ORLANDO, Fla. – As we celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, News 6 wanted to take a closer look at this growing population and why they chose to make Central Florida home.
Cecilia Nguyen’s family immigrated to Orlando almost 50 years ago with a dream.
“Over here, it’s the land of freedom,” Nguyen said.
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Nguyen said her family’s story is one of many. Her father was the first to flee their home country of Vietnam looking for hope of a new life.
“During the war, my father came over here in 1975. He was sponsored by a wonderful family and nine years later, he worked really hard to bring the rest of my family over,” she said.
Her mother and six siblings settled in Orlando. Nguyen was born the following year.
“My dad picked Florida because of the weather. It’s very similar to Vietnam, and he didn’t like the cold and it has Disney,” Nguyen said.
Cecilia Nguyen's mother and six siblings arrived to Orlando International Airport, reuniting with Nguyen's father. (Photo credit: Cecilia Nguyen)
Nguyen said she remembers her family adjusting and learning how to live in a new world.
“We all lived in one tiny home where we all used one car and had to share the car and everyone had a different place to go to work,” she said. “Studying late nights to learn English at night, but daytime going to work. It was a whole new world, but it was definitely something my parents knew that was something that was worth it.”
In 1998, her sister opened a small jewelry repair shop in Tien Hung Market. Since then, the business, Tien Hung Jewelry, has grown. Nguyen runs the family-owned business that sells fine jewelry and engagement rings.
Nguyen said the entrepreneurial spirit runs in her family.
“We have a tailor shop, we have a bridal store, we have restaurants, you name it and we pretty much have something to do with that in the area,” she said.
Nguyen family businesses
- Shear Ego Salon & Spa
- Tien Hung Jewelry
- Anh Hong Restaurant
- Lily’s Bridal
- Tina’s Master Tailors
- Phantastic Smiles
- B & M Trading LLC
The jewelry store is located in the heart of Little Vietnam Town in the Mills 50 district. This area is booming with Asian American businesses and restaurants. It reflects the growing Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Central Florida.
“Asian American is the fastest-growing group in Central Florida,” Shally Wong, the Asian American community liaison for Orange County said.
Wong emigrated from Hong Kong 30 years ago and now calls Central Florida home.
Passionate about her community, she said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings created her job two years ago to focus on Asian American outreach efforts.
“My job is mainly connect the Asian American community, events to the mayor and initiatives, different issues that we face so that he can actually get the firsthand information so that we can work together more,” Wong said.
Wong said 6% of the county’s population is Asian American and comes from a variety of diverse countries.
“Majority of what make up the 6%, you are kind of thinking about Indian American, Vietnamese, Chinese, Philippines, and followed by Korean and Japanese,” Wong said.
Wong said Central Florida is an ideal place for the Asian American communities to live and raise a family.
“I think it’s the people and the inclusion of the county and we know that we have so many small businesses,” Wong said. “Many of them are immigrants, many diverse backgrounds.”
Nguyen said she celebrates her culture and heritage by keeping it alive for future generations, including working with her nieces in the jewelry store.
She also works with the Miss Vietnam Florida pageant, which features traditional food, music, clothing, and dance.
“We feel very strongly about keeping the culture alive,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen adds the Asian American community is only growing stronger in Central Florida.
“I love that Orlando is so culturally open to taking everything in and I feel that we’re so diverse and that’s what makes Orlando,” she said.