Trang Dang-Le’s Journey From Vietnam to Prosper

Trang Dang-Le and her family moved to Prosper in 2010. Even before she was in real estate, she loved browsing properties and dreaming about a life away from the hustle and bustle of Dallas.

 

In Prosper, the living was slower and, “I moved for the name,” Trang admitted, “I’m all about names and symbolism, and I thought, ‘Maybe we’ll prosper here.’” It also reminded her of her childhood in Cody, Wyoming.

 

Trang was born and grew up in Vung Tau, a tourist city on the coast in South Vietnam. When she was 9, her father, Hoa Xuan Dang, was sent to jail for two years for having fought with U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

 

At age six, Trang, her younger sister, father and pregnant mother gave a man all the money they had to leave on his boat in the middle of the night. “I remember it was really dark. There were people everywhere, and we were all going on the same boat, she said. Then we heard gunfire and there was total chaos — people started running in every direction.”

 

Trang’s father and sister ran one way, and Trang and her mother went another. She remembers hiding in bushes and later falling asleep on a hill before being caught and imprisoned by the rising communist government. Two months later, because of her mother’s pregnancy, they were released and reunited with the rest of the family.

 

That harrowing experience didn’t stop them from trying again. In 1981, 10-year-old Trang and her father again snuck away on a boat in the middle of the night, putting their lives in the hands of strangers who offered them their only known pathway out of the clutches of communism and into the Land of the Free. They decided to escape just two at a time this time, because it was too risky to leave as a family.

 

After the first day on the boat, the water ran out. They twisted their shirts, savoring the few drops of rainwater they produced. One day pirates boarded the boat, took everyone’s gold, and searched the  boat — looking for a pretty, young girl to take with them. Hurredly, all the women and children were stashed in the bottom of the boat. Trang remembers the women put pillows under their clothes to make them look pregnant. Trang smeared ashes on her face to make herself unappealing. “It’s a miracle no one was kidnapped or hurt,” she said.

 

After landing in Malaysia, Trang and her father stayed at a refugee camp for four months. Penniless and hungry, Trang says her entrepreneurial spirit was born when she learned how to sell cigarettes to locals. “Picture a kid’s lemonade stand,” she said, “But instead of lemonade, it was cigarettes.” She eventually expanded her inventory to include bread as well, giving she and her father some steady income while on the island.

 

The two later flew to the Philippines, where they began learning English in preparation for their final frontier: the USA. A Lutheran church in Cody, Wyoming sponsored them as refugees and helped bring them to Cody, where Trang’s father got several jobs. He worked 18-hour days as a dishwasher and janitor, and Trang started the fourth grade — navigating childhood in a foreign place.

 

Trang and her father made a home in a local garage apartment: safe and warm, but certainly no bells or whistles: “We had two little beds and we used a small electric cooker to prepare our food,” Trang remembered. They’d live there for the next four years.

 

Despite the challenges she faced and traumas she endured getting there, Trang enjoyed her close-knit Cody community, and always found support when she didn’t even know she needed it. “The principal’s family took me shopping for school clothes. My third grade teacher enrolled me in ballet. Everyone made sure I was included like all the other kids.”

 

Her father worked grueling hours to provide for her while ensuring the rest of the family would be able to join them. Though the original plan was for Trang’s mother and siblings to follow right behind them, the process would take almost a decade.

 

By the time her mother and siblings reached America, Trang and her father had moved to Covington, Kentucky where she was an honors student and soon-to-be high school graduate. “I didn’t tell my father when I won academic awards,” Trang recalled, “Because I didn’t want him to feel guilty for not being able to attend. But now that I have my own kids, I wish I would have told him.”

 

Serendipitously, the first event her mother attended when she arrived in the U.S. was a gala at which Trang was honored with a prestigious scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. Education was very important to her family, and it was more than appropriate that after nearly a decade of struggling and sacrifices to reunite, they could celebrate the beginning of a new chapter as a family. Her parents still live in Kentucky.

 

Through mutual college friends, Trang met her husband, Tung Q. Le, who, at the age of six, also fled Vietnam, leaving behind everything – relatives, friends and belongings to make the journey to the U.S. He grew up in Kentucky, finding a fondness for the slower small town life, too. However, opportunity called and he took a job that brought them to Dallas in the early ‘90s. While Trang and her husband’s stories are not identical, they share similarities. “Our stories made us who we are,” she said matter-of-factly, “Our girls laugh sometimes and say, ‘How are we ever supposed to top that?!’ As far as college entrance essays about “a time you faced a challenge” go, her daughters have a point — most of us cannot relate. But one thing we do all have in common is the ability to pay forward the kindness shown to us.

 

Trang and her family actively give back. They are involved in multiple organizations, including Food for the Soul, a nonprofit focused on feeding families in DFW. Trang said they distributed more than 17 million pounds of food in 2020. Beyond her work with Food for the Soul, Trang serves as the president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America, the VP of Health Services of North Texas, and is the founder of YouLead Global Youth Leadership.

 

“Everything I do is because of the kindness people showed me as a child when I moved here and had nothing,” she said, “And my girls are following that example. That’s something I’ve always tried to model for them, and I’m so happy to say they love giving back, too.”

 

Trang works all over the metroplex, but has recently focused more closely on Prosper in particular. Her goal is to become THE Prosper Realtor. As a highly satisfied Prosper resident, she has no trouble selling the place. All it takes is breakfast at The Cotton Gin, a stroll through the quaint downtown square, or a drive down the two-lane roads surrounded by bright green wheat fields on both sides to win someone over on the Mayberry-like experience Prosper offers.

 

Of course, the proximity to bigger cities like Frisco is a reminder that Prosper citizens are far from “the middle of nowhere,” but small town charm is still evident, and any time Trang is tempted to pick up and try a new place, she’s pulled right back. “I love this community,” she said tenderly, “You feel safe and you feel close to your neighbors. As a Realtor, I get to see beautiful homes all over the metroplex, but when I come home I think, ‘I don’t want to leave this neighborhood. I love it here.’”

 

Trang’s family hosts neighborhood parties. They barbecue together in the yard. The kids all congregate when they come home from college, adding layers to the feelings of nostalgia the town already naturally produces. Trang believes the greatest opportunities arise when you pour back into your community.

 

Besides that time they left the garage door open for the entirety of their vacation and came back to find everything just the way they left it, Trang says the most exciting part of living in Prosper is the way it’s growing economically and commercially. “We used to have to go to Allen, Frisco, McKinney, or Dallas to shop, but new developments mean getting to stay in my own town and invest locally. Now, when I’m home, I’m home,” she said.

 

There were 9,000 people in Prosper when Trang and her family moved there in 2010. A decade later, there are close to 30,000, and trends show no sign of a slowdown. This growth was forecasted several years ago, and thanks to good luck, providence, or intuition, they beat the rush — and Prosper’ed!

 

The scared 10-year-old girl weathering storms and pirate attacks in a fishing boat would not have guessed that she’d end up in this idyllic life — with a husband she cherishes, beautiful, successful, and generous daughters, work she loves, and a charming community that embraced her family and helped grow her career.

 

Perhaps there is something about struggling that makes you look for opportunities to give back and to pay it forward.

 

If you’d like to know more about Prosper, contact THE Prosper Realtor, Trang at trang@erairealty.com

 

Some excerpts from The Cincinnatti Enquirer, 1990