Archive for ‘Refugee’

June 15, 2014

Vietnam War vet run over and killed by his own daughter while pleading with her not to drive drunk

Vietnam War vet run over and killed by his own daughter while pleading with her not to drive drunk

  • Bounmy Rajsombath was a high-ranking member of the Laos defense department during the Vietnam War
  • He was killed Friday when his daughter ran him over as he stood behind her car pleading with her to not drive drunk
  • Rajsombath helped Laotians escape to Thailand while fleeing the murderous communist insurgency
  • In the U.S., Rajsombath worked as a plumber until he was injured 10 years ago
  • After his injury, friends say he would often do plumbing work for free for people who couldn’t afford it

By Daily Mail Reporter

Tragic: Soukvilay Barton, seen here in handcuffs, ran over her father when he tried to keep her from driving drunk

Authorities in Southern California say a 69-year-old man who spent years as a high-ranking member of the Laos defense department helping the U.S. during the Vietnam War was killed Friday when his daughter ran him over as he was pleading with her to not drive drunk.

Riverside police Sgt. Dan Reeves said Saturday that 37-year-old Soukvilay Barton ignored her father’s pleas not to drive and backed her BMW convertible out of the garage, striking him.

Witness say Barton stopped the car after seeing that her father was injured and sat sobbing before being taken into custody.

Bounmy Rajsombath was rushed to a Riverside hospital, where he was pronounced dead Friday night.

Witnesses told police Barton had been drinking and arguing with family members before she got behind the wheel.

Her father reportedly then stood behind her vehicle and she backed the car into him.

A man identifying himself as Rajsombath’s son-in-law tells PE.com that his father-in-law ran a refugee camp in Thailand where people fleeing the communist insurgency in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Evidence: This BMW is the car Barton was driving when she ran over her father

‘He had to swim across the Mekong River to get to Thailand because the communists had come to kill him,’ said the man, who spoke in front of the home with a large American flag above the garage, pe.com reports. ‘They were killing all the Laos military that helped the United States.’

The son-in-law, who asked to not be identified, says Rajsombath came to the U.S. in 1979 with his wife. The couple settled in southern California and had two sons and two daughters.

The man said Rajsombath worked as a plumber until he injured his arm in a fall about 10 years ago.

The son-in-law says that even after his injury, Rajsombath would often do plumbing work for free for people who couldn’t afford it.

‘He was a person that everybody loved,’ he said. ‘He was a very respected man in the Laos community.’

The man declined to speak about what caused Rajsombath’s death, saying only that ‘I’m very sad. I’m sick.

Barton was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and held on $75,000 bond.

 

June 13, 2014

Phila. poet seeks to raise awareness of Lao culture

Phila. poet seeks to raise awareness of Lao culture

Posted: June 11, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://articles.philly.com/2014-06-11/news/50511502_1_south-philadelphia-laotians-catzie-vilayphonh

 

Catzie Vilayphonh at the Wat Lao temple. "I had to find out the history for myself," she says.

Catzie Vilayphonh at the Wat Lao temple. “I had to find out the history for myself,” she says. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)

 

Born in a camp for Lao refugees, Catzie Vilayphonh was an infant when her family was resettled in Philadelphia in 1981.

“Was I 15 days old? Fifteen weeks old? All I know is I was a baby,” she said recently over sticky rice and bitter melon soup at a South Philadelphia restaurant. “I didn’t even know I was a refugee until my 20s.”

Traumatized by their uprooting, her parents rarely spoke of the past.

“I had to find out the history for myself,” said Vilayphonh, who graduated from Central High School in 1998 and a few years later, with her stage partner, Michelle Myers, a Korean American, achieved acclaim as spoken-word poets with their in-your-face performances as Yellow Rage. The duo toured colleges and were featured on HBO.

Now Vilayphonh, 33, a marketer for the Philadelphia apparel company UBIQ, has thrown herself into Laos in the House, her multimedia project to spotlight a Southeast Asian community with a lower profile than the better-known refugees of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Funded with a $25,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation, she hopes to debut Laos in the House with a three-day festival in Philadelphia next year.

The project, which takes its name from a poem by Vilayphonh, has three components. It will collect and archive digital stories about the Lao diaspora in America. It will create a Smithsonian-style exhibit to be displayed at the city’s Asian Arts Initiative and the Barnes museum. It will showcase performances in Philadelphia by Lao American artists.

In 1990, the U.S. Census counted 878 Laotians in Philadelphia. Nearly a quarter-century later, according to the State Department, 3,268 Laotian refugees live in Philadelphia. The U.S. total is about 250,000.

