Do you feel like you live in an uncaring world? If so, I’d like to tell you about Wong Racom, a refugee, who got stranded for over a month at Los Angeles International Airport.
Wong, a 48-year old coffee farmer is a devout Christian who defied the authorities in his Vietnamese village by actively preaching the gospel and then peacefully demonstrating when they tried to stop him. The authorities burned his small church and one night, forcibly took him from his home and put him in jail.
While in jail, they reportedly beat him. Wong escaped and fled across the Cambodian border to a refugee center where he became one of 900 refugees resettled in North Carolina in 2002. There he got an apartment and a job working in a T.J. Maxx distribution center.
But Wong has a wife, and he has four daughters and a son, who range in age from 7 to 21 and he desperately missed them. He and two other homesick refugees saved their money to buy airline tickets to return to Vietnam to rejoin their families.
On September 20th, 2004, they flew to Los Angeles to catch a connecting flight home but on that flight, Wong lost his ID card and his refugee papers. Without those documents, he could not board another flight and he became a man without a country, abandoned at LAX.
Lost and alone, he lived at the airport and his home became a terminal bench. But he was soon rescued by the kindness of strangers. To keep him safe, airport police arranged for him to sleep on benches near a security check point and they got him a translator.
Upon hearing of his plight, LAX senior official Nancy Castles got him a room with a cot and got approval for him to use the showers assigned to aircraft maintenance workers. Police and others paid for his meals from a restaurant in the terminal. Everyone took good care of Wong.
Meanwhile, his translator, Cynthia Fuentes helped him fill out forms to get new refugee papers and Castles and the Travelers’ Aid Society worked with a Congressman’s staff to expedite its processing. In late October, social workers moved Wong to a clean, safe shelter.
On February 9th, 2005, refugee paperwork in order, a volunteer drove him back to LAX. But this time when he arrived, there were people there to warmly greet him and Wong in turn showed them five little pictures of his family. The airport personnel had taken up a collection and gave him a farewell gift of cash, food and other necessities he’d need on his journey.
They also gave him an additional special gift. Castles’ seven year old daughter had asked her to please give him her Angel Beanie Baby doll so he’d have it to give his seven year old daughter as a gift when he got home.
Wong knew that when he arrived in Vietnam, he might be arrested. His LAX well-wishers were frightened for him. But the Los Angeles Times (2/12/05) reported that he told them through his translator Fuentes, “I’m not afraid. God will protect me. I’ve been praying. Thank you to everyone at the airport. I’m praying for God to bless every one of you.”
Then, as the well-wishers tearfully said goodbye, he boarded a flight to Thailand, connecting to one in Laos followed by a bus ride to Vietnam that would complete his long journey home.
In the next KazanToday, Valuable advice from Aristotle, one of history’s greatest thinkers.