Welcome to the Winona Catholic WorkerWe are a Christian faith community living in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement and committed to community, voluntary poverty, hospitality, stewardship, nonviolence, and faith.
We welcome our sisters and brothers in need, serving them as "ambassadors of God." We place our trust in God's providence, relying entirely on the generosity of many individuals, groups, and churches to support our work. We are not tax-exempt, nor do we receive any government funding, because we believe that we are called to do the Works of Mercy at a personal sacrifice.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
On a bitterly cold day in January, 1994 Bay Truong arrived in Winona with her daughter, Hien and son-in-law, Trung from Vietnam. Experiencing 10 degrees below zero for the first time was just the beginning of the new things ahead for them. Sponsored by St. Mary’s Parish and Catholic Charities, the three new immigrants moved into the Dan Corcoran House with Mary and Jerry and began a new life in Winona. In unfamiliar place, with a seemingly inhospitable climate, the three found a warm welcome in a place they would come to call home.
Bay initially came with her daughter Hien who was eligible for immigration to the US because her father was an American GI. Hien’s husband Trung, and Bay, as close relatives were able to immigrate with Hien. However, Bay’s other children, her eldest daughter Nga and sons Tuan, Dung and Cuong could not accompany them initially.
Bay agreed to come to the US with Hien because she knew it was Hien’s best chance for a good life. In Vietnam, Hien and Bay faced discrimination because of Hien’s mixed race and ties to the US military.
In the years that followed, Bay’s other children would follow her to Winona. In 2000, Bay was finally able to bring her two younger sons, Dung and Cuong, age 19 and 12, to Winona. Both graduated from Winona Senior High. Cuong now attends Winona State University and Dung is working at Peerless Chain.
A few years ago her oldest son, Tuan arrived from Vietnam. He left behind a wife and twin children, a boy and girl, as he saved money and applied for their visas. In 2011, his wife and children were finally able to join him in the U.S. Bay rejoiced when these beautiful twin grandchildren arrived in Winona. She had been showing off pictures of them for years. The young family made the transition to life in the U.S. and just recently moved to Iowa – out of town, but at least on the same side of the ocean!
But, still back in Vietnam was Bay’s oldest daughter, Nga and her family. Twelve years ago, with the dedicated help of Barbara Allaire, Bay began the visa application for her eldest daughter. The family included Nga, her husband, Phuc, and three children. Bay held out hope that one day her family would be reunited in the US, that she could be surrounded by her children and grandchildren, here, in her new home.
In the years since her arrival, Bay and her family have become fixtures of the Winona Catholic Worker community. When I first arrived in 2001, Bay welcomed me to the community. I would visit her regularly at her apartment. At that time she was often caring for Hien and Trung’s pre-school aged children, daughter, Uyen and son, Ky. I marvel when I see these kids today, bright, successful students at Winona Senior High.
For many years, Bay worked at the kind of work that many immigrants do all over the U.S. She worked at the turkey plant in Arcadia. It was hard, physical work, but that was nothing new to Bay. She had worked hard to scratch out a living for herself and her children in Vietnam. Because of Hien’s status as an Amerasian child in Vietnam, Bay was forced to relocate to a rural mountain region to farm for the communist government. Many other parents gave up their Amerasian children to avoid this fate, but Bay refused to leave her daughter.
Even with strong ties to Vietnam, with two of her children still living there, Bay embraced her new community and country. In 2001 Bay was welcomed into the Catholic Church at St. Mary’s Parish and later that year Bay became a US citizen.
As long as her health allowed, she continued to work just as hard here to provide a good life for her family in the US. Ultimately, Bay had to discontinue working as her health declined due to a failing liver.
In 2008, Bay was hospitalized on several occasions and it was clear she needed a new liver, soon. On August 31st, that day finally came and Bay got the call that she would get liver she needed at the Mayo Clinic. A sad day for one family meant a new lease on life for Bay and her family. Bay received the liver of a young girl that had died in a car accident.
Through all of these changes and struggles, Bay and her family found great support in the Winona community. From ESL teachers who took the time to care about this family, to volunteers at Project F.I.N.E. working to provide a welcome, to friends Bay met at the grocery store, many people have contributed to this immigrant success story. So many people have come together to welcome and support this family in Winona.
When Barbara and Jim Allaire moved to Boston a few years ago, I took over the immigration paperwork to bring over Bay’s oldest daughter and her family. Since Bay’s eldest daughter was married and had children of her own, she falls into a different, and less urgent, visa category. This application took much longer than any of the others. The youngest child in the family, Thi, was just 4 months old when the application was begun. She just enrolled at the Winona Middle School!
For many years, the application was essentially dormant, with each year’s limited number of visas filled by those with a higher priority ranking. About two years ago they entered the final stages and complete documentation for each family member would be required before proceeding to grant immigrant visas. I have to say that I have never experienced such inscrutable bureaucracy.
We who are born in the U.S. have no idea the hurdles we place in front of those huddled masses we claim to welcome. For me it was an eye-opening experience. I suppose many who successfully apply for immigrant visas have professional legal help, but that can cost several thousand dollars. Even without the legal costs, it still requires substantial sums of money, as well as an understanding of legal documents and processes in the US and country of origin. There is rarely any means of getting clarification from the looming bureaucracy. You just have to submit what you have and hope for the best. Either it will be enough, or it will be rejected as insufficient. It’s hard to know unless you try. Good thing Bay is literally the most persistent person we’ve ever met. Ultimately, she prevailed. Again.
On April 10th, Nga and her family arrived at the MSP airport. Fortunately the weather was a little warmer than when Bay first arrived. But, it did snow the next day, so they got a taste of winter in Minnesota!
The family stayed briefly at the Dan Corcoran House, where Chris Rogers and Abby Benson offered warm hospitality. Chris and Abby have been caretaking the house while we search for long-term live-in volunteers. Although both work full-time outside the house, and neither speaks Vietnamese, they readily agreed to host this new immigrant family. The kids often preferred to stay at Grandma Bay’s house and the family applied for public housing as soon as their residency cards came through.
Nga, Phuc and their son Anh (23) and daughters Nhi (17) and Thi (13) are now settling in to a new home just a few doors down from Bay at Belleview East housing. Phuc is already working at a local restaurant. The daughters got enrolled school for the last several weeks of classes. They will be off to a running start this fall. Also during the school year, Anh and his parents are going to ESL classes with Bay. With the example of the rest of the family that came before, I have no doubt these newest Vietnamese immigrants in Winona have a bright future ahead.