Kounesone Vilayphanh, president of Wat Lao Phouphaphammarm, a Buddhist temple on 20th Street near Washington Avenue, estimates the city’s Lao-descended population at 5,000.

Vilayphanh, who is unrelated to Vilayphonh despite the similar spellings, said he was happy to learn about Laos in the House and only wished the community could be more supportive financially. “Day-to-day donations” to the temple are just enough to keep it going, with little left over, he said.

Seeking wider support through the Internet and other outreach, Vilayphonh says her project will put the region’s Lao community on the map. Her goal: an extravaganza to make people say, “You have to come to Philadelphia. You have to see this in person!”

Traveling the United States to perform Yellow Rage, she visited Minneapolis, where she found a large and inspiring Lao presence.

“For the first time I performed my poem  ‘You B  ring Out the Laos in the House’ and people got it,” she said. “I didn’t have to break it down.”

The poem, which takes about nine minutes to present, includes verses about Lao ethnicity, culture, and cuisine, including fried grasshoppers and ant-egg soup.

Speaking about one of her favorites, fertilized duck eggs, in which the embryo is boiled alive and eaten in the shell, she says: “In Laos we call it khai look. . . . On TV, everyone calls it ‘That episode on Fear Factor.’ “

The poem also includes a spoofy riff on people who try to guess her nationality.

“Oh my Gawd, your hair is so pretty! Where are you from?” she mimics, channeling a Valley Girl. “Let me guess, I’m really good at this. You’re Filipino. Oh, no, no, wait, wait wait. You’re Hawaii. No, no, no. Give me one more try. Thai. No? What the [expletive] are you then?”

The poem includes a stanza about her first name. To be successful in America, someone told her mother, children need easy-to-remember American names. Her mother didn’t know any.

“Someone said ‘Cathy.’ My mom heard ‘Catzie,’ ” and the rest is history, said Vilayphonh. Her sister, who was born in Philadelphia, is named Judy.

Raised near Fifth and Ritner Streets, Vilayphonh completed Central High and enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia intending to move on to Temple University but never did. At the Asian Arts Initiative she met Myers, who became her stage partner, and their careers took off. Five years ago Vilayphonh’s daughter, Aditi, was born. She is a single mother.

Steeping herself in history, Vilayphonh learned how during the Vietnam War, the United States bombed Vietcong resupply routes that ran through Laos, covertly supported the royal Lao government against the Communist Pathet Lao, and in the process displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“The bombing caused the diaspora, so America invited us in,” she said, adding that the reception of the refugees wasn’t always warm or easy.

Laotian American Bryan Thao Worra, 41, author of several books of poetry, met Vilayphonh in Minnesota a decade ago.

Living near Los Angeles now, he said the relatively small size of Philadelphia’s Lao community was no barrier to Vilayphonh’s goal of advancing the Lao American narrative.

“It is not necessarily so that the biggest communities are where the biggest voices come from,” he said. “It’s precisely the smaller communities where we have seen the best work emerge, asking the classic questions: Who am I? Where am I from? How did I get here?”

 mmatza@phillynews.com 215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

June 2, 2014

Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity

 

Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity

 

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://missoulian.com/news/local/class-of-big-sky-senior-daughter-of-laos-immigrants-embraces/article_09bc20f8-e9f7-11e3-a0d2-001a4bcf887a.html

Big Sky High School senior Iaong Vang is already on the way to achieving some of her goals upon graduating, spending time working on stem cell research at the University of Montana. The 4.0 student plans to attend UM for premed and a biochemistry degree, and from there to medical school.

If Iaong Vang’s parents had not immigrated to the U.S. from Laos, the Big Sky High School senior likely would not have been allowed to attend school, let alone be set to graduate Saturday.

“I take this seriously,” Vang said about partaking in opportunities offered to her through school.

Her father earned a mathematics degree despite a language barrier between English and Hmong, she said.

“I believe that I can do that as well because I’ve had more opportunities,” she added.

One opportunity has been to do research at the University of Montana, where she spends several hours two days a week in a lab working to control what stem cells grow into and how frequently they reproduce.

Chemistry and biology are her loves and avenues through which she hopes to change the world.

“It’s like a key I can open new doors with,” said Vang, who’s the second youngest of seven siblings.

The 4.0 student also has participated in the Key and Respect clubs, is president of Health Occupations Students of America and a member of the National Honor Society.

In the fall, she will attend UM for premed with the goal of earning a biochemistry degree.

