Their Stories: Making the U.S. Adjustment
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 1998; Page A20 Parek Maduot came to the United States from Sudan for the same reason many young Africans do: to get an education.
The son of a doctor, the 23-year-old is a third-year engineering student at the University of Maryland and works full time as a hotel desk clerk to earn money for school. He lives with his brother in an off-campus apartment.
"I like the area," he said. "I like the multicultural aspect. I can meet people of all backgrounds, all ethnicities."
Maduot has been in this country for four years and misses the rest of his family. But he does not think he will be returning home any time soon.
Sudan is torn by a long-running civil war between its mostly Arab and Muslim north and the mostly African and Christian south, where he grew up. It's not safe for him to go back, he said, because he opposes the current government.
After working two years to save money for college, Maduot enrolled at Maryland, where he is president of the university's African Student Association. Today, he is part of a growing African immigrant community here that is building social networks, starting churches, and opening nightclubs, boutiques and other small businesses.
"It's easy to feel at home here, not feel like you are a forced exile," Maduot said. Gregarious and blessed with a young man's energy, he visits D.C. nightclubs, both African and African American, and often goes to regular gatherings of people from southern Sudan.
For now, getting a degree in chemical engineering will be more useful in the United States. But some day, he hopes to help his country, perhaps by using his skills to open a business, a technical school or other institution there "something I could leave behind."
"If the war ever ends, we'll have to start from scratch," he said. "A whole generation is losing its chance to get an education. The burden on those who get an education will be bigger."
This is not saintly behavior, he said, but part of his cultural tradition: "In Sudan, doing something in a collective manner is the norm."
Lessons From the Past, Influencing the Future By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 1998; Page A19
When Guadalupe Quintero was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School in the District, other Latino kids called her a "sellout" and "traitor" to her culture because she studied hard to hold her own with her Anglo classmates.
Later, while she worked two jobs to pay for tuition at Goucher College in Maryland, an English professor gave her a D on a paper and told her she would never amount to anything.
"I went to my dorm room and cried," she said, new tears streaming down her face at the memory. "I was trying so hard, but it took me much longer to finish papers than the American students. ... I gave every penny I made to the school, and I was exhausted all the time. I don't know how I kept going."
Quintero, 24, did graduate and today is a poised, self-confident woman who counsels teenagers at the Latin American Youth Center in the District. Many have fallen behind in school or dropped out. She sees them on the corners, swaggering in baggy jeans and name-brand sneakers, and she tries to get them back into the classroom.
"Some of them think it's a dead-end street, and the idea of college seems very far away," she said. "They don't have any role models, or they are trying to find a family in the street. Part of me feels they aren't taking responsibility, but they also need someone to make them think they will succeed, not fail."
Quintero relates easily to Latino teens struggling with insecurity and self-doubt. Her mother left her in El Salvador as an infant and didn't send for her until she was 11. She had to adapt to a new society and language, a stepfather she didn't know, siblings she barely knew, and a home where everyone worked round-the-clock to make ends meet.
But she was luckier than some Central American immigrants. The reunited family stayed together and her mother pushed her to succeed. While less ambitious Latino classmates were out partying, she was studying and working part time.
When Quintero talks with troubled Latino youths about their futures, she always brings up the past. She tells them not to forget how far they have come but not to expect that life will be easy in their adopted country.
"Where we come from, people live in huts, and children go barefoot, and getting food every day is an ordeal," Quintero said. "Sometimes kids forget that. Once they're here, it becomes crucial for them to have Jordache jeans and Nike shoes. I always try to remember my heritage, and I never, never take anything for granted."
For a Brother, Success in U.S. Is Only Bittersweet By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 1998; Page A21
By nearly every standard, Quan Quoc Nguyen, 57, is living the good life in his adopted country. He drives a sporty Mercedes with vanity plates, operates a medical clinic in Annandale, and has watched his son graduate from medical school and his daughter earn a college degree in psychology.
Yet each achievement, each luxury, each appreciative plaque has come with a twinge of sadness and guilt.
For while Nguyen prospers, his younger brother, Nguyen Dan Que, also a doctor, has spent most of the last 20 years in prison for protesting human rights abuses in Vietnam. Nguyen has not seen him since he fled the communist takeover in 1975.
"He was a brilliant doctor. He had studied at Oxford and in France. He knew all the comforts of life abroad," Nguyen said, grimacing at the memory. "I saved a place for him on my boat, but he ... wanted to stay and teach medicine and serve the poor."
Given later chances for freedom, including one last week, if he would leave the country, his brother has remained "stubborn in his convictions," Nguyen said. "He is rotting in jail to make a point."
Nguyen has made his brother's travails a full-time cause. When not treating ulcers and hernias, he heads a group that organizes an annual Vietnam Human Rights Day at the Capitol and keeps crusading on his brother's behalf.
Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) has nominated the imprisoned Nguyen for the Nobel Peace Prize, and several Virginia lawmakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to visit him.
"In the Vietnamese community here, 90 percent of us still ... carry the struggle to free Vietnam in our hearts," Nguyen said. "It is not always welcome, sometimes not even by our own children, but we believe ... the seeds will grow."
The Virginia physician's exile was not a seamless transition from one country's elite to another's. Barred from practicing without a license from the United States, he worked in restaurants and printing plants while taking courses at Georgetown University Medical Center. In 1981, he opened a clinic in internal medicine, where at least 60 percent of his patients are Vietnamese.
But there is one ailing man the exiled physician can't heal. His brother, now 55 and languishing in a Vietnamese labor camp, is said to be suffering from bleeding ulcers and kidney stones.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company