Jackie Bong-Wright: A Lifetime of Service

Photograph of Jackie Bong-Wright from David Ngo’s The Queen from Virginia: The Jackie Bong-Wright Story. Published by the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association. Accessed November 3, 2015, http://www.vaala.org/david-ngo.html.

 

When Vietnamese refugees, as well as those from Laos and Cambodia, began to flow into Northern Virginia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they dealt with numerous challenges. One of the greatest challenges these new immigrants had to overcome was adjusting to cultural and social life in the United States. Meeting these refugees’ needs, oftentimes the moment they stepped off the plane, was Jackie Bong-Wright.

Bong-Wright herself is a Vietnamese refugee, and came to the U.S. three days before the fall of Saigon to Communist forces in the spring of 1975.[1] Before being forced to flee her home, Bong-Wright had earned her Bachelor’s degrees from the Universities of Bordeaux and Saigon.[2] While in Vietnam, Bong-Wright held numerous important jobs such as “teaching French history and literature to high school students, and French language to adults at the French Institute in Vietnam” as well as serving as the “Director of Cultural Activities at Saigon’s Vietnamese American Association, where she organized workshops, lectures, concerts, conferences, art exhibits, and social activities.”[3] Her interest in social work and helping others adjust to life in a new country sprang from her own migration experience in which she was forced to flee Saigon posing as the wife of an American businessman after her own husband had been previously killed by Communist forces.[4]

When Bong-Wright arrived in the region, she quickly became involved with Northern Virginia Family Services, from which she landed a job as a case manager for the Fairfax County Department of Social Services.[5] Beginning in 1980, Bong-Wright founded a social services company known as Indochinese Refugee Social Services. This organization quickly faced a tough challenge in dealing with refugees who had made their way out of Vietnam by boat. When describing this period in her professional career of social service, Bong-Wright explains:

The plight of the refugees seemed to reach its most acute point in the early 1980s.     That year, a group of Indochinese refugees sponsored by churches in Alexandria, Virginia, asked for help. There were no agencies providing services for them. Some of my American friends were asking what they could do. We formed a committee of   Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians and Americans, and incorporated as a nonprofit             organization — IRSS, or Indochinese Refugees Social Services, Inc. We provided             temporary and emergency housing at a home we called the Welcome House. We received grant money and expanded our services to include an employment service that found jobs for refugees and trained them in job skills—professional cleaning, gardening and house painting, etc. These jobs enabled people who did not speak English to quickly become self-sufficient. For the children, we organized a tutoring program; for their parents, classes in English and vocational training.[6]

Welcome House which, in the first 5 months it was open, “helped 30 refugees get started on their new lives” by assisting them in finding housing, enrolling in English language classes, and helping them find jobs, was a major help to these refugees.[7] Alongside numerous other social services programs, such as those provided by Catholic Charities, Bong-Wright’s Welcome House served as a highly effective system at helping refugees adjust to their new home. Bong-Wright and Welcome House earned high praise from the deputy director of ACTION, a branch of the Peace Corps, when she attested that “Welcome House is just the sort of work ACTION likes to see: people helping people” and by stating directly that the major goal of ACTION “is to teach people how to take responsibility for their own lives through programs like the one at Welcome House.”[8]

Later in life, Bong-Wright has not slowed down in her efforts to help others. She has devoted considerable time to a career in the media, whether that be her role as a reporter for the newspaper, Asian Fortune, or producing local Washington metropolitan area television shows, such as “Women Issues” and “Congressional News.”[9] Throughout this prolific media career, Bong-Wright has advocated for the rights of those involved in human trafficking in Asia and helped other Vietnamese Americans by “providing them with civic, social, cultural, and health services” through her organization Vietnamese-American Voters Association. [10] Clearly, Jackie Bong-Wright has been a champion for the rights and well-being of Vietnamese refugees and should be acknowledged for her service to this community.

[1] Ronald D. White and Jane Freundel, “Indochinese Survivors Of Boat Trip Get A Helping Hand,” Washington Post, August 16, 1979.

[2] Jackie Bong Wright, “About Jackie,” Jackie Bong Wright, last modified 2015, accessed October 29, 2015, http://jackiebongwright.com/about-jackie/.

[3] Ibid

[4] White and Freundel, “Indochinese Survivors OF Boat Trip Get A Helping Hand.”

[5] Jackie Bong Wright, “About Jackie”.

[6] Jackie Bong Wright, “About Jackie: Autumn Cloud’s Summary”, last modified 2015, accessed November 3, 2015, http://jackiebongwright.com/about-jackie/author/

[7] Kerry Dougherty, “Refugees Adjusting to a Land of Plenty,” Washington Post, February 14, 1980.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jackie Bong Wright, “About Jackie.”

[10] Ibid.

 

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