Born in Thailand.
Living in Oregon.
Toc, the Program Director of Catholic Charities Oregon, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Life was not easy. “When I was younger, I was so embarrassed. In school… I dreaded career day. You know how embarrassing it is in class to say that your parents don’t speak English, don’t know how to read or write, and they clean up after people? So I lied! I said they cater!”
“When I see refugees standing there with their light luggage, I know it’s the very beginning, and the sky is the limit.”
After her father passed away, Toc became increasingly reflective about her Laotian roots and her parents’ sacrifices. “I don’t know how my parents did it. I don’t care how many fancy degrees I have or what fancy title I hold, it will never amount to what they went through. They didn’t speak English. They cleaned toilets, proudly. They raised six kids. The three girls went to college, the three boys went in and out of prison. When people say that’s unsuccessful, I say, ‘No, that’s pretty darn successful.’
“When I go to the airport, it’s hard not to see my family’s journey unfold in front of me. When I see refugees standing there with their light luggage, I know it’s the very beginning, and the sky is the limit. In some ways, I really worry about them, and in other ways, I am excited for them because I know they are going to make it. Because we did.”
Although she is aware that life will be challenging for incoming refugees, especially for the parents, she remains passionately hopeful for the children. “I came to this country at a really young age, four. I look at the children in the cultural orientation classes and I’m like dang! They are going to surpass what I’m doing. I can’t wait!”
In the first few months of her job as program director, Toc told an audience of twelve hundred Catholic Charities benefactors about her story, her work and her aspirations. “After I finished, were three people waiting to speak to me who could barely speak English. They were waiters. They said, ‘We are not sure if you noticed, but the whole room was silent. As waiters, we have to continue picking up plates. We stopped picking up plates because you were sharing our story.’ They were waiters. They cleaned up after people. Who speaks for these people?” Toc works day in and day out to give them a voice.