You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen was a bridge between new Asian immigrants and the greater Sioux City community

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 10/14/2020 Earl Horlyk, Sioux City Journal
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Even though Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen's health had been fragile for some time, her hospital stays always generated notice.

"We usually don't see patients get that many visitors," hospital staff told Tuyen Tran after 10 to 15 well-wishers came to visit. "(Hong Cuc) must be a very important person."

That was an understatement, said Tuyen, who had been friends with Hong Cuc for years.

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, all eyes are on Iowa. Get updates of all things Iowa politics delivered to your inbox.

"Hong Cuc was very well-respected in Sioux City's Asian community," Tuyen said of his friend. "She was respected for her kindness and her knowledge."

Hong Cuc died May 6 of complications from COVID-19 at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center. She was 87.

a close up of a person wearing a hat: Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen, seen here holding the Vietnamese flag at the Mary Treglia Community House in Sioux City, was a native of Vietnam and a leader in the city's Asian community. © Provided to Lee Enterprises Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen, seen here holding the Vietnamese flag at the Mary Treglia Community House in Sioux City, was a native of Vietnam and a leader in the city's Asian community.

Hong Cuc was born April 11, 1933, in a community about 50 miles south of Saigon, Vietnam. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Saigon and a master's degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. After returning to Vietnam, she earned a doctorate.

a man holding a sign: Flora Lee, a Sioux City community leader, holds a portrait of her friend, Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen, on Sept. 22 at the Rudy and Flora Lee Celebrating Community sculpture project in downtown Sioux City, Iowa. Nguyen, a leader in the metro area's Southeast Asian community, died of COVID-19 on May 6. © Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal Flora Lee, a Sioux City community leader, holds a portrait of her friend, Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen, on Sept. 22 at the Rudy and Flora Lee Celebrating Community sculpture project in downtown Sioux City, Iowa. Nguyen, a leader in the metro area's Southeast Asian community, died of COVID-19 on May 6.

At the time Saigon fell to communist forces in 1975, Hong Cuc was working as a teacher for the Southeast Ministries of Education in Malaysia.

Emigrating to the U.S. in 1981, Hong Cuc arrived in Boulder, Colorado, before beginning a career at the University of Iowa's Bilingual Center. Eventually, she came to Sioux City, where she worked for nonprofit agencies, including Lutheran Social Services and the Mary J. Treglia Community House.

Specifically, Hong Cuc provided translation services in Sioux City for Vietnamese immigrants who spoke little English.

"Hong Cuc did this for free," Tuyen said. "All a person needed to do was ask for help, and she'd do what she could."

This help extended far beyond translating documents and papers.

"If a person had marital problems, family problems, whatever, she'd give you advice," Tuyen said.

According to community activist Flora Lee, Hong Cuc helped Vietnamese immigrants relate to Western culture while giving Sioux City residents insight into Asian culture.

"Hong Cuc served as that bridge," Flora said. "She understood things from both perspectives." 

Hong Cuc was, at times, a mentor, social worker, teacher and friend.

A single woman, Hong Cuc often spent holidays with Tuyen and his family.

"Hong Cuc was friends with my mom and they'd go to (Sioux City's Pho-Mon) Buddhist Temple together," Tuyen said. "Plus, we'd invite her over to Thanksgiving dinners and for our Fourth of July cookouts." 

Long after her retirement, she continued to volunteer her translating services.

"I thought you retired," Tuyen would say to her. "She'd say 'no, I'm too busy to retire.'"

a statue of a man: "Hong Cuc was an advocate for everybody," said her friend Flora Lee, pictured here with the bust of Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen at the Rudy and Flora Lee Celebrating Community sculpture project in downtown Sioux City. © Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal "Hong Cuc was an advocate for everybody," said her friend Flora Lee, pictured here with the bust of Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen at the Rudy and Flora Lee Celebrating Community sculpture project in downtown Sioux City.

In 2016, Hong Cuc was among the Siouxland leaders honored for their lifelong advocacy. A sculpture of her by artist Mark Avery is now a permanent part of the Martin Luther King Transportation Center.

"In my country, the teacher is not only respected by the student, she is also respected as a member of the community," Hong Cuc said in 2005.

"Hong Cuc was such a humble lady and was honored by the recognition," Flora said. "I understand that she would have lunch with her friends at a downtown restaurant and then take them to see her sculpture because she was so proud of it."

Although they spoke on the phone occasionally, Flora said the last time she saw Hong Cuc was at the 2019 Women of Excellence banquet.

"When Hong Cuc was introduced, she received a standing ovation," Flora said. "Nobody was more deserving of recognition than Hong Cuc.

"People may remember her as an advocate for Sioux City's Asian community, but she was much more than that," she added. "Hong Cuc was an advocate for everybody, regardless of who they were or the color of their skin."

Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at ccrowder@dmreg.com.  

Your support makes work like this possible. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Hong Cuc Thi Nguyen was a bridge between new Asian immigrants and the greater Sioux City community

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Des Moines Register

Des Moines Register
Des Moines Register
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon