Before investing decades of work in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, Tay Quach grew up in Vietnam speaking Vietnamese as well as Cantonese and Mandarin, as her grandfather had immigrated from China. Tay Quach, otherwise known as Aunty Tay (pronounced like “tie”) in the community, was a housing specialist with InterIm CDA since October 1997 and worked her last day with the nonprofit organization on February 28, 2017.
InterIm CDA has a long history rooted in the neighborhood and, according to Aunty Tay, the affordable housing and community development organization started out as simply some people coming together to serve the community. As the organization developed, their focus on housing emerged.
Recently at the InterIm CDA, phones were ringing, people were being helped, and staff members continued working as Aunty Tay led the way through the hallways to a quiet room where we could talk. She sat down, welcomed questions, and laughed in a way that invited others to smile along as she shared her story.
How did you get the nickname Aunty Tay?
Aunty Tay chuckled as she said, “Every one asks me.” She explained that it started when her niece joined the YMCA, where she was a member. “When my niece would find me, she’d always [call me] ‘Aunty Tay’ and then another Y youth, a friend [of hers], they just followed her way to just call me Aunty Tay.” She explained the name spread throughout the YMCA and that it followed her back to the office, “and then everybody called me Aunty Tay.”
What work did you do at InterIm CDA?
“I come from Vietnam but I’m originally Chinese. So I know Chinese dialogue. I know Mandarin and Cantonese and Vietnamese. Yeah, so I help a lot of immigrants,” Aunty Tay said. “Most of them who come are elders. And they don’t understand and they don’t speak English.”
Aunty Tay continued to share how one of the biggest problems for new immigrants is housing. Living with family is only so sustainable as it becomes crowded, and at the same time securing income is difficult, which would make paying for rent [even more] difficult. “So they come in and apply for subsidized housing or low income housing. And then because we can understand their language, their dialogue, it’s easy communication,” Aunty Tay said.
When asked if there was any work she was particularly proud of, Aunty Tay explained that a lot of her work is simply connecting people with funding that already exists, so, “no.” People look to her as a friend and she looks at them like friends as well.
Community was a common theme throughout the conversation.
What made you stay working in the community for 20 years?
As someone who was also an immigrant, Aunty Tay shared how she struggled when she first came to Seattle. She said she was already over 40 years old at the time and finding a job was difficult while trying to learn English.
She was looking through a Chinese newspaper and saw an advertisement looking to hire somebody fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. “And so I said, oh, that’s my job,” Aunty Tay said.
Adjusting to the work was difficult at first but when she felt she could not do it, Aunty Tay said her friends at InterIm CDA said: “We see you, you can do it. We can teach you.”
“So at that time, I began to have patience in work,” Aunty Tay said. “Later, when you meet a client and you find out the situation and they really need help from someone who can understand their language.” So she would help them solve their problem and when they felt happy, she felt happy too, she said.
Aunty Tay said everyone is like family at InterIm CDA. “That’s why I stay a long time here. Because the agency works like family,” she said.
Do you have any favorite stories from working at InterIm all these years?
“One elder, she [was] a cook in China and then she immigrated here because her daughter [sponsored her],” Aunty Tay said. “So she stayed with the daughter.”
The elder lived with her granddaughter in a narrow room. “But you know how kids sleep, it’s always like some on this side, on that side and that always bothered the grandma,” Aunty Tay said.
After the grandmother said something about this to her granddaughter, the granddaughter’s response was shocking when she told her to leave, Aunty Tay said.
When the elder shared this story with her, Aunty Tay said she explained to her that the education and culture is different here and that her granddaughter was not trying to hurt her but just wanted her own room, like so many other kids at her age.
Aunty Tay suggested the elder start making friends, live more independently, and enjoy her life. She told her, “Your life is changing so you need to change to follow the way of here.”
Now the elder walks with her friends every morning, has long conversations over lunch, and cooks dinner. The days pass by easily for her, said Aunty Tay.
Why do you want to retire now?
Aunty Tay mentioned that memory is important in this work. “When you are young and something’s hurried, you feel, ‘Oh, okay no problem.’” But when you are a little old. When something’s hurried, your heart is like not very comfortable,” she said.
Aunty Tay said the timing was also good as there was someone to take her place. She said she’d like to use this time to take care of her health. “I’m not the people who stay home. Always go out. And enjoy some of the exercise. I’ll go to the YMCA,” Aunty Tay said.
When asked what she would do on her last day, Aunty Tay responded with a smile: “Work!” She still had work to do.