Last Saturday, Tammy Wong finished the three graduation catering jobs she had on her books for that day. The only unusual part was that she closed her restaurant, Rainbow Chinese, to the public, an unexpected bonus for the private party of 35 who dined there that night. They had no idea that Wong's 24-year-old son, Euyon Hua, had taken his own life at the home he shared with his mother the previous night.
Anyone who has lived in the Twin Cities and eaten Chinese food here for the past three decades knows the name Rainbow Chinese, and if you know Rainbow, there's no doubt you also know Tammy. She's what you'd call the opposite of a shrinking violet. Bombastic, funny, generous to a fault — you know how your puppy is always, always so happy to see you no matter how long or short it's been since you've been away? That's Tammy, but more regal. She's everywhere, all at once, seemingly all the time. Born into a refugee camp, she grew up in a sweatshop, and was given the keys to a restaurant she didn't want, in a city she didn't know, at the age of 20. Her father said: "You figure it out." And boy, did she ever.
Today her name is synonymous with local Chinese cooking. She's owned and operated multiple other restaurants over the years, and she did it all while raising two boys as a single mom.
I never met her son Euyon, but by all accounts, he was very different from his mom. Friends and family described him as simple, understated, a homebody — though like his brother Eu-K, he grew up at Rainbow at his mother's apron strings. When she had the space designed, she child-proofed the kitchen and hung a picture of Curious George in the corner.
On Friday, Euyon worked a shift at Rainbow, ate staff meal with his mom, and then went home and took his life in the quiet of his room.
At the memorial gathering, Euyon's aunt Trinh Wong, in a moving tribute, said that while he was a challenging kid, he challenged everyone else too — to be better, to be smarter, to be realer. He seemingly had no patience for the trivialities of regular life. Then she went on to cite some statistics about suicide: A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States. Every day, approximately 112 Americans take their own life. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the age of 10 and 24.
There was no whitewashing Euyon's death at the service, and there was also no judgement. Eu-K, his younger brother, said that Euyon was "intelligent enough to decide his own fate." And when he spoke at the funeral, he too was open and honest about their relationship — it was difficult, and the two were no big fans of each other.
As she closed, Trinh had two final requests for those gathered: Allow yourself to trip up and screw up indefinitely, but to always remember that you are never a failure, no matter what. And second, if you see someone who seems to be in trouble, "Go towards them with love."
Finally, she called Euyon's death his "final act of courage," and through that final act, she wanted him to know that even then, he had brought us all together.
The hearse drove off followed by a large group of friends on bicycle, Euyon's preferred method of transportation.
That night at the remembrance dinner, at Rainbow of course, Tammy Wong could be seen filling water glasses and clearing plates in between accepting hugs from hundreds of guests.
Memorial donations are welcomed. Donate to the Face It Foundation or a mental health organization of your choice.
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