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When Trang's parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, they dreamed of a better life for their six children. Hue Nguyen and Loi Ngo worked seven days a week at a jewelry store in Sacramento, California, so that their children could focus on their schoolwork, says Trang, their eldest child.

Eventually, Trang graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. She was the first in her family to attend college.

Then, on July 25, 2003, Trang's life took a tragic turn. Both her parents were shot and killed at the jewelry store where they worked. Suddenly, Trang and her five brothers and sisters were orphans with nowhere to turn.

As the oldest child, tradition required Trang, who was just 20 years old, to step up and lead the family. "My relatives told me I couldn't cry," she says. "They said, 'You're the oldest. You have to be the strong one now.'"

After her parents' funeral, Trang's relatives made plans to split up the siblings, but Trang says she refused. "I said, 'We can't be separated now. We just lost both of our parents. How could you even think to separate us right now?'" she remembers. "They kept on telling me, 'You can't do anything. You're too young.'"
FROM: Childhood Interrupted
Published on October 20, 2006