Vietnamese native Anh Ha Ho attended high school in France and later worked as an assistant in her husband’s medical office in Vietnam. But her family suffered during the post-war period. Her father spent three years in a Communist reeducation camp, and her husband was imprisoned after he tried to flee the country to build a better life for the family.
Only in 1983 did the couple leave Vietnam and settle in Canada. Two years later, Ho’s husband was accepted into the medical residency program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Unfortunately, a visa mix-up prevented the couple from returning to Canada, so when the residency ended, they had no choice but to remain in the United States without documents.
Ho did odd jobs and worked as a babysitter to make ends meet. “It was a challenging time, but in the end, we were granted political asylum,” she says. When her employment authorization finally came through, Ho—who had completed college courses in education in Saigon and gained a certification in language teaching from the French consulate—quickly found work teaching French in an Urbana public elementary school. “As a French speaker, I could really help the children,” she says.
Alongside her 20-year teaching career, Ho works at the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC). There, she draws upon her own background as an immigrant and asylum-seeker to help others. “I know how difficult and how time-consuming the immigration process can be,” she says. “I’m here just to help them with my knowledge and my experience.”
I know how difficult and how time-consuming the immigration process can be. I’m here just to help them with my knowledge and my experience.”
At 70, Ho has worked with ECIRMAC for almost three decades and has helped hundreds of new arrivals start their lives in America. Every immigrant that passes through the center has a different story to tell, and different skills and experiences to offer to the Champaign community, Ho says. “We all have experience in life and something to contribute,” she says.
Ho became a citizen in 2000, and frequently shares her appreciation of this country with her clients. “We tell them, ‘Don’t forget about your homes, but learn about America, and think about what you have to offer,’” Ho says.