May Ho’s mother and father came to the United States from Vietnam nearly four decades ago in search of a better life for their children.
So May’s parents, Binh Vuong and Na Ho, were beaming with pride Thursday as their daughter became the first Asian American woman to join the Boston Fire Department. For May, becoming a firefighter is a dream come true—and she’s grateful for her parents helping to make it happen.
“Their hard work and sacrifices have paid off,” May told me. “I hope I made them proud.”
Na Ho, 76, proudly pinned a badge on his daughter’s blazer at Dorchester’s Florian Hall, where it was standing-room only as May and 61 men graduated from the Boston Fire Department’s training academy on Moon Island, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.
Smiling parents, children, spouses and siblings pinned badges on the new firefighters, who recently finished 21 weeks of rigorous training, and shook hands with Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn. Fifty-three of the new firefighters have been hired by the Boston Fire Department while the others are heading to fire departments in Newton, Braintree, Medford and Reading.
There were so many touching moments, like when Terriean Lakes got down on one knee so his 8-year-old son, Terriean Lakes Jr., could pin on his badge, and when Puthy Buth got a big hug from his mother on stage.
During the ceremony, Finn said this was the academy’s most diverse class in years and included the first Asian-American woman ever hired by the Boston Fire Department, as well as the first Vietnamese-American firefighter. “You are all now proud members of the oldest and finest fire department in the nation,” Finn said.
May, 33, is the youngest of seven children, the only one of her parent’s kids born in the U.S.
When May’s parents first came here, the family lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Roxbury. Her parents worked as chefs seven days a week at the family’s Chinatown restaurant, the former Rainbow Cafe, and eventually bought a six-bedroom house in Quincy.
“I never really saw my parents that much because all they did was work,” May recalled. “They showed me and my siblings that hard work pays off. You put your heart into something, you can accomplish anything.”
May graduated from North Quincy High School and worked as an EMT in Boston for 10 years. She wanted to become a firefighter because she likes helping people.
May, who also speaks Chinese, was the only woman at the training academy.
“It was a lot of pressure,” May said. “It was nerve-wracking when I first started but the instructors were great. My fellow classmates were great, they were very respectful and we all got along. It was challenging but it was fun at the same time.”
Over the years, May has visited Vietnam over a dozen times. “There’s a lot of poverty, not a lot of opportunities,” she said. “I had a lot of privileges that my parents provided me with their hard work.”
She has a message for girls: “Don’t be afraid. Take the challenges head-on,” May said. “You never know what you’re capable of until you do it.”