After medical school, Vang said, she plans to be a pediatrician.

“I’ve always loved kids. It breaks my heart to see them sick,” she said.

Helping her sister as Bardet-Biedl syndrome has taken its toll on her body through the years, especially the past year, solidified Vang’s desire to go into medicine.

On Saturday, the sisters will earn their degrees at the same time and Vang said she’s glad to have been able to help Kouchi achieve her goal of graduation.

For several summers, Vang also volunteered as a tutor for kids with minority backgrounds.

Many of them also have Hmong heritage and it helps her reconnect with her roots, Vang said.

When she was young, Hmong was her first language. Now, though, she said she regrets losing fluency. Interacting with the younger children helps her remember, she said.

Vang also attends cultural activities and performs traditional dances.

“It’s something I can’t feel doing anything else and that’s why I love doing them,” she said.

Regardless of what Vang is doing at any given time, her attitude is positive and it’s that attitude that makes her a natural leader in the classroom, said Brandon Honzel, who has taught Vang in two science classes and helped connect her with UM.

“She gets along with everybody,” Honzel said, adding Vang regularly helps other classmates with research and problems.

Her positive attitude rubs off on other students and teachers alike, said Dave Jones, who has taught Vang three sections of chemistry.

“It carries over into just the oomph and drive she brings into the classroom,” Jones said.

When she hits a challenge, Vang doesn’t give up, he said. “She takes a step back and re-evaluates it and gets some perspective on it.”

Vang genuinely values learning new things, he said.

“She’s one of our best,” he added.

Vang said after medical school she ultimately would like to return to Missoula, where she has felt welcome in school and in the community, including when she helps her parents sell vegetables at the farmers market.

“It’s just a sense of welcoming,” she said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2014 missoulian.com. All rights reserved.

May 27, 2014

Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history

 

Proposed memorial in Elgin to mark Lao military veterans’ place in history

 

By Melanie Kalmar For Sun-Times Media May 19, 2014 1:10PM

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://couriernews.suntimes.com/photos/galleries/27541600-417/proposed-memorial-in-elgin-to-mark-lao-military-veterans-place-in-history.html#.U4TpsSiiWvw

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Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Forgotten heroes will be remembered on July 19 when, for the first time, Lao-American Veterans Day will be observed in Illinois.

On that day, thousands of soldiers and airmen from Laos, a country bordering Vietnam, will be remembered for fighting alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to stop the spread of communism.

The date itself is significant because, on July 19, 1949, the Lao government received its independence from France and formed its own army.

The Lao soldiers, secretly recruited and trained by U.S. armed forces, rescued downed pilots, protected U.S. outposts and engaged in guerrilla warfare. In the fight for freedom, they were injured, tortured and killed. For some, their alliance with the United States resulted in them becoming prisoners of war, starved and forced into hard labor.

When the allied forces left Vietnam, the Lao soldiers, after 15 years of aiding the U.S. military, escaped with their families to refugee camps in Thailand.

“We were given rotten fish, chicken bones,” said Lao veteran Em Ramangkoun. “There were thousands of people and not enough food.”

The lucky ones gained entrance into America through sponsors from not-for-profit organizations.

Once here, they formed the Lao-American Veterans Organization to help one another become acclimated to their new homeland. They learned English at the YMCA and took job skills training courses at nearby community colleges.

To make the first Lao-American Veterans Day even more meaningful, the organization is raising money for a memorial garden and plaque to be placed in Elgin’s Veterans Memorial Park, behind Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave.

“We want to make sure the next generation to come knows why we are here,” said Souvanthong Thanadabouth, wife of Lao veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth. “We stood by the U.S. Army to fight communists. We want people to remember that.”

Thanadabouth took a breath, to prevent her words from coming out as sobs, before recounting her young family’s daring escape from Laos across the Mekong River into Thailand.

“We lost everything in Laos,” she said. “When we came to the U.S., my kids only had two pairs of clothes each.” She gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter, in America. Adults now, they all earned college degrees.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to this country, it’s the same story, more or less,” said one Lao-American veteran who chose to remain anonymous.

“The lesson future generations can learn from it is, they shouldn’t be fighting,” he said. “There should be no war. Live peacefully, and everybody will be happy, no matter where you live.”

The proposed memorial would be inscribed with the logo of the Royal Lao Army between the U.S. and Lao Flags, and the words, “In Memory of the Lao Veterans who fought side by side with the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War 1961-1975.”

