Street Talk is our ongoing street portrait and on-the-spot interviews taking place at Lao temples, festivals, conferences and events, in all the cities and places we visit. So far we've covered Philadelphia, DC/VA, and Seattle. Check back to see the newest stories we've added and where we're headed next!
When I came to America in 1980, they told me to go on welfare for three years but instead I went to find work. First I worked at a carrot factory, then a chicken factory, and then an auto factory. I worked wherever I wanted.
I came to America in 1981. I worked as a seamstress, it was on Reed Street, I forgot the name of the company. I stopped working a long time ago, dear.
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)
When I came to America, I didn’t work, my husband was very ill for a long time. My children had to work.
Do you remember the year you came here?
In 1983, May.
My first job was in shipping, receiving and packing at C.S. Osborne Company in Harrison, New Jersey. I opened this in 1990. Why my own store? I don’t want to work for anybody else. Just myself.
When I finished high school and joined the Lao Army in Thailand, I got these tattoos for good luck from the Buddhist monks at the temple in Laos. I went back and forth, back and forth from Thailand to Laos. It was 1975, I was 17.
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)
Tell us one thing you know about Laos?
It’s the most heavily-bombed country in the world, and I remember seeing the planes fly over my head as a child.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Can you tell us on thing about Laos?
Are you thinking really hard?
Is there something you like?
Is it the sticky rice?
Oh my is that your phone? But it’s broken!
It still works, it’s still recording! I just need to get your name.
Your name is Hero?
Can you tell us one thing you know about Laos?
My dad was born there.
Kanoi ummm… Well, I’m just Jet, like the airplane.
Jet (right) with Washington D.C. Lao Heritage Foundation youth musicians Ryan, Aaron, Jaden, Hero, & Layla.
My very first summer job was picking strawberries, like everybody else in the Hmong community, with my parents and my cousins. I was 12, I don’t remember much but you know, when you’re young it seems so fun because you’re picking berries, but it was probably really hard work because you had to bend down and pick so much at a time.
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.
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.
My first memory of the refugee camp was waiting for the U.N./Red Cross to come with food rations, and I remember that this other older lady didn’t have any children and my mom would loan me to her because if you had more children you get more food. So once I week I pretended to be her daughter. Whenever I would go with Mae Ba I would get a lollipop, so of course I always wanted to go with her.
Can you tell us one thing you know about Laos?
One of the most, green, lush bamboo-filled, countries - just absolutely breath-taking.
My first summer job in America, was in a clothing factory back in San Diego. I was opening the boxes and folding the t-shirts. After that I was working in the county office of education specializing in juvenile department, and then I went back to school and got into hotel management. I moved to San Francisco and worked as an administrator doing payroll, but got bored very quickly. One day I was helping my Chef, a master chef from France, and he like the way I presented things, so he said I’m gonna recommend you to go to the Culinary Institute of America. So I went to CIA in Hyde Park, NY in 2003, and my major was culinary art. People hired me to do pastries, and I did that for five years. I moved to D.C., that’s how I ended up at Doi Moi, where I am the Chef de Cuisine.