Amid so much happening around us in Iowa and around the world, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, if any exists yet.
It is at times like this, times of reflection that I find it healing to look on the brighter rays of light shed by individuals who make a positive difference in the life of many every day.
I did not have to dig deep because I am fortunate to know several such individuals. Some, like me, traveled far and made Iowa their home.
A humble and honorable man easily comes to mind, Des Moines Police Sergeant Doua Lor. I met him many years ago and I was always taken aback by his calm and kind demeanor, maybe because the expectation is that officers are always serious.
Since the day I met him, no matter where I see him, he takes time to approach me to say hi with a smile in his face, and he does the same with everyone he knows. Sergeant Lor is not only a proud officer, he is also a big family man, and he is an important and recognized member of his community, the Asian community in Des Moines.
Doua was born in Laos, he is a Hmong (half Mongol and half Chinese). In 1975 when the North Vietnam communist regime took over Laos, his father felt forced to seek refuge for him and his family in Thailand, due to his military status and his ties to the CIA.
Even when life was not easy at the refugee camp, his father refused to move his family to a different country in hopes to return home to Laos. After a little over three years, he realized that was not going to happen.
In the summer of 1978, the Lor family arrived in Fort Worth, Texas. Like many refugees and immigrants, life was hard at the beggining, adapting to a different country, a new language, and a whole different set of rules in a new culture.
“I still remember my first day in elementary school; I was so shy and did not talk to anyone, I only knew two words, ‘yes’ and ‘no,'” said Lor.
Like in most cases, immigrant kids learn the language quite fast and can interpret for their parents. Children also learn how to navigate the system and become essential survival members of their families.
Lor recalls, “I learned how to manage my father’s check book when I was nine years old and I started to interpret for the Hmong and Lao community since I was twelve years old.”
Immigrant kids usually grow up fast. Lor finished high school at the top ten percent of his class and started taking a leadership role with the Asian community in Texas when he was sixteen years old.
After graduating, he worked for a company for four years and was able to help pay for his parents’ mortgage and saved money to enroll at Iowa State University for their electrical engineer program in 1990.
Unfortunately, after two years in college, his mom was diagnosed with cancer, which caused Doua to go back and forth to Texas. He told me that during one of his visits, his mom told him, “Son, you don’t have to have a lot of money in life, I want you to pursue your dream of becoming a police officer. With your heart, you will do fine in public service, even if the money is not there. You will find that impacting and making a difference in people’s lives is better than money.”
After Lor’s mother died, he came back to Iowa to pursue his career in law enforcement, becoming a cadet for the Des Moines Police department in 1995.
He became a police officer two years later. After six years working for the city, he was appointed by Chief McCarthy to lead the Asian Outreach Resource Officer program, collecting data of service to the Asian community. In 2007, this outreach assignment became a full-time position with the Neighborhood Base Service Delivery Unit. In 2017, Doua was promoted to Sergeant.
When addressing Covid-19 and how it has impacted the Asian community in terms of the association of the culture and blaming the virus on the Asian community, Doua told me that Des Moines is very different than places like Minnesota, California and Wisconsin. He said relatives shared with him that there is so much racism towards Asians, even some attacks against elderly people.
Lor said he has received phone calls from members of the community because they have heard of those attacks, but he talks through the issue with them and tries to calm their fears.
According to the Human Rights Watch, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racist incidents continued in the U.S, with numerous media reports about attacks and discrimination linked to the virus.
By late April, a coalition of Asian-American groups that had created a reporting center called STOP AAPI HATE said it had received almost 1,500 reports of incidents of racism, hate speech, discrimination, and physical attacks against Asians and Asian-Americans. Government leaders and senior officials in some cases have directly or indirectly encouraged hate crimes, racism, or xenophobia by using anti-Chinese rhetoric.
Sergeant Lor has been recognized and awarded many times by different organizations for his invaluable service to the Asian community and the entire city Des Moines, but one of his most important achievements is a personal one — his family.
He has been married for twenty-five years and has four kids. He takes pride on everything he does, but his bigger pride is being a husband and a father.
Doua is not only a police officer, he is part of the Asian community, he understands their struggle as refugees. He helps every person in need and for that, he has earned the respect not only of his community, but to everyone that has had the honor of meeting him, including me.
I see the humanity in Sargent Doua, his dedication to family and community. I admire how he embodies the honor of his profession and the love for his family. The light is there, not at the end of the tunnel but in the individuals like Lor who approach every day doing good by helping others.
by Claudia Thrane
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