with open arms, even teaching him their family business -- concrete. But Nguyen's family was a hard sell. 

"They did not like a mixed race at all. We were the first, and it was hard for years, it was hard," she said. "And now there are so many mixed marriages and I got to look at the older people you got them in your family too."

Other refugees flocked to Aransas Bay but ultimately left for bigger cities. Nguyen remained, instilling his strong work ethic into his children who've found their own passion on the water. His oldest son Josh is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and now teaches maritime in Rockport.

"Coming here with nothing our very little, and picking yourself up, that was only one generation. They came here with nothing and we are all doing well for ourselves," he said.

Throughout everything, the family is proud of what they've built and the traditions that live on.

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