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GenR: Member Profile

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GenR: Member Profile 

Photo: Photo credit: Helen Vong

The fastest growing GenR chapter in IRC history, GenR: LA is full of diverse and caring members with extraordinary backgrounds. In the past four months, we've grown from a group of eight people interested in learning more about the IRC to a group of 83 passionate professionals, working and living in the Los Angeles area. 

This week, meet one of the newest members of our Leadership Committee, Susan Vong

Where do you live? 

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA.

What's your day job? 

I’m a serial entrepreneur who splits my time as an angel investor, real estate investor, and owner of a biotech software consulting company.

Why are you a member of GenR and the IRC? 

I chose to volunteer with the IRC because as a whole, it is a bi-partisan, secular, innovative, evidence-based, and compassionate organization focused on serving families who have endured the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Our GenR chapters are member-driven, so there is both support from the IRC as needed, balanced with autonomy so members can determine how to best serve the local needs of newly arrived refugees. 

Favorite part of working with GenR so far? 

The members of GenR: LA are a very interesting mix of humanitarians, many of whom are refugees or children of refugees. It’s been fascinating learning about everyone’s background as we represent non-profit, tech, and entertainment industries, to name a few. Much like our hometown, our members have a lot of heart and perseverance, and we thrive because of our diverse make up. 

Our local IRC office requested help collecting basic household items for a Special Immigrants Visa (SIV) family who recently arrived from Afghanistan. In less than 30 minutes, and before I could even chime in, our members completed this request! For me, being a part of GenR: LA is a reminder that there is a lot of compassion and kindness in humanity; it just depends on where you look. 

Do you have a personal immigration or refugee story? 

My family, living as ethnic Chinese minorities in Vietnam, had already faced extreme repression, as the Chinese were perceived as a threat to the business and commerce sector. By 1975, the new Communist government had forced my parents to resettle within the country multiple times, driving them to abandon their thriving family business and threatening their lives. This ultimately left them with two options: to continue being persecuted or to flee.

In early 1977, my family made their way to the Vũng Tàu harbor with nothing other than the clothes on their backs and a small bag of rice. They squeezed onto an overcrowded fishing boat with 48 other passengers and embarked on a four-day journey across the Gulf of Thailand. They braved the dangers of traveling through a storm after recognizing the threat of pirates was less likely over rocky waters.

While some fell ill, everyone made it to shore alive in Mersing, Malaysia where they spent the next 10 months. They listened to heart-wrenching stories of pirates who seized a window of vulnerability to mercilessly rape women and rob them while defenseless. Many boat people, including my parents, regard this dark chapter of the Vietnamese refugee story as humanity at its worst.

On Oct. 13, 1977, my family was airlifted to America, settling in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, which was known as a poor immigrant neighborhood at the time. As a young child, I recall high tensions in our household while my parents struggled to provide food and shelter for our young family of seven. We faced challenges with transportation, finances, and language barriers. This was a very, very hard time for us.

Seeing that my parents were newly settled refugees, a man named “Bob” decided to approach my parents at LAX to initiate a friendly conversation. Through a lot of hand gestures and likely mispronounced words, they were surprised to learn that Bob lived a few houses away from us.

Through the years, Bob remained in contact with us, visiting often to ensure we had adjusted to our new home country. He was not affiliated to any organization and had no religious, political, or personal agenda. He spent holidays with us and we still fondly remember the kitchenware and colored cups he gave to each of us kids. It was the first time that I owned something that was not a hand-me-down. We still keep these cups as a reminder.

This year is my family’s 40th anniversary in America and to this day, the kindness of Bob, our first American friend, is the reason my parents regard our first days here as humanity at its best.

What kind of impact would you like to make with your GenR membership? 

I want to reduce the overall hardships that refugees experience in the resettlement process, with a focus on addressing immediate needs like transportation and housing. Eventually, I would like to be in a position to provide economic opportunities for immigrants and refugees.