For Bing Goei, Jan. 9 holds a special kind of significance. It is the day that changed his life – twice.
The first time was Jan. 9, 1960, when he and his family arrived in the United States. Goei was an 11-year-old boy whose only experience with this nation was through television, watching cowboy movies with his brothers. The trip from Indonesia by way of the Netherlands would bring Goei to Michigan’s West side, setting him up for a successful professional and personal life in Grand Rapids.
It also is the day that he heard about an opportunity to change the way the state of Michigan viewed immigration within its borders. Goei traveled to Lansing Jan. 9, 2014, to talk to his friend from the campaign trail, Gov. Rick Snyder, about a job in Lansing. It would be a position that would take Goei from a relatively quiet life as a business owner to a public figure and spokesman for immigrants across the state.
Goei began his new role as director of the Office for New Americans within weeks of that conversation with Gov. Snyder. The governor had established the Michigan Office for New Americans through Executive Order 2014-2, fulfilling a pledge he made in his State of the State address on Jan. 16, 2014. In this unprecedented role, Goei is chief adviser to the governor and state departments on the formulation and implementation of Michigan’s immigration policies, programs and procedures.
It is more than a job for Goei. It is a passion. It is a calling. It is his destiny. That may sound like an exaggeration, but when you hear Goei talk about his life story, his family and his devotion to immigration issues, you quickly realize how deep his commitment to this post truly is.“The position wasn’t even on my radar,” Goei said, laughing at the suggestion that he might have sought out such a job. “When I got the call between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought it was a joke. I knew Gov. Snyder from when I was running for a state House of Representatives seat; we connected as entrepreneurs and business owners. We kept in touch from there. When I received the call from his chief of staff, I said yes to a meeting.
“I will tell you, I’m a Christian and I don’t believe anything happens by accident. Jan. 9 was the day that we arrived in Grand Rapids as immigrants in 1960. We were on the front page of the newspaper because we were the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in the area” via a church-exchange program, said Goei, who is of Chinese heritage but was born in Indonesia. “I took a copy of that front page and brought it with me. I said, ‘Governor, I don’t know what your plans are; I don’t even know why you chose me. I just wanted you to know that the day we’re meeting, here’s what happened all of those years ago.’ He used that article to announce my appointment on Jan. 31.”