Thursday, June 20 — At the age of 13, Nancy Yang Vue came to the United States from Laos as a refugee in 1976. Now, 37 years later, she’s one of the thousands of success stories of international refugees finding a home in the Lansing area.
June 20 is World Refugee Day, which celebrates the diversity and resilience of refugee communities around the world, said Judi Harris, program director of refugee services at St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities. But it’s also a day to reflect on the challenges faced by refugees and the continued need to support and nurture their communities.
Refugees are considered anyone who has fled their home country to escape political, racial, religious or cultural oppression.
In honor of World Refugee Day, a “peace pole” was installed in the center of Summer Place Apartments, a predominantly refugee community. On the six-foot pole it reads, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in six different languages. In Summer Place alone there are 17 languages spoken. Vue, Harris and others who work with refugees spoke to a crowd of volunteers, refugees and the media about the work that’s been done by St. Vincent’s and the success of Lansing’s refugee communities.
St. Vincent’s has been resettling refugees in Lansing for 40 years, Harris said. It’s the only refugee resettlement organization in Lansing. By the end of the year, St. Vincent’s will have relocated 600 new refugees into Lansing, she said.
Refugees like Vue have gotten a second chance at life thanks to refugee services like St. Vincent’s.
Vue said after coming to America, getting married to a Hmong man and having seven children, she has continued to maintain the Hmong cultural values of strong community and family through her kids. But when she was younger, she realized the glaring differences between Hmong and American culture.
When she came to America, Vue said she was everything a Hmong girl should be — “humble, bashful and reserved” — she quickly learned that American girls were supposed to be “more assertive and direct.” In Hmong culture, women are secondary to men, she said. So, being treated as an equal to men was a “big adjustment” — especially for the Hmong men she knew.
“Even with all of the struggles and confusion, we also had hope and excitement to start a new life,” she said. “Lansing has been incredibly welcoming and nurturing to me and my community.”
It took Vue two years to learn English, but she eventually was able to assimilate with American culture and received her nursing degree from Lansing Community College in 1997. This past year, Vue was a nominee for Greater Lansing’s Woman of the Year.
Harris said resettlement is “hope that follows tragedy.” She said there are still “millions that suffer around the world” and that less than 1 percent of refugees wind up getting resettled. She said many refugees are forced to leave their families behind, which can make resettlement an even more trying process. According to the United Nations, there are over 43.7 million refugees and displaced people around the world.
“Today, we remember our work is not done,” Harris said. “Peace is the only real solution. Work with love, pray for peace and spread compassion wherever you can.”
Last year, Summer Place was the site of numerous acts of violence and vandalism against the refugees that live there, which created anxiety and fear in the community.