Kathy Chao Rothberg

Kathy Chao Rothberg, born in Laos, escaped to Thailand, currently living in San Pablo, California.

Video Timeline

Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.

00:00 – Introduction

00:44 – Clip 1
Kathy shares three early memories from her life in Laos: walking with her brothers to her grandmother’s house; being able to start school at the very early age of 3 (thanks to her father’s connection to the school); and leaving Laos at the age of 4.

04:06 – Clip 2
Recalls life as a young child in a Thai refugee camp: dusty, with few resources for games, but they improvised (e.g. beetle fights). Attended Thai school.

06:02 – Clip 3
Describes the process involved in applying to leave Thailand to come to the U.S. They were given refugee status and were flown to San Francisco, arriving as the 4th Mien family in the Bay Area.

10:23 – Clip 4
Entered 1st grade at age 7 at Balboa Elementary School in Richmond, CA, not knowing a word of English.

12:54 – Clip 5
Remembers difficulty understanding directions for getting to another Mien family’s home – and then trying to get back – by crossing a freeway.

16:05 – Clip 6
Reflects on possibilities that having a car opened to them, such as traveling all the way to San Jose (with 9-10 family members packed into the Pinto) to meet and visit with another Mien family.

19:06 – Clip 7
Reflects on challenges faced by other Mien refugee families in ordering food from a drive-in or trying to buy groceries – without being able to read English.

21:38 – Clip 8
Recalls memory of early childhood friend from her neighborhood, who had befriended her, but also wanted her to join in on some bullying of other kids.

22:40 – Clip 9
Shares how several teachers supported her in learning English. One teacher gave her a TV.

24:01 – Clip 10
Credits her parents for the investment they made into their children’s education.

26:53 – Clip 11
Discusses the huge influx of Laotian and Vietnamese refugees in the 15 years following her 1975 arrival in California.

28:09 – Clip 12
Talks about her path into community service, which started through her parents’ involvement in community service.

41:01 – Clip 13
Responds to question on traveling back to Laos, a trip that hasn’t happened yet.

42:26 – Clip 14
Shares her (American) husband’s observation of the resourcefulness of the Mien.

46:57 – Clip 15
Reflects back on her parents’ sacrifices, especially her mother. Stresses importance of respecting parents, even if there are differences.

49:55 – Clip 16
Responds to question on what she remembers about the CIA in Laos, which is limited to CIA personnel coming to visit her father.

50:35 – Clip 17
Talks about importance of refugees – and everyone – understanding their past. Also the importance of our schools encouraging and celebrating diversity.

55:05 – Clip 18
Tells how she sometimes “westernizes” bedtime stories for her children to reflect Mien culture.

55:48 – Clip 19
Responds to question “Is there a question you would like to be asked that we haven’t asked?” by inquiring about the vision for the TOR project.

56:25 – Clip 20
Talks about typical Mien children’s games.

57:22 – Clip 21
Shares her connection with the Peralta Historical Park in Oakland and how the Lau Family organization works with them to restore the park, with Mien senior citizens volunteering to restore the community garden.

59:56 – Clip 22
Continues on youth and community opportunities from the partnership, plus a grant, to set up a kitchen, allowing seniors to cook vegetables from the garden and share with the community.

1:00:46 – Clip 23
Shares about a book recently published that includes interviews with Kathy and her father.

1:01:38 – Clip 24
Recalls that the Cambodian community of Oakland was inspired by the traveling exhibit and requested a Cambodian exhibit.

1:01:58 – Clip 25
Compares dynamics of being on a school board as opposed to city council.

1:03:56 – Clip 26
Talks about her father (Chaosarn Chao) and lessons learned from working with him on community projects.

1:05:31 – Clip 27
Shares what the immigration experience is like when your parents are still connected to “the old country.” Discusses changing ideas on early marriage and marriage traditions. Includes example from her teen years.

1:10:15 – Clip 28
Shares about career paths taken by her siblings and her own journey into discovering what she really cared about.

1:18:31 – Credits

More Interviews

Select another Secret War interview