Posted by: BPSOS | April 1, 2009

Thành Quả – Results: Translating Determination into Success: A Virginia Senior’s Story

key-to-successApril 1, 2009: The following story of empowerment in the Vietnamese senior community is shared by Xuan Le, senior services specialist at BPSOS-Falls Church:

Before coming to work at Boat People SOS, a nonprofit community organization serving immigrants and refugees, I had never met such a confident and audacious group of Vietnamese seniors. I had volunteered at senior homes as a high school student and worked with children and youth groups as a college organizer, but the seniors I met in Northern Virginia exuded the most drive and determination.

Through war, losing a country, surviving the so-called “re-education camps,” and traversing the South China Sea, Vietnamese elders have been through more than what standard history texts can tell. What a difference 26 years makes. We were never supposed to or positioned to learn how to speak up or make ourselves known. But the seniors in Northern Virginia have proved everyone who doubted them wrong.

One true testament to the fact that our seniors are taking steps towards self-sufficiency is Mrs. Vu. She has come to my office about three times a month for assistance and interpretation on issues such as Medicare and Medicaid enrollment, information on senior recreational activities, and with tax season around the corner, assistance with filling out her 2008 Economic Stimulus tax papers.

On one particular occasion, she came to me with questions about why she was not granted her economic stimulus payment. For one reason or another, the IRS office had denied her this payment. I called the IRS to resolve this issue but I did not have power of attorney. The IRS would not allow me to interpret for her. Consequently, I set up an appointment for her with a bilingual associate at a local IRS office. This was terrific, aside from the fact that they did not have a slot for her until a whole month later.

Mrs. Vu worked for over 13 years in the US in a blue-collar job, and her husband also worked for over 10 years. They made only enough to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. They lived as law-abiding refugees and successfully obtained their naturalization decades ago. As working US citizens, and having accurately completed their 1040 forms in their entirety, they were determined to find out why Mrs. Vu was not receiving the tax benefits she deserved, the ones promised by “Ong [President] Bush.”

Mrs. Vu came to my office the day after meeting with the IRS, bearing a handwritten letter to Senator Jim Moran (D-VA), her representative in Congress, with an explanation about her situation. She asked for me to proofread the letter before she sent it off. Within a week, she received a reply from Senator Moran stating that she would receive her and her husband’s stimulus checks within three weeks. Lo and behold, three weeks later, the check arrived in the mail as promised. She came to my office ecstatic, and the letter she wrote to Senator Moran and his reply are both hanging in the hallways of the BPSOS office.

Living in a democracy is a tremendous privilege in and of itself. But to see a limited-English proficiency refugee who came to America through the 1984 Humanitarian Refugee Resettlement Act stand up for her rights and practice democracy itself, is a beautiful thing. It is the reason why we need to continue fighting and supporting more individuals—typically those who are marginalized—and take further steps towards developing a sense of self-sufficiency and empowerment.

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