World Refugee Day: Hung Le Raises Voice to Protect Vulnerable Migrants

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Hung Le PhotoOn this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide.  Today, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Hung Le, a former Vietnamese refugee from San Jose, CA.

This World Refugee Day, former refugees from all over the country are descending on Capitol Hill to tell their representatives that they support fair and humane immigration reform that promotes a robust refugee resettlement program.  These refugee leaders will meet with a diverse group of Congressional delegations, telling their stories as former refugees, and sharing why our country is bettered by opening its doors to refugees.  They’ll also be honored for their strength and service at the Walk of Courage Award Dinner.

Hung Le, a former refugee from Vietnam, is one of the refugee leaders coming to DC this World Refugee Day.  I was lucky enough to catch up with him via an email interview.  He fled Vietnam after the war as one of the first “boat people,” came to the US from Vietnam in 1975.  He now works in the electrical engineering field in San Jose, CA, and is an exemplar of community service, even returning to Vietnam several times to  Here are his thoughts and motivations for advocating, and stay tuned for more interviews with refugee leaders on our blog as we prepare for World Refugee Day.

Luke Telander (LT): What drives you to advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees?

 Hung Le (HL): My drive and passion to advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees lies in my shared experience as a refugee, my knowledge and skills that I can contribute, and my firm belief in the equal status of refugees to that of non refugees and the capacity to serve this population.

As a refugee myself, I can personally relate to the plight of refugees globally and can understand the struggles they undergo. In addition, through my experience working in cross cultural settings, I have gained the experience addressing complex issues to find meaningful solutions.

Lastly, I have a strong belief that refugees should be given the space for protection but also in an environment where the human development of these individual can thrive. Refugees should have equal status to those who are not. Furthermore, I believe that if refugees and immigrants in general have a strong yearning or motivation to excel, and we as Americans have the capacity to develop this motivation, this will lead to greater contributions to society in the long run.

I hope to use my past experiences, skills and knowledge, and passion to advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees.

(LT): Can you tell us a little bit about your story of coming to the US as a refugee?

HL: I was a refugee from Vietnam as one of the first boat people from Southeast Asia in 1975. Through the support of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, an affiliate of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, I  came to the United States with my  two brothers and settled in Minneapolis in June 1975. I  attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. Following graduation, I  moved to San Jose, CA, where I work in the field of electrical engineering and lived with my  wife and my four full-grown children.

Throughout my time in the U.S., I have volunteered with a wide-range of non-profit and community organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, Viet Arts, VNHelp,  the YMCA, the San Jose Police Department and the annual Santa Clara County Vietnamese New Year’s celebration.  I  have also had the opportunity to return to Vietnam for multiple charity projects where I helped to establish orphanages, vocational schools, and medical clinics for the underserved population. I have  developed my  love for culture, traveling with my  family to over 35 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

(LT): Why have you chosen to be a part of the Refugee Alumni Network and give back to newly arrived refugees?

 HL: I have chosen to be a part of the Refugee Alumni Network because I believe that the Refugee Network is a unique forum for refugees to share their experiences and learn from one another. While many refugees come from different experiences, nations, and cultures, in many ways, there is a shared connection and history. Through a cohesive network, it will provide refugees to lead to more meaningful solutions to address issues and concerns of refugee migration.

Furthermore, I have chosen to be a part of the Refugee Alumni Network because, in all honesty, I have not been involved or knowledgeable about refugee issues since the Vietnam War. This network will allow me to be exposed to the diverse refugee concerns and experience. By having a greater understanding of other cultural experiences I believe that it will allow me to have a greater understand of how to advance issues to advocate for Refugees. Furthermore, I believe the Refugee Alumni Network creates a critical mass and a community with shared experiences to move forward and continue being aware of and advocating for policies impacting refugees. I don’t simply want to be a representation of a Vietnamese refugee, I want to be able to represent refugees globally.

(LT): This World Refugee Day, what do you think the message to the world should be?

HL: I believe the message to the world should reflect a notion of global citizen and that in the end, regardless of our nation state; we are human and have an obligation to help one another.

 (LT): What do you think is the most widely misunderstood fact about refugees and resettlement?

HL: I think the most widely misunderstood fact about refugees and resettlement is this notion that refugees are a burden for society. I have a firm belief that the country is built upon refugees, and refugees have the capacity to propel society. Many people equate immigration and refugees to burdens, welfare, and this notion that refugees will not be able to contribute to society. There’s a need to look at the longer term and how refugees can be strong contributors to our communities.

 (LT): As you advocate for immigration reform that protects refugees, what do you want to make sure and tell your legislators?

HL: As I advocate for immigration reform that protects refugees, I would like to encourage my legislators to continue to provide funding and support for policies that protects refugees. Also ensure the family unity at the center of legislation.   

LT: What are your plans for the future?

HL: I plan to continue learning about the plight of refugees and spreading awareness in encouraging more members of our community to become involved. In addition, I hope to reconnect with other refugees to create a community bounded by a shared history and experiences.

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