Lan, South Philly

My first job was at a cotton mill. That was 1987, I was 18. It was hard, hard, hard, from 7PM to 7AM. I worked at one company for three years, then left and worked at another company doing the same thing for four years, and then another one for 13 years. After that, I set up my own little shop on 7th street in Philadelphia.

(Pictured with nephew)

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Phoung, Washington D.C.

At the refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, my kids and I came first; my husband joined us later. The Thai police, regarded us very low and looked down on us because we were refugees. Some of us were Generals back in Laos, but they still treated us very low. They bullied us. They didn’t allow us to come in and go out the refugee camp easily. If you had a daughter, they would bother you even more.

(Pictured with her daughter Channapha)

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Aleena, VA

My first summer job I worked as a waitress in a Thai restaurant. It was my mom’s family friend’s. My mom was always like “you have to work to learn the value of money”, I didn’t come from a rich family so very young I had to work. I waited tables, I did everything. And I actually got better at speaking Thai too.

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catzie vilayphonh
Mary, VA

My name is Mary Than, but my Lao name is Rattanaphone Sangbouasy. Initially when my family crossed from Laos to Thailand, we lived there for three years before my father put us in the refugee camp. My mom and dad took a risk and my father was killed for it. It was 1977, I was 8. Being that young, you don’t realize that war was there. You know, you go swimming and climb trees, but I remember at night time the bombs going off, the glares over the Mekong River. My mom would always say, “Oy, hai mon ma sa” - let the war come and let it be over with, because she was tired of moving us from one area to another area. Even though I’m 46 years old, that memory, that part of you it never goes away. That legacy, it’s bad but it brought us all here together.

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Chantala, Chicago

Do you remember your first summer job?

Yeah I do. We did nothing. It was a Mayor Daley Summer Job and it was organized by the Laotian community center in Chicago. They basically collected all the Laotian kids from all the neighborhoods, and we went to apply for the job. When we got the job, we went to the community center and we would play cards and hang out. When the inspector would come to see what we were doing, we would act like we were picking up phones and doing inventory. It was all good, I was only 13 years old.

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Tony, Seattle

My first summer job? Working at a summer art program in Pratt Park in Seattle, Washington doing drop-in programming for inner city youth, anywhere from 5- to 18-year-olds. I was a teaching artist teaching spoken word and creative writing. It was mostly African American, but we served people from different ethnic backgrounds as well.

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned a lot, that areas are definitely getting gentrified everyday, that black would turn white.

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Titus, Lancaster, PA

My name is Titus Peachy. Laos is an incredibly beautiful country with wonderful people who have been through a dreadful war and suffered greatly. And yet I found people there to be so resilient - and very humbling to me as a U.S. citizen - very hospitable and generous in their reception of me into their homes and telling me stories. Often, eating in Lao villages I would be served food with spoons and forks and plates made from U.S. bombs. They took a weapon of war and turned it into an instrument of hospitality and nurturing - a powerful symbol.

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Kingsavanh, Washington D.C.

My first summer job was in San Francisco when I was a foreign student at U.C. Berkley, studying political science. I came the United States in 1973 from Laos, I’m not a refugee. My first professional job was a bilingual social worker, I helped refugee resettlement for 25 years, and then I retired. Then I became a Lao language instructor at Foreign Service State Department, in fact I still do that right now, and I’ve been broadcasting at Voices of America for 3 years.

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