This Thanksgiving marks the first anniversary of living in Isle, and the U.S.A., for the To family. To Thanh Tuan, his wife, Denh, and their children, Mung, Chien, Canh, Kin, Phong, and Vo, arrived at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 15, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, just one year ago: refugees from a camp in Hong Kong.
The scene then was much sign language, a huge dictionary, and many bewildered people, Vietnamese and American alike. Today, Tuan and his family are a part of the Isle community.
The children are in school, Tuan has a job, is buying his own home, and learning to drive an automobile. Dehn shops the market and has learned to prepare the foods available in this country. Everyone is learning the English language.
“Their progress is remarkable,” said Isle Elementary Principal Tom Hoppe, referring to the young children now attending grade school. They meet regularly with Eleanor Prigge to work on their language, and their performance in the classroom is encouraging indeed, according to Hoppe.
Mung and Chien, in addition to their regular classwork, are meeting during the week with Mrs. Janowski and Mrs. Dahl for special work on language and science vocabulary. Little Vo is attending kindergarten for the first time.
Tuan is employed by Craig Magnan at Spectrum, where he works in electroplating fishing spoons and spinners. His background in Vietnam had been carpentry and construction work, but according to Magnan, Tuan is an excellent observer.
“We taught him the process, basically, by showing him how it works. He’s very observant and sees things and understands processes easily overlooked,” said Magnan. “I often leave him alone with the process for quite a long time.”
Denh will also work several hours a month with her husband and Magnan’s employees when the work load merits it. Magnan’s operation is a barrel plating process, which requires several steps and different procedures. Tuan handles them all and studies his English between shifts in the operation.
At home, Tuan has an impressive cassette tape deck, one of the few personal belongings the family brought with them a year ago. He just acquired a full set of tapes and Chinese-English language books to help him with his new tongue. He recently passed his written driver’s permit test and is learning the American rules of the road with Magnan, Richard Erickson, and Bob Crace as instructors.
Last month, Tuan qualified for a low interest FHA mortgage loan to help buy his home in Isle.
“The questions we are asking ourselves,” said Faith Lutheran minister Ron Rude, “is whether we can do it again with another family.” Rude and pastors Gordy Sundberg and Robert Gillquist have been attending meetings recently on the continuing need for more sponsorship of Vietnamese “boat people” refugees.
“There are still 35 families that could be placed in Minnesota,” said Rude, “and 232,000 other people are still left in the camps, but more are leaving than coming in, so the trend has been reversed.”
The decision is yet to be made whether Isle area residents will bring another family from Vietnam to Mille Lacs. In the meantime, the initial experiment has proved a success. Thanks to the many people in the area who have taken the To family to heart, America is still the land of opportunity we always knew it was.