By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Brenda Tran knows lots of people by their hands and feet.
The petite 33-year-old and her husband, Chris Van, work seven days a week at their Nail Tech business on busy North Gloster Street while trying to find some sanity for their family.
“On Sunday morning, I lie in bed until 10:30,” she admits, “It’s my only chance to lie down.”
The Vietnam-native couple came separately to the U.S. through sponsorship programs and met while Van hung around Tran’s house as her brother’s friend.
They married in 1999, ending a two-year courtship and extensive travel by Van from his work in Florida to Tran’s in South Carolina.
These days, Tran explains, they are like many immigrant couples working long, hard hours so their children have an opportunity to live a better way.
“My generation works nails,” she says. “My nieces and nephews have normal lives, not working like us.”
Many are professionals like pharmacists and dentists.
She says she hopes the same for their children, Victoria, 11, and Nicholas, 8, both students at Lawhon Elementary.
From Vietnam to Tupelo has been quite a trip, Van says.
First, her uncle came to the U.S. on an airplane flight. He’d worked with the U.S. military in that battle-scarred country.
Her father had, too, but he lacked documentation to get the same preferential treatment. So, he and two of her brothers departed in a fishing boat for Thailand and later were sponsored to relocate in the U.S.
Then, her mother packed up Tran with 12 other family members and headed for Thailand in the last boat to land and be accepted by the sponsorship program.
“It was a blessing that we landed when we did,” she recalls of the treacherous journey in a small fishing boat.
Tran was 14 and for two years she waited with those family members in difficult circumstances for a chance to go to America.
Everybody wound up in Denver, Colo., in the landscaping business, which had its drawbacks because of severely cold winters.
Three years later, after her uncle moved to Florida and established a nail business, he helped move the rest of his family to warmer climes and better economic situations.
“It was a better life,” Tran said.
She graduated high school and began doing manicures and other nail work in 1996.
That’s when she met Chris. They married in 1999.
After tough economic times came to Florida, a cousin in Ripley invited them to Mississippi to work in his Booneville nail business.
“We wanted to get out of Florida,” Tran notes, “so we came to Booneville and lived there four years.
“It was hard at first – we didn’t know anybody – but then we built up our customers.”
In between all this work, Tran and Van’s children were born. In Booneville, the couple began to look for expanded opportunities for them.
When their cousin sold the Booneville business, and another relative acquired Nail Tech in Tupelo, their next move decision was an obvious one.
“We’re still working with family,” Tran said. “We got a lot of love for family. They want us to be part of it with them.”
Building up their nail business takes a seven-day effort, and it’s difficult on their family. But Tran says they do their best to find time for each other.
“Chris is a good cook and he takes the kids to school,” she says. “He’s also making plans for a garden.”
Tran says Tupelo is still “new” to her and she’s learning her way, although Chris is more intentional about driving around to learn the terrain.
“He says, ‘Brenda, you never will know where anything is if you don’t go out there,’” she said with a laugh.
If she ever gets a vacation, Tran says it will be a cruise like one she took a while ago.
“I loved it so much, it was so relaxing,” she noted. “Just being nowhere, no phone, no nothing.”