With $4,000 more needed to make the memorial a reality, the organization is reaching out to the community for contributions. To donate, people can make checks payable to the Elgin Community Network, P.O. Box 6520, Elgin, IL 60121, or give online at elginveteransmemorial.org.

Members of the Lao-American Veterans Organization, who fought alongside the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, hope a memorial marking their place in history reminds future generations to live peacefully. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Members Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generationsMembers Lao-American Veterans Organizatiwho fought alongside U.S. Military during Vietnam War hope memorial marking their place history reminds future generations

Souvanthong Thanadabouth her husbLao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth stbefore proposed site Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Souvanthong Thanadabouth and her husband, Lao-American Veteran Bounnhot Thanadabouth, stand before the proposed site of the Lao-American Veterans Memorial. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

 

March 30, 2014

Minnesota: State Capitol monument to Hmong-Lao veterans is moving forward

 

State Capitol monument to Hmong-Lao veterans is moving forward

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/253056851.html

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 – 5:26 PM

We support the Hmong and Lao memorial for our children, so they know our history,” Vu said.

“We’re here in America, the land of freedom, because of the sacrifices made by our elders,” Yia Michael Thao, the son of a soldier who fought on the U.S. side, told the committee.

Jim Ragsdale 

The old Hmong soldier’s voice broke as he told of coming upon American pilots in the smoking wreckage of their plane or helping evacuate a chaotic CIA base as the dominoes were falling in Southeast Asia.

Xai Paul Vang, 65, of Cottage Grove, spoke in the hallway of the Minnesota State Office Building last week, evoking memories of the “Secret War” in his native country of Laos in the ’60s and ’70s.

And explaining why a patch of ground in the Minnesota State Capitol Mall means so much to him.

“Every year in the last seven years, he has come to the location where it is designated for the monument, to honor it,” said an interpreter as Vang spoke. Even if he dies before it is finished, Vang feels “his spirit will be there. That is designated for him and all the Hmong-Lao veterans.”

The past was very much in the present in the crush of legislative business a few feet away. The House Committee on Capital Investment heard a pitch for a long-planned memorial on the Mall to the Hmong and Lao veterans and their families, who have been part of the fabric of St. Paul and the Twin Cities since the wars ended in 1975.

“We’re here in America, the land of freedom, because of the sacrifices made by our elders,” Yia Michael Thao, the son of a soldier who fought on the U.S. side, told the committee.

The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are considering a proposal to spend $450,000, combined with another $150,000 to be raised privately, to build the memorial. This is the second go-round for the project, which once fell short of private fundraising goals.

This time Thao, who serves as finance chair for the project, said $130,000 has already been raised. It has been greenlighted by Gov. Mark Dayton and in an initial capital bill proposed by the House committee chair, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. It has moved through a committee in the Senate, where its champion is Sen. Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul, also a Laotian-born son of a Hmong soldier.

The soldiers’ story links steamy Laotian jungles with icebound Twin Cities neighborhoods. The CIA secretly recruited hill-dwelling Hmong and lowland Lao to find fallen pilots and hold back North Vietnamese troops operating in Laos. When the communists took over and U.S. allies fled, St. Paul became a beacon for resettlement.

The Capitol Mall is already a sea of stone and bronze ghosts, including Christopher Columbus and Leif Erikson (each honored as “Discoverer of America”) and memorials to veterans of 20th century wars, women suffragists, fallen police officers and firefighters and Minnesota workers. A state tally lists 20 existing memorials and statues.

2015: 40th anniversary

The new project, to be located near an existing Vietnam War memorial, would be dominated by an 8- to 9-foot bronze plant known as the “vigorous sprout,” with petals bearing images of the war, the escape from Laos and resettlement. It also will include stone walks with traditional needlework designs, plantings of Minnesota grasses and the words “Sacrifices for Freedom” engraved in stone.

If approved this year, the monument could be built in 2015, the 40th anniversary of the end of the war.

Two other centers of Hmong and Lao immigration, Sheboygan, Wis., and Fresno, Calif., have erected memorials in public places, and the U.S. government placed a small plaque at Arlington National Cemetery. It appears this would be the first such memorial on the grounds of a state capitol.

As the new generations of Hmong-Americans get further away from the wartime trauma, ex-soldiers like Charles Vu, 67, of St. Paul, want to make sure they remember how they got here. Vu said he was based at the secret air base at Long Cheng — the same one Xia Paul Vang helped evacuate — and served from 1968-75. Like his brothers-in-arms, he has many stories to tell.

“We support the Hmong and Lao memorial for our children, so they know our history,” Vu said.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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