By Maxwell Taniguchi-King
“After the Vietnam War, when the North had taken over the South, my dad knew we couldn’t live in Vietnam anymore. There was no more freedom, and living with the communists were uncertain; we could die at any time,” LD, a school nurse who wishes to conceal her identity, described the stories she was told as a young girl.
To this day, LD can describe her incredible journey from Vietnam to San Jose, where she now raises two boys and works in the school district. “Both of my parents made arrangements with the fishermen so that we all could escape out of Vietnam. All my dad knew was to get to America for freedom,” she began. “Since the spaces were limited, we couldn’t tell a lot of people. Also, cost factors were involved, and, if the secrets were out, we all may be executed. So it was really scary!”
LD continued explaining her escape as she was forced to separate from her parents, use coded phrases for help and wade into the Pacific Ocean to reach the designated fishing vessel. Once on board, seasickness overcame everyone. “She couldn’t eat and threw up every day,” LD said, recalling her aunt’s struggles. “We were out in the sea, stuck with no more food and not knowing what was going to happen to us next. We thought we were going to die.”
Miraculously, a Japanese cargo ship spotted the small boat, people on the verge of death on-board. LD and her family were taken to Japan and taken in by a church. After staying in Japan for a year, working for the church and saving up money, they flew to Los Angeles.
“In 1983, we moved up to Milpitas and then later settled in San Jose. We have lived in San Jose ever since,” LD said, ending her story. LD is just one of nearly 67 million refugees around the world. Each of these individuals has his or her own story and carries unique cultures and traditions.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.” These refugees have a “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”
More than half of said refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Despite the vast quantity of refugees, 86 percent are hosted by developing countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran, with developed countries housing much less.
These headlines come from articles published in an effort to address President Trump’s recent funding cut.
Unfortunately, refugees and their contribution and participation in communities are not appreciated. For instance, as of Jan. 16, President Trump has cut $65 million from the projected $125 million budget toward Palestinian refugee aid.
Despite events such as President Trump’s funding cuts, the number of refugees increases, with 20 people forced to flee their country every minute. This totals out to 65.5 million refugees around the world, each seeking help for a better life.
The refugees surrounding us are legitimate parts of our communities. When asked what community means, LD responded that it is a “sense of belonging so we can be ourselves.” Additional refugees who are currently a part of Catholic Charities Santa Clara County have their own stance on community and its most important elements.
“Community to me is my family, my coworkers and people I meet in the mosque. The most important aspect is having something familiar that reminds me of my home country. This makes me feel comfortable,” one member said (identities of Catholic Charities refugees are kept private). “I think community are the people that I meet regularly like my neighbors, other refugees I meet and volunteers who help me. It is important that I feel safe in my community and that I can communicate,” another remarked.
A third refugee explained that they believe a community is what you are familiar and comfortable with. No matter one’s definition of community, people are affected by it on a daily basis. LD credits her job, relationships with people she knows, her kids’ childhood experience and much more to the community she involves herself in.
LD went on to explain how she ended up as a school nurse, saying that she originally “graduated at San Jose State University with a major in Nursing and a minor in Administration of Justice.” Despite this, she found an interest in real estate, loans and life insurance, changing to that field of work. After having her children, she dropped that career and began volunteering at her kids’ school, eventually working her way up to becoming a nurse.
“Many volunteers and other people helped me when I arrived to the U.S. They teach me how to take the bus, how to find a better job and stuff like that. At first, I need a lot of help. My neighbor also helps me. We care for each other,” a CCSCC refugee described. “It’s important that my community knows my face and what kind of person I am. When they know me, they are nice to me and we can help each other,” a different refugee said, agreeing with the other refugee’s answer.
Another refugee interpreted the question of the role of community differently, explaining “people here are nice, but it is hard to make friends. People say ‘Hi, how are you?’, but you can not [tell if they are] real friends.”
One CCSCC refugee said he believes community also helped him get to America, saying, “My wife’s family helped me and my family. They let us borrow money so that we could escape.” Another refugee supported this idea as well, explaining, “We left our home with other people from our village. We traveled together and looked out for each other.”
A third refugee held a differing view, stating that community did not play a significant role in escaping their country of origin. “No, because we did not know who we can trust. If we tell someone that we plan to leave, they might tell the police. You have to be careful who you can trust, even friends and family.”
LD holds mixed feelings about how her past community affected how she arrived in America. “I would think in some way yes because the group that we escaped with lived in the same community with us. My parents have probably done some good business with them that build a good/ trust relationship among themselves … As a whole community, it would be no because we had to keep it as a secret and also only a few main key players knew the escape plans for the day. ”
Fortunately, people around the world are helping refugees get the communities they deserve. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee, United Nations and Ride for Refugees are just a few that help thousands of displaced people.
“It is also great to have support in … community, familiar cultures and beliefs, and a good sense of belonging to raise a good and happy family!” LD said.