RALEIGH, N.C., JULY 22 -- The 20-year-old bounced off the plane wearing a big smile, faded jeans, a striped shirt and Reeboks. He had mousse in his hair. It was all very American.
That's exactly what Tommy Hoang is now.
Hoang, a native of Vietnam, came here late last week as a legal alien and as the captain of the South men's field hockey team. Then, Sunday night, he flew home to Westlake Village, Calif., and, on Monday, took the oath of citizenship in a Los Angeles courtroom and became a United States citizen.
Tuesday, he flew back here and, after receiving a warm airport welcome from half a dozen teammates, scored a goal to help the South tie the East, 1-1.
The timing of Hoang's oath-taking was critical because in order for him to compete for the United States in the Pan American Games, he must be a citizen. The normally lengthy process was shortened by efforts of the Field Hockey Association of America. And, although there had been little doubt he would make the team, Hoang was one of 16 players officially named today to the Pan American Games team.
Repeating a phrase used by immigrants for decades, Hoang said, "It was a dream come true; it really was."
Hoang's 18-year-old brother, Sammy, is also a member of the South team and is in the midst of the naturalization process.
"Tommy was thinking about being an American citizen and he was pretty excited," Sammy said. "Now, he can get back to preparing himself for the Pan Am Games."
The Hoang family left Saigon in 1975 before it fell to the North Vietnamese army. Because Hoang's father had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military, he might have been in peril had the family stayed. The Hoangs said their father's contacts in the U.S. military helped them to receive military transport to Guam and then to get sponsorship once they were in California.
"There were a lot of people who went into an American airplane," Tommy said of the day the family left Vietnam. "I didn't know where we were going and people seemed like they were panicking, but by the time we got to Guam they had settled down."
Kieu Hoang and his wife, Loan, and their five children had lived in Da Nang until they were forced to move south to Saigon because of the advancing armies.
"I remember our house," Tommy Hoang said. "It was a two-story house in a middle-class area. It was kind of farm house, a real nice place."
It was far enough removed from the shooting that young Hoang's memory of the war is that, "It was on TV a lot and we only had one channel."
Hoang said his parents, who are now separated, don't talk much about the life they left behind.
"They knew they couldn't live under a communist government," Hoang said. "They knew what the government would be like and my father had relations with the U.S. government, so he might have been in trouble.
"They don't bring it up that much. It hit them harder than it hit me. It was really hard for them to leave relatives and what we had."
Although they brought some things with them to Saigon, they left most of their property behind.
Kieu Hoang eventually found a job as a laboratory assistant and now operates a blood plasma center. Tommy will soon graduate from Moorepark Junior College, which Sammy also will attend. Tommy wants to go into business.
"In the United States," he said, "you can be anybody you want."
This is Mike Francis' first festival and he's making the most of it. After three rounds of play, Francis, of Rockville, Md., leads the East men's field hockey team in scoring with two goals. The East team is third in the standings at 1-1-1.
As is true for many of the festival sports, field hockey is dominated by Californians -- 44 of the 60. California has youth leagues as well as junior and senior high school programs.
Nothing like that exists in Maryland. The four Washington-area athletes, all on the East team, have had to innovate a great deal. They play on a little-known club team called the Washington Capitals.
"We always practiced with the girls at the University of Maryland," said Francis, 20. "It's considered a women's sport in Maryland. We're trying to get high school players interested, but it's difficult."