“Who Speaks for Refugees?”

“This work ispersonal for me. When I go to the airport, it’s hard not to see my family’s journeyunfold in front of me. When I seerefugeesstanding there with theirlight luggage, I know it’s the very beginning, and the sky is the limit. In some ways, I really worry about them, and in other ways, I am excited for them because I know they are going to make it because we did.”

Toc, the Program Director of Catholic Charities Oregon, was born in a refugee camp inThailand. Although Toc now gets to serve thoselike her family, life was not especially easy for her and her family. “When I was younger, I was so embarrassed. In school, they would ask what our parents did. I dreaded career day. You know how embarrassing it is in class to say that your parents don’t speak English, don’t know how to read or write, and they clean up after people? So I lied! I said they cater!”After her father passed away, Tocbecame increasingly reflectiveaboutherLaoscultural roots and the sacrifices her parents made for her. “I don’t know how my parentsdid it. I really don’t know how they did it. I don’tcare about how many fancy degrees I have or whatfancy titleI hold, it will never amount to what they went through. They didn’t speak English. They cleaned toilets, proudly. They raised six kids, three boys, three girls. The three girls went to college, the three boys went in and out of prison.When people say that’s unsuccessful,I say, ‘No, that’s pretty darnsuccessful.'”Althoughshe is aware that life will be challenging for incoming refugees, especially for the parents, she still passionately remainshopefulfor thechildren. “I came to this country at a really,reallyyoung age, four, and so when I look at the children in the cultural orientationclasses, I’m like dang. I just see success in them. They aregoing to surpass what I’m doing. I can’t wait!”

As part of her job as program director, Toc had to tell an audience oftwelve hundredCatholic Charities benefactors about her story, her department, and her hopes-within the first few months of getting the position. “What I remember most about that nightwas after I spoke. There were three people waiting to speak to me who could barely speak English. They were waiters. They came up and said, ‘We are not sure if you noticed, but the whole room was silent. As waiters, we have to continue picking up plates. We stopped picking up plates because you were sharing our story.’They were waiters. They cleaned up after people. Who speaks for these people?”Toc works day in and day out to give those people a voice.