I was asked to create a painting that represented the bridging of cultures and celebrated diversity, and I interpreted this idea pretty literally. I experimented with some new techniques--the faces are carved in deep relief and the river and bridge are textured. The golden stars and copper hearts in the river represent the dreams and hopes and passions of the people.
After serving for years in Viet Nam, Bob returned home and wanted to help people from Southeast Asia who were living in refugee camps. He worked with Catholic Charities, first sponsoring Cambodian refugees in Rochester and helping them transition to American life. (I wish I had taken notes about all the amazing things Bob accomplished.) This program eventually grew into IMAA.
Bun-ly Suy was the very first Cambodian refugee to arrive in Rochester and was one of several people who reminisced about how Bob Jones had mentored them and helped them learn both the small and big things they needed to know about living here. Little things, like when it is appropriate to chew gum and that when you are done, you put it in the wrapper and throw it in the garbage can - not on the ground as was done in Cambodia, because there was no garbage service there. And bigger things, like how to find an apartment, shop for groceries and apply for a job. Bun-ly said that there is an old Cambodian saying: "Do as I teach, not as I do," but Bob taught him he must instead lead by example and that every immigrant must live in a way that the door would not be closed to future immigrants. After he was mentored by Bob, he was hired to teach new Cambodian immigrants all the things he had learned from Bob, and they worked in partnership for many years.
Kieu-Oanh Vu arrived in Rochester from Viet Nam as a nine-year old girl and recalled a few of the funny things she learned from Bob as a young girl, such as the first time she saw white sugar falling from the sky; Bob told her about snow and warned that it would be cold, and he was right. She talked about some of the other ways Bob has touched our community - such as starting the Rochester International Association. He launched many innovative refugee programs, including one for widowed Asian women and their children and one for Amer-Asian children of U.S. soldiers.
It is obvious that Mr. Jones has had an incredible impact upon the lives of not just the speakers, but the HUNDREDS of people who showed up to thank and honor him. From the time we arrived, half an hour before the event, there was an interminable line of people waiting to thank Bob personally for the impact he has made on their lives.
Bob spoke last and recognized the many volunteers who have helped IMAA grow to be the amazing organization it is now and the immigrants themselves who have become integral community members. Bob is battling cancer and spends much time at the Mayo Clinic, where he says he is heartened to see people of all nationalities working in every type of position at the clinic, nearly all of whom have benefited from IMAA.
I am so honored to be have been invited to create this artwork and I am so delighted that it got such a positive reception!