In July 1980, Thom Tran and his family came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam when he was an infant.
His father was a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot who escaped a POW camp. After Saigon fell, the Tran family made it to a refugee camp in Thailand. Soon after that, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Cheektowaga sponsored them to come to America.
The Roman Catholic parish welcomed the Tran family, including Thom, his father, mother, two sisters, brother, and girl cousin, by helping them with everything from food to clothes to a place to live and more.
“My first memory of anything was being in the orange seats, the nosebleeds at the old Aud, with my dad and one of the sponsors from St. Aloysius,” Tran says. “I call some of those sponsors family; they raised us.”
As a measure of his gratitude, Tran joined the US Army Reserves after graduating from Maryvale High School. While attending college at Buffalo State, his unit was called up and deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003, a few days after arriving in Iraq, he was wounded by small arms fire.
The medically retired Tran turned to comedy to help him deal with his PTSD. That decision led him to his career. He made his way to Los Angeles, where he is now a very busy stand-up comic, actor, musician, and midday radio traffic anchor for KNX News. Moviegoers will soon be able to see him in My Dead Friend Zoe, sharing the screen with Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Star Trek Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green.
In addition to all that, Tran is an active veteran’s advocate. He’s the creator of the GIs of Comedy tour, in which stand-up comedians, all military veterans, travel globally to entertain the troops.
While the community unhesitatingly welcomed him and his family, Tran suggests that getting to know a new community member beyond shared interests would go a long way to making someone feel more welcome.
“Learn about them as much as they are trying to learn about you,” Tran says.
Note that Thom will appear in a fundraiser for the International Institute of Buffalo. From Refugee to Comedy: An Evening with Thom Tran will happen on Thursday, September 28.
Welcoming Week is a national campaign and celebration to showcase communities that strive to “be more welcoming places for all, including immigrants.”
Since Buffalo’s nickname is “The City of Good Neighbors,” our theme is Being a Good Neighbor Starts with a Welcome!
Here are profiles of local foreign-born people describing their journeys and how Western New York welcomed them, with the hope that their stories can illustrate the many ways to be a good neighbor.
Were you born in another country? What is your story? How were you welcomed in Western New York? Let us know!