In the village of Lang Cat, in Vietnam, many people know of three American cities. New York City, the big one. Washington, D.C., the capital. And Rock Hill, where so many Lang Cat villagers went to live after fleeing the Communist takeover in the 1970s.
"So many families came to Rock Hill, people think it is a huge American city," said Chau Le, who was born in Rock Hill but has been to Lang Cat many times. "You can't blame them. You can't go anywhere there and not find someone with a Rock Hill connection."
And Thursday morning in Lang Cat, at 4:30 a.m. local time there so working people could go to the Catholic church and not miss a day's wages afterward, one of those people was buried. One who fled the Communist takeover, then lived in Rock Hill for three decades and left a legacy that will never perish.
Her name was Nghien Nguyen. She died at age 99, four years after she returned to that village where she was born in 1909 and worked in the market stalls selling dry goods and more. But nobody in Rock Hill ever called her anything but "Grandma" or "Grandmother," or "Bo Ca." Which translated from the Vietnamese, means "Great-grandmother."
Bo Ca was not famous. She spoke almost no English. She was able to get from Vietnam to Guam. She was sent to a refugee camp in Arkansas. Rock Hill's St. Anne Catholic Church sponsored her and her family to come to Rock Hill in 1975. Around the same time, a couple other families from the same village came to this city to start over.
She arrived without a nickel and settled on Izard Street. The children and grandchildren worked in factories and warehouses and restaurants.
"Fortitude, courage, and deep-down faith," the Rev. William Pentis of the Oratory said of the woman he called 'Grandma.' "We Americans take our freedom to work, to get ahead, for granted. She did not."
Bo Ca took care of the house and so many kids. How many people have an obituary that says a woman watched Sesame Street with her great-grandchildren to learn numbers and some English?
One. Bo Ca.
Every day, up Stonewall Street, then White Street, down Charlotte Avenue where the Oratory is that houses the Catholic group of priests and brothers there, she would walk to Mass. Of course, she did not drive. Often drivers would stop and offer a lift. She would accept because this was a city filled with good people whose words she could not understand.
If nobody stopped, she walked the whole way in her Vietnamese clothes, so many inches under 5 feet tall, taking small steps.
The family saved money. Kids, teens and young adults went to school, college at least, then married, started families. Their houses are now bigger, nicer, in this city's subdivisions that grow like weeds.
She was naturalized as an American citizen while in a wheelchair a few years ago. She adorned the chair with American flags.
"She was so proud," Chau Le said.
Some of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, live here still. There are so many doctorates and scientists and successes that counting takes too long. From the seven children, 39 grandchildren, 55 great-grands.
The Vietnamese restaurant on Main Street, "Thi's Place,' houses the hard-working family who fed Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton when they came to Rock Hill. Her grandson and his wife's place.
There's the Rock Hill girl who went to Harvard, and then Oxford, and now goes to Columbia Law School. Her great-granddaughter, Chau Le. Chau's siblings are all successful and educated, too.
"How can I say, express, how much this woman meant to me, my family, others?" asked Chau Le. "It is impossible."
The Oratory and the church have received, still receive, uncountable gifts from this family. There is a plaque on the office door at St. Anne Catholic School, that dedicates that place to this woman and her family.
After a stroke a few years ago, Nghien Nguyen went home to Vietnam. It is not uncommon for immigrants near death to want to be close to the patch of earth they smelled at birth. Family from Rock Hill visited often, at least every year.
The owner of a convenience store, a Vietnamese immigrant named Hoa Pham, asked me: "Have you heard? Great woman."
She pointed out the obituary. Her family in Vietnam was going to the funeral.
A relative? No. But she, too, is from Lang Cat. Vietnamese people from Lang Cat know each other, respect each other's struggle. Thursday, so many people from Rock Hill or with Rock Hill ties were at that funeral in Lang Cat that the cops directing traffic and running the motorcade should have worn RHPD uniforms.
Bo Ca's story is America when America shows, sometimes, that it is truly where the poor, tired, huddled masses can go. A nation of immigrants who make this country so much better: Then their children and future generations do, too.
On May 10, when everybody gets back from Vietnam, there will be a memorial service at the Oratory. Maybe someone will walk there. It is about a mile from Izard Street. But no one else again can walk a mile in Bo Ca's shoes.