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Vietnamese Bridal Shop Owner - 2002-04-17

English Feature #7-33699 Broadcast May 1, 2000

Today in New American Voices you'll meet one of this country's many immigrant entrepreneurs -- Diana Trinh, seamstress and businesswoman.

"You know, to me success is, I always tell my friends success is a road that's always under construction. No matter how hard you work, how much you achieve, you want more.(laughs)"

American folk wisdom has it that immigrants are naturally entrepreneurial. According to this view, the qualities that make a person decide to emigrate to a new country - courage, resourcefulness, self-reliance - are the same that are needed to start a business.

Whether or not this is true as a stereotype, Diana Trinh, proprietor of Diana's Couture and Bridal shop in Washington, D.C., is clearly an energetic, highly motivated woman. She emigrated to the United States from Vietman as a young bride with her husband and his parents. They were virtually penniless when they arrived. Although she had a new, month-old baby, Diana immediately went to work as a seamstress.

"At first it was difficult because we just had to learn a lot of new culture and adapt (to) a new life. But to me, about six months to a year I learned to adapt because I look at my job and I said well, we got to move on. I got children, I got my parents-in-law, and I even have my husband who was totally lost, too. So I think that even though I'm very young at the time, I think I'm the only one who has the strength to carry on the whole load. I just decide that if I don't make the best out of it, I waste all the price that I paid."

"Moving on" to Diana Trinh meant starting her own business.

"I start this business very sudden. I left my job two weeks, and decided I'm going go on into business. And the reason why I choose to have this particular business is because it's the only business that takes very, very little capital, and the capital I already have, like a sewing machine, a surger, and a cutting board, and a little bit of money to start the lease and the rent. And the reason why I do that is that I really just don't want to work for anybody else anymore, and I want to try to be my own boss."

Diana knew nothing about running a business, and had to learn on-the-job.

"I learn, you know, as I go along, though I have a lot of people, a lot of customers and friends, new friends, that came to my store and because I was very young, so they just kind of take me as a sister or as a daughter and they kind of give me some advice, you know, tell me what to do, how to get more business, and how to handle things. And they taught me, you know, just like a friend."

Diana's shop is located in Georgetown, an elegant section of the American capital. Her clientele comes largely from this area, as well.

"They're middle, middle to high class, and very sophisticated. They come to me for fashion, for design, for dressmaking, but they also taught me a lot of different things. They'll talk to me about politics, about Vietnam, about education - anything. You know, they discuss with me things that I should read the newspaper and learn."

But the informal education that goes on in Diana's shop between fittings of bridal dresses is a two-way street.

"Actually, I like to share with them the beautiful culture of Vietnam. The most beautiful thing about Vietnamese culture is family, family ties, and being polite to your elders. And I think that is very important to me. I mean, the children, if they are looking up at you and respect you and all that, they're going to do fine in life."

Next week we'll bring you the story of another immigrant entrepreneur -- Waria Salhi, a Kurd who operates a corner gasoline station.