The 2 1/2-year wait to see her daughter was nearly over, and Cao Thi Nhan's hands were trembling yesterday. When she spoke of her 12-year-old's arrival in the United States, she did so quietly, as if afraid of breaking a spell.

"Everybody wants to talk to me, but I tell them to wait until after Monday. Just wait until Monday. Wait till my daughter is here with me," said Nhan, 38, whose daughter Linh was among 11 Amerasian children who arrived in Los Angeles from Vietnam yesterday. Linh is to reach National Airport today.

Linh was born in 1970 to Nhan and Kenneth Brooks, then a civilian aircraft mechanic. The child was unable to join her mother, brother and sister when the three left Vietnam for Washington in May 1980.

"She was staying with my sister, and it was too far away for her to leave when we did," said Nhan during a coffee break late yesterday at the Shoreham Hotel where she works in the employes' cafeteria.

Nhan, visibly nervous about her daughter's arrival, said she is grateful to relief agencies that brought the children to the United States.

"To the IRC, International Rescue Committee I say thank you. They did everything for me to get my daughter to come to America," Nhan said. The Washington-based IRC was one of several organizations involved in the project.

Nhan met her husband in Saigon, and they were married in 1968. Their first child, a son named Kiet, was born a year later; Linh, whose full name is Kenneth Linh Brooks, was born in 1970. Another daughter, Kenneth Lan Brooks, was born in 1971. It is common in Vietnam to name daughters after fathers.

In 1971, the four moved to Thailand and, one year later, Brooks returned to the United States to find work. Nhan took the children back to Vietnam. "I returned with my mother. I had nowhere else to go," said the native of Kianging who speaks in halting English.

In 1980, after presenting documents proving she was married to an American, Nhan set in motion the lengthy process of following her husband to the United States. "My sister had no children, so that after we'd gone back to Vietnam, I let Linh stay with her. When we left for America, I tried to get her to come, but she was too far away by then."

Nhan and the other two children settled here in an apartment on Park Road NW, even though Brooks was residing in Chicago. He sent money regularly to the family in Vietnam and, although the family has not lived together in this country, continues to do so each month, visiting when he can, Nhan said.

"But he will not be here to see his daughter," said Nhan, who spoke with him Saturday. "He's working and cannot get away."

In the last two years, Nhan wrote frequently to her daughter, sending monthly shipments of clothing and other items she could afford. "But no money, you could never send money."

Linh is scheduled to arrive from New York this afternoon.

The girl speaks no English, and Nhan remains apprehensive about how she will fit in. "Do I like this country? Yes and no. It's too big; some places are too far away in America. And I don't know Washington at all. But I have a job. It is a good job.

"And I have my family here. Tomorrow, I will have all my family."