Bina Barth is descended from Vietnamese royalty. Now she’s raising a Jewish family.
When Bina Barth took her four-year old son, Avi, to the Imperial City of Hue in Vietnam, he was the only one there wearing a yarmulke. Bina showed him the palace of the emperors and said to him, “This is where my grandfathers lived.”
Bina was born in 1972 in Da Nang, a large port city in central Vietnam with miles of white sand and coconut trees. Until she was a teenager, she didn’t know any Jews.
At birth, Bina was named Thao Ngoc Cong Nguyen. Thao is a common Vietnamese name for a girl, so common that her two sisters have the same first name. Ngoc means jade. Cong is a clan name that translates as “from the house of Cong.” Vietnamese is a difficult language for foreigners to learn as it involves a lot of tongue movement and different tones.
About half of the Vietnamese people have the surname Nguyen (pronounced “Ng’win”); it was common practice to take on the last name of those in power as a way of showing loyalty. Nguyen was the last imperial family in the country, ruling from 1802 to 1945. The first emperor of the dynasty, Nguyen Anh, known as Gia Long, was Bina’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was the one who united the modern-day territory of Vietnam. Vietnam means “the Viet people who live in the South.”