Thuy Rocco, author of “The Last Surviving Child: A Memoir”

Posted by Monica Hoel
Nashville native Thuy Nguyen Rocco had never travelled the world until she came to Emory & Henry; and yet, she spent her first days in this world as an international refugee.

Thuy was born in Vietnam in 1980. Her family had helped the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war, so when the United States left it became crucial for people like Thuy’s family to leave the country. “We were considered traitors, so it would have been a death sentence to stay in Vietnam.”

But leaving wasn’t easy. Those wishing to leave had to know the right connections, they had to have money, and they had to avoid imprisonment and death.

Thuy’s family found an opportunity to leave, by boat, but they had a particularly difficult decision to make. Thuy’s mom was pregnant, with her, and couldn’t possibly make the difficult trip by boat. Her father didn’t want to leave part of the family behind, but he also didn’t want to miss the chance to get even part of his family to safety. So, Thuy’s father, her two brothers, her sister, and an aunt who spoke English left by boat to escape the death-sentence of staying in their home country.

But the boat capsized. Thuy’s father, aunt and all siblings died. Thuy’s mother was faced with having to deal with her grief while also giving birth to a child in a country where she knew they weren’t safe.

Thuy has written a book at this experience called The Last Surviving Child: A Memoir that tells of the harrowing experiences of her early childhood and her mother’s commitment to getting them to safer shores. “It took my mother seven tries to escape Vietnam, and she was imprisoned more than once for attempting to leave.”

Thuy remembers part of the escape journey – being terrified of getting caught and having to hide under mounds of fish on a fishing ferry. “I was only 1 or 2 years old. And sometimes we got caught trying to escape because I would cry.”

She also remembers being in the refugee camps along the way – where they didn’t have enough to eat, drank dirty water, and slept so close together with other families that illnesses passed easily and quickly. “A lot of kids didn’t survive the refugee camps.”

It was more than 30 years after these experiences that Thuy summoned the courage to write about what she and her mother had survived. She hoped that telling her story would provide an avenue of understanding for those who had never experienced such hardship; and she hoped it would offer strength and reassurance to others who had.

“When the book first came out, it got a lot of media attention and I got to do a lot of prestigious, high profile events; but my favorite moments were one-on-one conversations with young immigrants and refugees who said, ‘I know your story because I lived it. Thank you for sharing your story so I wouldn’t feel like the only one in the world.” She now leads workshops to help other refugees write their own stories.

Thuy encourages us to use local booksellers to order her book The Last Surviving Child: A Memoir. You can enjoy an extended conversation with Thuy on the Duck Pond Wall podcast, and her on-campus Lyceum talk will be at 7:30 pm on March 14, 2022.

  • Thuy Nguyen Rocco
    E&H Class of 2002
    “Author, consultant, activist, polyglot, martial artist, iron cook, life-long learner, teacher, storyteller”

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/2110-nora-davis-helps-bring-jonesborough-to-life"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.jpg" alt="Nora Davis Emory & Henry Class of 2016" width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,2048,1309/10534_F39A3771-2.rev.1638286255.jpg 3x" data-max-w="2048" data-max-h="1309" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/2110-nora-davis-helps-bring-jonesborough-to-life">Nora Davis Helps Bring Jonesborough to Life!</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nora Davis is the marketing and promotions coordinator for Jonesborough, Tennessee. And she says there is a lot of new activity in a town that is Tennessee’s oldest.</span> <a href="/live/news/2110-nora-davis-helps-bring-jonesborough-to-life" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1674-the-doctor-is-inand-very-busy"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.JPG 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.JPG 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.JPG" alt="Dr. Erin Griffin, E&H Class of 2013, with Ash ? the office cat who decided he no longer wante..." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.JPG 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,435,2400,2835/9516_IMG-0197_1.rev.1615335532.JPG 3x" data-max-w="2400" data-max-h="2400" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1674-the-doctor-is-inand-very-busy">The Doctor is IN…and Very Busy!</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Dr. Erin Griffin (E&H 2013) figured out how to parlay a double major in music and chemistry into a brand new animal clinic she just opened. And she already has a full house of four-legged clients. <a href="/live/news/1674-the-doctor-is-inand-very-busy" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/412-finding-french-roots"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/120,70,372,322/4181_IMG_6862_1.rev.1527277507.webp 1x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/120,70,372,322/4181_IMG_6862_1.rev.1527277507.JPG 1x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/120,70,372,322/4181_IMG_6862_1.rev.1527277507.JPG" alt="Tim Fields (E&H re'88) at the Ritz Carlton in Paris, France." width="345" height="225" data-max-w="252" data-max-h="252" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/412-finding-french-roots">Finding French Roots</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Tim Fields is part of an organization seeking out the early French influences of the City of New Orleans. <a href="/live/news/412-finding-french-roots" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>