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World Refugee Day 2014

In honor of World Refugee Day, we have a special guest blog from Theresa Q. Tran, Executive Director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote - Michigan. Here is her powerful and inspiring story: I grew up in a family that embodied the American Dream. But I knew very clearly, even at a young age, that my family was different. Both my parents spoke with accents that sounded much different than most other parents in our Waterford, MI neighborhood. They also kept to themselves but their personalities shone when we were with other Vietnamese families. Truthfully, for a long time, I only really understood my parents’ experience to be that of a “typical” immigrant whose migration was driven by this belief that America was a land of opportunity, courting foreigners into her bounty of possibility. That’s how my parents ended up here, right? Sure, I vaguely understood that the Vietnam War had something to do with my parents’ journey to the U.S., but that was the stuff exaggerated in movies – it wasn’t real life. I didn’t have a great understanding of the push factors that forced my parents here until I was asked to write a paper in college about my family’s migration experience (side note: assignments like this from my ethnic studies courses were life changers for me). Up until that point, I rarely spoke to my parents about their journey to the U.S., mostly because culturally, it wasn’t my right as a child to ask those questions and honestly, it didn’t really interest me. I had a good life that didn’t need complication from my parents’ baggage. But this assignment was an opportunity – an excuse to use school for the basis of asking intrusive questions. I anticipated a lot of resistance from my parents, but found that they were both eager to share about their families. My father was on the second to last commercial flight out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 at a time when people were throwing themselves at helicopters and planes for a chance to get out. My mother left four years later in the middle of the night as a boat person with only one of her younger brothers. She was in her early 20's at the time, her brother was 16. Her journey included a run-in with Thai pirates, a month-long stay (an extremely short time) in an Indonesian refugee camp, and a number of other hardships and challenges. My parents finally met here in Detroit, not having known each other previously. Michigan became the home to a large number of Vietnamese refugees as a consortium of churches on the west side of the state became some of the first to open its doors and welcome them. The personal impact of hearing these stories has really driven me to do a lot of the work I do now in seeking justice for immigrant communities. In retrospect, I was able to think more critically about how the odds were stacked even more against us as children of refugees, and yet my parents have attained quite a bit for me and my four siblings to achieve the things we have. My parents’ story is why it is especially important for me to acknowledge my identity as the daughter of refugees and why I have committed myself to doing this work in the Metro Detroit area. While I work primarily in the Asian & Pacific Islander American community, I am a firm believer that everyone deserves access and opportunity and that is only attainable with justice and equity. The work of creating welcoming communities helps us to take a step in that direction.