The Duong Family

The Duongs - An American Family Story

Victor and David with obamaYou’ve heard it before.

The Story of American Emigration:

“A family who can no longer live in the old country comes to America on a boat and arrives here penniless. Once here, the family suffers countless indignities. But by building a community in America that focuses on family, hard work, education and using the skills their elders taught from the “old country,” the family thrives, grows and becomes successful.”

People from almost every ethnic group who emigrated to America can tell the same story: escape to America, work hard, struggle, take advantage of American opportunity, become successful, and prepare a legacy for your family. It doesn’t matter whether the family is Irish, Italian, African, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, East Indian, etc.

It’s the American Dream . . . and the story of the Duong Family in America, Vietnamese edition.

San Francisco’s KPIX5 Tells the story on their Flight from Saigon: 40 Years Later Segment . . .


Oakland Vietnam War Refugee, Recycling CEO Brings Expertise Back To Homeland


April 27, 2015 7:36 PM
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) - The lives and fortunes of thousands of Vietnamese refugees changed with their exodus from Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War 40 years ago this month. Among those seeking a new start in the U.S., perhaps no refugee embraced the American dream as fiercely as David Duong.

Duong, the founder of Oakland-based California Waste Solutions, is one of the most successful Vietnamese businessmen in the East Bay.

His story is not quite a rags-to-riches story, however. Duong was born into wealth and lived in the biggest house in Saigon – a sevenstory mansion. His father owned a recycling company and the biggest paper mill in South Vietnam. “My father, they used to call him king of trash,” said Duong.

The family empire vanished overnight on April 30, 1975 when North Vietnamese soldiers seized all their properties.

David, then 15, and his family escaped in a boat with just the clothes on their backs. When the boat began sinking, a nearby Russian ship managed to rescue them. “We (were) so lucky. If they don’t rescue us, we definitely would die,” said Duong.

After years at a Philippines refugee camp, the family came to the U.S and landed in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. There were 16 relatives crammed into two studio apartments.

19-yearold David quickly learned the road to success wasn’t paved with gold, but with cardboard. “After school, we would go around 7:00 or 8:00 and collect cardboard until midnight,” he said.

It was a job his family did every day for three years.The payoff was their first recycling warehouse in West Oakland. “From this cardboard here, it started our business today.”

California Waste Solutions is a multi-million dollar company handling recycling in Oakland and San Jose. It employs 300 people. In 2006, Duong received a call from the communist Vietnamese government, asking him to consider coming back to Vietnam and building on his family’s roots. “My parents always wanted me to go back to help improve the lives of the people there,” he said.

Duong went home and invested $150 million in Vietnam Waste Solutions, which manages solid waste collection, landfills, recycling and composting. “Before, our parents had the biggest paper mill in South Vietnam. Now, we have a waste treatment that’s the biggest in the whole country,” said Duong.

“This is kind of like the core of our business, moving back from generations,” said son Johnny Duong. “We never moved from the core.”

On this 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, David Duong says he’s not bitter about what his family lost. Rather, he’s thankful for the ability to go back, reinvest and help the communities he left. “Saigon is our home,” said Duong. “But our heart is here (in the Bay Area)” Duong acknowledges there are many Vietnamese- Americans who refuse to do business with the communist government. But he said for him, investing in Vietnam was the right thing to do.


Business for a cause

Friday, August 27, 2010 09:00

Vietnamese-American David Duong has spun gold from American trash.

The slight, mustachioed entrepreneur made his fortune managing a recycling firm in California. Now, he's hoping to afford opportunities in education to eager students in Vietnam who may lack the means to make it to American universities.

Last February, President Barack Obama appointed David Duong to serve on the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF)"”a scholarship organization run through the US State Department.

In a way, the move signifies the final achievement of a lifetime of educational philanthropy.

David Duong made his fortune as CEO of California Waste Solutions, a top US recycling firm. He returned to Vietnam to create Vietnam Waste Solutions, which collects and processes solid waste in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I am not interested in business only," David Duong said. "I also care about education. That I invest in Vietnam, care about the country and the Vietnamese community is no secret. That's why US Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others nominated me for the position [at VEF]."

American Dreamer

David Duong was born in 1958 in Saigon. He and his family emigrated to America in 1976. When he landed in America, the young man worked as a waste collector and went on to establish Cogido Recycling Company in 1979 with the help of every member in his family.

Lo Res Kristina and David City HallFollowing his rise to prominence, David Duong opened Vietnamese summer classes for young people, raised funds for American schools and created scholarships and awards for the best Vietnamese students in California.

In Vietnam, David Duong's company has furnished schools with computers and established scholarship funds for promising, underprivileged students. He has also created entities to help families overcome poverty which is often cited as one of the main reasons that young students cease attending school.

"I don't want to just hand out fish," said the businessman. "We're teaching people to fish here."

According to David Duong, VEF spends US $4-6 million annually to fund higher-level education for Vietnamese students who wish to study in America. Under the VEF scholarship program, after finishing their two- to four-year course, the students return to Vietnam to serve their homeland.

David Duong said that interested applicants can request recommendations from their schools, or contact VEF's office in Hanoi to apply for the scholarships. They must pass interviews with professors from the US in order to obtain the honorarium.

This month, the panel of professors will come to Vietnam to select 40 students from more than 80 candidates for the 2010-2011 school year.

"Starting in 2011, we plan to increase the number of scholarships for locals to study in the US. We will also increase the budget for these grants. At the moment, we can only afford to accept about a third to one half of the increasing number of candidates we get every year. To execute this plan, we will seek donations from big companies who have set aside money for education," David Duong said.

Bringing it all back home

At the moment, David Duong's latest project aims to bring American University campuses to Vietnam.

He said that instead of sending the students to America, the idea of bringing US universities to Vietnam could help more students enjoy high quality education at a more affordable cost.

Currently, David Duong and his co-workers are putting together a committee to the idea to VEF. David Duong says the notion will prove "beneficial for both Vietnam and America," he said. David Duong added that students from all over the world can come to study abroad at such campuses.

"All of the things I do for the benefit of the two countries, I think, will surely bear fruit," David Duong said. "I believe I will have the full support of the Vietnamese government since both the Minister of Education and Training and the Prime Minister are determined to improve the quality of local education," David Duong said.

Vietnam Education Foundation Founded in 2007 through an initiative by former President Bill Clinton, VEF is an independent organization, funded by the US government. VEF aims to promote a closer relationship between the US and Vietnam and also improve the quality of education in Vietnam. VEF is governed by a board of directors which includes three US senators and several individuals appointed by the President. VEF grants scholarships to young Vietnamese scientists and students to study in the US.