Nebraska immigrants transition to new lives
February 19th, 2014
Omaha, NE — On a cold Sunday evening in Lincoln, Officer Tu Tran with theÂ Lincoln Police DepartmentÂ used his radio to contact dispatch.
â€œFive-Adam, 16-69. Iâ€™m on duty,â€ Tran said, before he pulled he merged his car into traffic. The roads were bumpy with packed snow and ice. A far cry from his native land of Vietnam.
â€œ[Vietnam is] really nice, hot. Not cold like this, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ Tran said.
Tran and his five siblings grew up very poor in Vietnam.
â€œ[Our] house was made of straw, palm leaves. Not really a regular brick house until later on,â€ Tran said.
During the Vietnam War, Transâ€™ father was a soldier in the South Vietnamese Army, â€œfighting alongside American soldiers.â€
But after the fall of Saigon and the U.S. troop withdrawal, Tranâ€™s father spent eight years in a North Vietnamese POW camp.
In 1992, a decade after his release, Tranâ€™s father brought his family to Nebraska. They were political refugees, and with the help ofÂ Catholic Social Services, began to settle into their new lives.
From refugee to resident
â€œWhen we first set foot down in Lincoln, they had a house rented for us already, a meal for us, it was two or three in the morning, but it was ramen noodle type meals, which wasnâ€™t unusual for us, to eat ramen noodles,â€ Tran explained.
Tran enrolled in the Lincoln Public School system; something he said was invaluable in teaching him not only the language, but also about the culture of his new home.
Heâ€™s the third Vietnamese police officer to patrol Lincolnâ€™s streets, but he might be the most popular.
â€œWhen the word came out that there was a Vietnamese officer, somehow quite a few people got access to my phone number, my cell phone,â€ Tran said, chuckling.
During his first year or so on the force, Tran said heâ€™d get calls at all hours of the day and night, from Vietnamese immigrants looking for help.
â€œTheyâ€™re so used to being afraid of cops, or police officers, back in Vietnam. So it does affect them in a way because of what happened in Vietnam, but I think people are getting used to â€˜Hey, you do have rights here. You do have a say in things,â€™â€ Tran said.
By the Numbers
According to theÂ U.S. Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2011, the number of foreign-born immigrants living in Nebraska grew from about 74,000 to just more than 116,000, an increase of 55.6 percent. Thatâ€™s almost twice the national average (29.8 percent) during that same time period.
While there are some government programs, much of the work to help immigrants transition into their new lives falls on the shoulders of non-profits and volunteers.
Lincoln Literacy is one such organization.
In a small classroom at an old church in Lincoln, four adult students from very different parts of the world gathered around a worksheet, which had several pictures depicting different scenes inside a home.
Lincoln LiteracyÂ teaches around two-dozen classes like this every week at several locations throughout Lincoln.
Funded through an assortment of federal, state, and local grants, Lincoln Literacy is dedicated to teaching English and communication skills to as many immigrants as resources allow.
Amanda Hefner, a coordinator with Lincoln Literacy, said her organization depends largely on volunteers, and serves about 300 students a year.
â€œThereâ€™s this friendly face and thereâ€™s this person that says, â€˜Itâ€™s going to be okay. By the way, this is table, this is chair, this is whatever.â€™ Theyâ€™re really grateful for that support, even perhaps more so than the instruction,â€ Hefner said.
More than language
Hefner and other immigration experts said learning the language is one of the most important ways to succeed in a new land, but itâ€™s hardly the only thing to learn.
Finding quality housing, dealing with an insurance claim after a car accident, knowing where to go in case of a medical emergencyâ€¦ these are the types of real life events theÂ Multicultural Coalition of Grand IslandÂ helps immigrants deal with on a daily basis.
Betty Frausto, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico is the coalitionâ€™s community outreach coordinator.
â€œWe create a personal, individualized plan for them, and we look for their needs and the agencies that are in the area, so we can start referring the person or the family to [the right agency],â€ Frausto said.
Working with Frausto is Jocelyn Schade, the executive director of the coalition.
Schade said when the organization started 10 years ago, the idea was for it to be a liaison of sorts for new immigrants, offering a variety of services.
â€œWe can refer them to someone who can give them legal advice, or set up appointments to get them to the doctors, we can go with them to the doctor to help translate. We can set up shelter in a place if someone comes in and theyâ€™re homeless or something like that,â€ Schade said.
She added organizations like the Multicultural Coalition will play a vital role in the near future as more immigrants begin to call Nebraska home. Schade said the more education and support a person has, the more likely they will be to succeed.
Training and education programs helped Tu Tran and his family make a successful transition to a new life in Nebraska.Â Now as a Lincoln police officer, Tran is a resource for new immigrants, as well as the citizens of the city that took him in.
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