Crystal Truong is the newest member of the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s Board of Directors, representing the state of Texas. While many of SSA’s Board members have been involved in the battle against unfairly traded shrimp imports and the push for science-based fisheries management for over a decade, Crystal brings fresh eyes to the problems.
As the assistant manager at Texas Gulf Seafood, the first and largest fish house in Galveston, she has worked with shrimp fishermen for nearly twenty years. However, she did not learn of SSA’s existence until last year, when a fisherman brought her information distributed by SSA to be translated from English to Vietnamese.
Crystal reached out to SSA and later met with John Williams, the executive director, after a town hall meeting. She was surprised to learn about the wide variety and number of issues in which SSA is the sole representative of the shrimp industry. Texas Gulf Seafood became a member. A year later, Crystal was elected to the Board of Directors.
Crystal Truong has a ten-year old son who is in sixth grade. He likes to ask his Mom to retell stories of when she was his age. The stories, which come over a warm dinner or in a cozy bed, put his problems into perspective.
In 1980, when Crystal was only eight-years old, her parents made a difficult decision. They saved a large amount of money and hired people to sneak their young child out of southern Vietnam in hopes that she would be granted asylum in the United States of America.
The efforts landed Crystal in a communist jail for three weeks. Her father, Than Ton, visited her. It was his actions during the Vietnam War, when he dug holes and hid the U.S.-backed soldiers of South Vietnam during their fight against the People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong, that brought his family under the scrutiny of the Communist regime. He was hoping Crystal would be free of the life he lived. The family worked hard to grow food and flowers to sell in the market, which brought home $1 to $2 a day–just enough to make ends meet for the family of twelve. He did not want her to live a country where boys were often taken from the home at age 18 and forced into the communist Army, many times never to be seen again.
Crystal left her parents and siblings once again when she was ten years old. Instead of starting middle school like her son is now, she was starting a new life.
Crystal traveled with her uncle and month-old cousin on a boat with more than 30 other paying passengers destined for the Philippines. The hope was that she would end up living with her oldest sister, the first family member to arrive in the United States in 1978.
The conditions on the boat were horrible. Refugees were laying down, side-by-side, like dead people. There was not enough food. People were sick. Crystal’s infant cousin became deathly ill.
As luck would have it, the boat was intercepted by a U.S. vessel. A friend of Crystal’s that had tried to escape with her earlier was not so lucky. Her boat was hijacked by pirates from Thailand. The passengers were robbed, raped, and left adrift in the ocean.
The U.S. vessel called for a helicopter to evacuate Crystal’s uncle and cousin to the nearest Philippine hospital. The baby did not survive.
Upon arrival, Crystal was placed in a large refugee camp, where she slept on a dirt floor with a blanket under a roof of thatched leaves. Her uncle was staying in a Nipa hut with his family. After a few weeks, he came for Crystal and allowed her to stay in a room with other women.
Food was scarce. Some days, her uncle had enough for her and others he didn’t. Like other refugees, Crystal would go to the local beach and fish for sustenance, a memory she recalls fondly from an otherwise very stressful time for such a young girl.
Crystal was in touch with her oldest sister, a cashier at a convenience store in Galveston, Texas. As a U.S. resident, her sister was working to secure a visa card for Crystal and sent her money. Upon receiving $50, a very large sum of money, Crystal decided to treat herself what she really longed for…ice cream. However, the child with an ice cream cone garnered attention. Older children shoved her down and stole her money. She learned the hard way to be discrete in the future.
After six long months in limbo, Crystal was granted passage to join her sister and immigrated in 1982.
Working and Waiting
If being adaptable is a life skill, Crystal has it in spades.
Unfamiliar with English when she arrived in Texas, Crystal was placed in an English as a second language (ESL) class as a third grader. After a few years she was mainstreamed.
By the time Crystal was fifteen, her sister had been promoted to manager of the convenience store and was in a position to hire family members to run the store. Crystal eagerly started to work so she could save for her education, a car, and other needs.
Shortly after turning eighteen, Crystal sponsored her parents for a green card. The application took ten years to be accepted, during which time her father passed away from cancer. Grief-stricken, Crystal’s mother, Hoa Nguyen, immigrated to the United States in 2000. However, immediately upon her arrival, Crystal’s Mom suffered a life-altering stroke that left her bedridden. Crystal cared for her until she passed in 2010.
Finding Her Way
While the shrimp industry was around her growing up, Crystal did not plan to work in this industry. She was in her third year of a nursing program when she received a call from her niece, Cathy Huynh. In 1996, Cathy and her husband Andy opened Texas Gulf Seafood, the first fish house at 7th and Wharf. They hired Crystal as a secretary in 1997.
Within the decade, the company grew from serving a single Vietnamese shrimp vessel to having 30 customers.
After nine years as a receptionist, Crystal was promoted to her current position as assistant manager. She is kept busy managing the accounts for up to 40 boats that are docked, supplied and unloaded by the company. She finds the work to be rewarding, especially assisting Vietnamese fishermen and their families to overcome language barriers.
However, her greatest pleasure is traveling to new locations with her extended family. Despite all the change she has faced in life, she is still up for new adventures.
Crystal’s next adventure will be as the Texas Representative on SSA’s Board of Directors. The shrimp industry is facing a quickly changing market. It needs to adapt to the influx of shrimp import and changing regulations. Crystal has survived a lifetime of hardships and shown empathy and support to those facing similar conditions. We expect her to bring her ability to overcome obstacles to the SSA Board as she helps guide the industry through these challenging times.