By Xuan (Sunny) Nguyen
My parents were 19 and 25 years old when they and 80+ other people hid themselves in a shing boat and rode out to sea before dawn. Just the beginning of this story is hard for me to wrap my head around. At the same age my parents were deciding whether to risk dying at sea or staying
in a life wracked by violent war and oppressive government, I wrestled with what major to declare and how to fund my spring break trip to Myrtle Beach. The contrast almost embarrasses me but is exactly what my parents wanted. They ed Viet Nam in hopes of what we all seek: a better future for themselves and their future children. Wealthy or poor, immigrant or native, don’t all of us want better futures for ourselves and our families?
Last month, OSP’s Committee for Immigrant and Refugee Rights hosted the second event in its educational series, entitled The Human Faces
of Migration: Stories of Immigrants and Refugees in the United States. Over
60 attendees and I had the privilege of listening to a DACA recipient from Mexico, a refugee from the Bosnian War, and my dad speak about their journeys to America. This event was important to me for two reasons: 1) it gave some of our immigrant neighbors and friends the opportunity to tell their own stories, and 2) it sought to remove fear and hatred out of a polarized issue.
In today’s all-or-nothing political climate, the word immigrant can be dirty. Refugees are often perceived with disdain and a deep mistrust –before we know anything about them as people or their previous life circumstances. But when we stop and listen to these fellow humans tell their histories, we learn why they needed to leave their homes, how difficult it was for them to get here, and how hard they’re still working to continue building their futures in the U.S. Hopefully then we realize how important it is for us—as humans and particularly as Christians—to welcome those who seek better futures among us. It’s important not just for their sakes but for ours as well. Just as Italian, Irish, and Polish immigrants literally built this country in centuries past, so too are current immigrants doing for our collective future.
When my parents fled Viet Nam in 1982, it was my dad’s third attempt at escaping. He was caught the first two times and sent to prison. One of his brothers, Quang, left before him, but months turned into years without word from anyone on his boat. Quang became one of my uncles I never got to meet, after whom one of my brothers is named. Despite this, my dad decided to leave a third time, which proved to be the charm. He estimated the boat might last two weeks before they’d all perish at sea. On the 14th day, they saw an oil rig. The workers tried to point them in the right direction but had no interest in taking on the immense undertaking of rescuing almost 90 refugees. Fearing that death was near, my dad and others made a critical decision: they sank their own boat.
I try to imagine this scene: almost 90 men, women, and children bopping up and down in the ocean below me. “What a mess” seems like a gross understatement. I am so grateful these strangers on that oil rig had the humanity to send down nets and pull all of the refugees up to safety. They didn’t want to deal with the extra hassle and labor on top of their already difficult lives, but when faced with the choice of helping people live or die, they chose life. They rescued my mom and dad.
My parents were sponsored to come here in 1983 through the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement program, the same initiative OSP works through to sponsor new families today. After becoming citizens, they were then able to bring over many of their siblings through the Family Reunification Act, sometimes referred to as chain migration. My uncles and aunts didn’t have money or know English, but were invited to start new lives in America. Together they raised doctors, nurses, pharmacists, law enforcement officers, and others who serve you every day.
I don’t know what headache, sacrifice, and money it took for those oil rig and refugee camp workers to rescue my parents, or those parishioners to sponsor my family here, but I offer them unending gratitude. I humbly submit to you that it was well worth it and hope you’ll join me in donating generously to OSP’s Immigrant & Refugee Fund to host the next generation of immigrants that will help build our nation’s future.
To donate to the OSP Immigrant & Refugee fund, please go to osp.ccbchurch.com/goto/giving and select “Immigrant & Refugee Fund” from the drop down menu.