After six years of anguish and uncertainty, Dang Thi Quy's dream of someday joining her husband, son and daughter in the United States has come true.
The slim, 43-year-old woman and her seven other children, whose ages range from 5 to 22, were among the first large group of Vietnamese recently allowed to leave their country to join relatives in the United States.
Quy and the youngsters were reunited with the rest of the family in an Oxon Hill home purchased by her husband Nguyen Van Bich, now an employe of the Refugee Resettlement Office of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The long-delayed journey was part of the "orderly departure program" jointly approved in the spring of 1979 by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government after years of effort by U.S. and international relief agency officials to give Vietnamese who wanted to leave the country a safe aternative to risky, clandestine boat and overland journeys. After a series of delays sparked by disputes between U.S. and Vietnamese authorities over which Vietnamese were qualified to leave, six flights carrying a total of 1,357 emigrants finally left the country in December and January.
Quy and Bich became separated in the final hectic days of the American presence in Vietnam, as were many other Vietnamese families.
Bich worked in Saigon for the International Communications Agency -- then called the United States Information Service -- during the United States' long involvement in Vietnam. In April 1975, when Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) was about to fall to Communist forces, Bich, one of his daughters, then 18, and a son, then 14, were airlifted by Marine helicopter from Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airport to a U.S. Navy ship waiting offshore.
But the bus carrying Quy and seven other children to join the rest of the family at Tan Son Nhut became separated from two other escorted buses, and did not get to the airport in time.
Quy never relented in her struggle to join her family in the United States, although the ordeals of voluminous paperwork required by the Vietnamese government and repeated questioning by suspicious officials made her doubt she would ever see her loved ones again, she said.
The effort to reunite the family began formally in 1976, when Bich sent petitions to the United Nations and voluntary agencies. His petitions were approved and his family's names were forwarded to Vietnam when the orderly-departure agreement was finally reached .
Quy, meanwhile, was living with her children in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City and working as a tailor in the local cooperative. She also received some money from her husband.
Only after the orderly-departure agreement was signed, in the spring of 1979, did she begin to nurture a "slim hope" of rejoining her family, she said.
In October of that year, she submitted the complex application and numerous accompanying documents to the local police in Go Vap district. The papers later were forwarded to the emigration office.
"I had to complete a dossier with three copies to biographical data, birth certificates, act of marriage, photos, identity card, family list," she said.
Quy heard nothing from the government about her application until April 1980, when she was summoned to the police station.
"They asked me about my personal history, my children and particularly my husband," she said. "They wanted to know what my husband had done in Vietnam, when he left the country, where he worked in the United States, why we wanted to go to the United States and why we didn't persuade him and the two children to come back."
Quy said she eventually was questioned by police about 10 times, both at police headquarters and at her home.
In August 1980 she was required to resign from the tailor's cooperative because of her request to emigrate. Her son, who had been living and studying at the Technology-Pedagogy College near the city, was forced to leave school.
But "it took my 22-year-old son some months to get approval to resign from his college," she recalled. That approval came in October.
In December, 14 months after Quy filed her application, she was granted an exit permit for herself and her family. "With the exit permit I was filled with joy, but I also felt uncertain about . . . things ahead," she recalls.
After obtaining the permit, she was interviewed by United Nations personnel who arrived in Vietnam last November.
A government vehicle took her and about 20 others to a rural area 9 miles from Ho Chi Minh City. The car was stopped at two checkpoints for a head count before it was admitted to the U.N. compound through a back entrance.
There, Quy was interviewed by "Mr. Tom" -- Thomas Malia, an American who speaks Vietnamese fluently and represents the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Quy and her children were allowed to depart Jan. 8, taking with them any clothing they wished but only a small sum of money. Quy also was obliged to sign a document giving the government her small house, which was valued at $4,000 in Vietnam but would be considerably more valuable here.
"Only when I boarded the airplane did I believe that I was going to see my family," Quy said recently in her new home in Oxon Hill.
The orderly-departure program has caused a furor in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Vietnamese recently arrived in the United States. Crowds of people, disregarding police orders, have jammed emigration offices seeking permission to join their relatives in the United States, the recent arrivals say. Letters and cables from Vietnam to relatives in the United States have urged family members to accelerate immigration paperwork. Vietnamese in this country also have bombarded immigration offices and voluntary agencies with applications for relatives.
"We receive about 700 letters a day (from Vietnamese in Vietnam and the United States) inquiring about immigration," said Vu Khac Thu of the United States Catholic Conference's Migration and Refugees Services, which handles the large majority of such appeals. The number of applications has now exceeded 39,000 a sharp increase from 14,000 some months ago, he said.
To qualify for an exit permit from Vietnam, an applicant's name must be on a "joint working list" approved by the Vietnamese government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees after lists from Vietnam and the United States are compared. The United States has sent Hanoi a list of 17,000 names, while Vietnam has sent Washington 30,000 names.
The recent flights in December and January brought 1,357 Vietnamese to the United States, although 1,758 people had been named qualified to emigrate. Some qualified emigrants apparently had died of illness or old age while waiting to report; others are believed to have left the country illegally, according to the State Department's John Lloyd, acting director of the Office of Asian Refugees.
The departure of the 1,357 Vietnamese "exhausted" the names on the joint working list, and it is not known when departures may resume, said Lloyd. "We are moderately optimistic," he said. "The program has worked well so far."