By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When Dr. Andy Chiem first set foot in the United States 35 years ago, he never dreamed that he would be a doctor.
“I did not know a word of English,” Chiem said in a speech April 26 at the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund (RVCDF) annual meeting, when he was honored with the 2016 Richard McIver Award.
The award is given to individuals or organizations who demonstrate creative, innovative and sustainable business practices, provide impactful community benefits and meet community needs, provide livable wage jobs, and actively participates in community economic development and betterment of the neighborhood.
Chiem immigrated here as a refugee from Vietnam. He said his parents risked everything, so his family could have a better future. “We took our chances in a small boat with 465 other people, to cross the Pacific Ocean, not knowing if we would reach shore safely.” But Chiem said it was worth it to escape a country where “we were given no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, and worst of all, no basic rights as a human being.”
Chiem’s family settled in California and he said his parents instilled in him three lessons that helped him on his journey to success.
“No matter what people say, you must believe in yourself that you can achieve whatever you want to be.”
His father told Chiem that in order for him to catch up with all the other kids in high school, and exceed them, he would have to read three times as much. “If they read one book, I read three,” said Chiem. Soon enough, Chiem did catch up and surpassed all his classmates.
“Failures are nothing more than steps and stones that pave the foundation for you to walk on, and the unwise view failure as an obstacle that blocks their pathway,” Chiem said. He said you never really fail until you stop trying.
Chiem said his father believed that knowledge can be acquired, but compassion comes from the heart.
And that compassion has helped Chiem in his chosen medical profession. “[It has] brought me closer to my patients. They may not see it, but they can feel the caring … and I believe as a doctor, this is true healing.”
A career in the healing arts
While working through school as a truck driver, Chiem experienced pains in his back and rear-end. Upon seeing a chiropractor, he realized that this was a field he needed to explore. The emphasis on prevention and using one’s nervous system to function properly, enabling the body to heal through its own natural recuperative powers, was very appealing to Chiem.
He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and pursued his training in the chiropractic field at Life Chiropractic College West.
Eventually, Chiem made his way to the Pacific Northwest, following a woman he fell in love with, who would eventually become his wife. Chiem opened the Evergreen Clinic in the International District before moving to Graham and Martin Luther King, which was easier to access, with less traffic congestion and more parking.
The new clinic location was in a once-dilapidated building, which Chiem and his wife purchased and renovated, thanks to a loan from the RVCDF.
“We really regard this as an improvement of several magnitudes to this major intersection … and one which the entire region should be very proud,” said Wayne Lau, executive director of the RVCDF. “This is the kind of project which fits the mission of the RVCDF, taking … buildings which are in disrepair or eyesores, and provide funding to create a structure which adds to the surroundings and maximizes economic utility.”
Chiem said his clinic looks like anything but a doctor’s office. He said he remodeled the building into a beautiful sanctuary.
When asked about his goal five years from now, Chiem said, “work, work, work, work.” His passion is to help his native country, fight for human rights. A case in point, in central Vietnam, fish are dying on a massive scale, and locals suspect pollution is the cause. Formosa is at the center of an investigation for dumping industrial waste into the sea water. Fish is an important source of the Vietnamese people’s livelihood, and Chiem wants Formosa to clean up the river and pay for damages.
But he said, “I am only one person, one voice.” Chiem said he needs the support of many others to help his people back home.
Ruth Bayang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.