Nurse Who Contracted Ebola Finds Support From Vietnamese-American Community

Oct 20, 2014
Originally published on October 20, 2014 6:03 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, reaction to the Ebola story from the Vietnamese-American community, which is particularly interested in the plight of nurse Nina Pham. Pham contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. She is now undergoing treatment at an NIH facility in Maryland.

NPR's Richard Gonzales says many Vietnamese-Americans are keeping close track of Pham's condition.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: In San Jose's Little Saigon district, a few dozen men pass the morning at an open-air mall cafe, smoking Dunhill cigarettes, sipping strong, sweet coffee and reading the Vietnamese-language newspaper Cali Today. The lead story for the past few days has been all about Nina Pham. And everyone here says they know her story, including retired biologist and magazine editor Pham Lee.

PHAM LEE: Yes. Everywhere they put on the email so every people know about her. That's why Vietnamese people pay attention about her.

GONZALES: He says as soon as people heard that a Vietnamese-American nurse had been infected, not only did they spread the word via email, but they also raised more than $30,000 for Pham. Nina Pham and Ebola are a hot topic on local Vietnamese talk radio, too. She's reported as a devout Catholic who went to work spurning her mother's insistence that she stay home, away from the danger of caring for Ebola patients.

This broadcast is part of the multimedia Vietnamese language-network Cali Today, run by Nam Nguyen.

NAM NGUYEN: In case of Nina Pham, I have a mixed feeling, very mixed feeling. The first feeling is that I feel sorry for her.

GONZALES: The second feeling, says Nguyen, is pride. He calls Pham a heroine.

NGUYEN: She agreed to sacrifice herself for the sake of other people. When you sacrifice yourself for the good of the society, for the good of patients, for the good of people, I feel, she's a good Vietnamese-American.

GONZALES: Nina Pham's story is popular not just here in San Jose, but wherever there's a large Vietnamese-American community - Orange County, San Diego, Texas.

Journalist Andrew Lam has been monitoring media reports about Ebola and Pham even in Vietnam.

ANDREW LAM: It's interesting because the same way, Vietnamese media in Vietnam are now reporting on it with much more interest because a Vietnamese-American has been infected. Before that, again, it's just something that's really far way. But now, the diaspora and Vietnam are very closely connected.

GONZALES: The connection between Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora isn't far from anyone's mind here in San Jose. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. Nam Nguyen says a lot of Vietnamese are thinking about how American they have become since then.

Practically in the next breath, Nguyen says this.

NGUYEN: We are not afraid of Ebola because we have faith in America.

GONZALES: Despite Nina Pham's infection and public doubts about the government's handling of the Ebola crisis, Nguyen says his community believes when America commits to doing something like stopping Ebola, the job will get done.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.