Archive for ‘Refugee’

August 15, 2014

Monument honors Lao American veterans

 

Monument honors Lao American veterans

Melanie Kalmar
For Sun-Times Media

Aug. 6 2 p.m.

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://couriernews.suntimes.com/2014/08/06/monument-honors-lao-american-veterans/

Chin Keomuongchanh (from left), Em Ramangkoun, and Jerry Turnquist show off the monument honoring Lao American Veterans in Elgin’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Chin Keomuongchanh (from left), Em Ramangkoun, and Jerry Turnquist show off the monument honoring Lao American Veterans in Elgin’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

On his first visit to Veterans Memorial Park in Elgin, Em Ramangkoun’s son asked him, “Why isn’t there a memorial for you?”

When he answered, “I don’t know,” a seed was planted that sprouted an effort among Ramangkoun, and fellow Lao American Veterans of the Vietnam War, to make it happen. The group appointed Chin Keomuongchanh, a retired member of the U.S. Navy, to oversee the project. As a child, Keomuongchanh was among the first group of Lao refugee families to arrive in the U.S. in the mid-1970s and, among the first of their children to graduate from Elgin High School in 1980. “The memorial became my personal conviction,” he said.

During the Vietnam War, fought from 1961 to 1975, thousands of soldiers and airmen from Laos, a country bordering Vietnam, were secretly recruited and trained by the U.S. military to help prevent the spread of communism. They 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 unspeakable conditions in refugee camps. 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.

It took two and a half years, from the time Keomuongchanh and his group started working with local leaders and government agencies to erect a monument, until its unveiling on July 19, the first Lao American Veterans Day. Illinois is the only state in the country, and Elgin is the only city, to proclaim this honorary day, thanks to the efforts of Keomuongchanh and his colleagues. The date itself is significant because on July 19, 1949, the Lao government received its independence from France, and formed its own army.

Made possible with $12,000 in donations from the public, collected in just 8 months, the memorial marks Lao Vets place in history and reminds future generations of the “Secret War.”

“We want the American people to know that the relationship between these two countries didn’t start today,” Ramangkoun said. “During the Vietnam War, we had a working relationship with this country. When the war was over, we came here and no one knew why we were here. We came here because of the war. While here, we became good citizens, good neighbors.”

At the unveiling, a solemn hush came over the crowd as they watched 39 Lao American Veterans, dressed in combat fatigues, march in formation for the first time in more than four decades. The emotional ceremony brought back memories too painful for many Lao Vets to revisit, and a sense of gratitude for the freedom, education and opportunity in America.

Of the approximately 250 people who attended the event were members of the Lao American Veterans Organization of Elgin, as well as chapters from Georgia, Tennessee and Wisconsin, the Cambodian Veterans of Illinois, Buddhist monks from local temples, dignitaries, friends and relatives.

Keomuongchanh’s job did not end that day. He is now working with the U.S. Department of Education, to make the “Secret War” part of the curriculum at schools, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to obtain burial rights for Lao American Veterans at the country’s national cemeteries.

“Without their contributions to the war, think about how many more names would be added to the Vietnam Memorial,” said local historian Jerry Turnquist.

On a recent visit to the monument, Em Ramangkoun smiled, remembering the day his son asked the pivotal question he was then unable to answer. “Now my dream has come true,” he said.

Chin Keomuongchanh, civic engagement program director with the Lao American Organization of Elgin (left), and local historian Jerry Turnquist, were among the many people who worked hard to make the Lao Veterans Memorial a reality. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Celebrating a monument in honor of the Lao American Veterans who fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War are Lao Vets Soukanh Chan Thammauong (from left), Prince Chandetka, Thongone Vongphakdy, and Em Ramangkoun. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Veterans Memorial Park in Elgin now boasts the first monument in the country honoring Lao American Veterans. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

Chin Keomuongchanh, among the first Lao refugee families to arrive in the United States following the Vietnam War, oversaw placement of a memorial honoring Lao Vets in Elgin’s Veterans Memorial Park. | Melanie Kalmar~For Sun-Times Media

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

 

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