Rob Nguyen, a husband, father and AmerenUE lineman, is staring down the road he left behind 34 years ago and feeling every mile of distance between here and Vietnam.

A Vietnam refugee, Nguyen came to the U.S. with his grandmother in 1975 when he was two years old. He became a U.S. citizen last year and is now working to bring his mother and sisters to the U.S.

When Nguyen left Vietnam, his mother stayed behind to make the trip with Nguyen's father. But the Vietnam borders were closed before all of his family had a chance to evacuate. He would not see his mother again until 2008.

In the three decades that followed, Nguyen — who grew up in California — married and started a family. One of his wife's relatives was an Ameren employee, and he let Nguyen know when an opportunity for a lineman's test opened up. In 2003, Nguyen joined Ameren as a lineman in the Jefferson District in House Springs, Missouri. He also became a U.S. citizen, but he never forgot his family in Vietnam, including two sisters born after his evacuation.

Making the Connection

Nguyen returned to Vietnam for the first time last year on a visitor's pass. At the time, he had not yet received his U.S. citizenship and did not know with certainty that he'd be allowed to return from Vietnam.

When he got to the airport, he looked out on a sea of faces and locked eyes with his mother almost instantly. Since then, his emotions have spanned happiness and sadness.

His mother lives in a small room at her employer's residence and sleeps on a bed that Nguyen describes as “basically a board with a blanket.” Cracks cover the walls.

“I looked at it and knew what she sacrificed in staying behind,” said Nguyen. “She expressed how happy she is for me and how worried she is that she'll never get out of there. I told her, ‘Mom, you're not going to die here. We're going to get you out of here.’”

Visiting his mother strengthened Nguyen's resolve to try and bring her to the U.S. He saw poverty all around her, and it was very emotional for him.

“I can't describe the joy it's brought me to finally see her, but at the same time, it's incredibly difficult to see her in that environment and feel helpless to get her out of it,” he said. “It hurts deep.”

Bringing Her Home

The process of getting his mother out of Vietnam is a difficult one, he admits. Large amounts of paperwork as well as a large financial commitment are required.

Nguyen hopes his request will carry more clout now that he is a U.S. citizen. When he received his citizenship — draped in an American flag during his naturalization ceremony — he says it was as much for his family in Vietnam as it was for him and his family here.

“I wanted to become a citizen because of the opportunities I would have, but I also wanted it because I can request for my mom to join us here. It would mean the world for me to have my mom here as she gets older,” Nguyen says. “I want my children to know their grandmother.”

And Nguyen has a house full of children for his mother to meet. He and his wife, Star, had two sons and then adopted five children — four girls and a boy.

“My family is my world,” Nguyen says. “I've learned that happiness truly does come from adversity. The process of getting my mom here won't be easy, but I've made her a promise and I'm doing my best to eventually bring all of my family together. Nothing would make me happier.”

Brandi Schubert ( is a communications consultant for Ameren in St. Louis, Missouri.