Steve Ly, born in Laos, escaped to Thailand, currently living in Elk Grove, California.
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
Steve Ly remembers leaving Laos “like in a dream” in “bits and pieces.”
02:21 – Clip 2
Reflects on earliest memories of being in camps in Thailand. Describes housing and separate cooking quarters.
02:53 – Clip 3
Shares that father was an officer under General Vang Pao. This was the “secret army” that was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.
05:57 – Clip 4
Reflects on the family’s placement in Gardena, California, a community with Japanese and Koreans.
10:20 – Clip 5
Remembers starting kindergarten in Los Angeles Unified (150 3rd Street School) not speaking English and with no language support available.
12:37 – Clip 6
Recalls stories shared by his mother and father.
16:40 – Clip 7
Explains politics in Laos during Vietnam War. Parents were constantly moving to avoid enemy factions.
19:17 – Clip 8
Shares his interest in the “Secret War” started in high school. He’d always thought of his father’s stories as “cloak & dagger.”
26:57 – Clip 9
Comments on and describes “beacons of freedom,” such as the United States, Australia, Canada, France. His dad shared that all his friends who helped in the journey were Americans.
28:39 – Clip 10
Shares journey to America – and the fear that many Hmong refugees had of coming to America, “the land of the giants.”
30:49 – Clip 11
Recalls that his family came to America with $5 – the foundation for their start in America, where education was available. Steve’s family did not have educational opportunities in Laos beyond elementary school. His father, therefore, could not go beyond rank of captain.
34:44 – Clip 12
Emphasizes need to tell whole story about a war. For the Vietnam War, we currently omit story of “Secret War,” General Vang Pao, the Hmong, Mien, Khmu. The Vietnam War did not just occur in Vietnam.
37:53 – Clip 13
Reflects on fleeing Laos, which required burying and leaving behind almost everything. His dad kept a Nikon camera that was given to him by the CIA in order to document the bombing happening.
47:28 – Clip 14
Realized seriousness of possibility of staying in Thailand or splitting family and coming to America. Father realized that Communist forces would seek out and kill any who served with the U.S.
52:20 – Clip 15
Recalls the journey out of Laos. To prepare, mother cut bamboo to serve as lunch pail. They stuffed cooked chicken into the bamboo. They left with only what they could carry.
58:32 – Clip 16
Changed family names to lowland Lao names, which were associated with Communist. Mom had to get rid of traditional Hmong clothing and switch to Lao clothing.
1:07:07 – Clip 17
Discusses his family arriving in Thailand and discusses the irony of fighting in Laos to have a say in the government to then escape to a refugee camp that was “like a prison”.
1:09:23 – Clip 18
Explains camp life in more detail focused on food, discusses being hospitalized in the camps and being malnourished.
1:13:43 – Clip 19
Concludes that the short stay his family endured in the refugee camp, one year, was due to his Father’s service to the military and that they arrive in the US in 1977 nearly right after the war.
1:16:09 – Clip 20
Describes being part of the last generation that was born in the “old country” and explains the importance of preserving these stories.
1:16:48 – Clip 21
Explains war and its legacy, especially the impact of war on communities, people and the environment.
1:20:51 – Clip 22
Recounts the story of an African-American neighbor Ms. Ernie who helped the family when they first arrived in the United States.
1:24:31 – Clip 23
Discusses how his Father, who used public transportation to attend adult school was harassed and mistreated on a daily basis by a young person who made fun of him.
1:30:04 – Clip 24
Describes his experience as an elementary student in Clovis, Ca and how he was bullied because he was different – he was picked on and also excluded which led him to be quiet and stay off the radar.
1:35:11 – Clip 25
Explains the significance of Laos as a battleground for South East Asia. The Ho Chi Mihn Trail crossed into the Hmong homeland.
1:39:31 – Clip 26
Describes being born in Xieng Khouang, a province that is notable for a series of sandstone and granite jars.
1:41:27 – Clip 27
Discusses the physical size of Xieng Khouang indicating it is large but sparsely populated.
1:42:19 – Clip 28
Explains that he would like to return to Laos, but is fearful because his Father was an officer and there could be repercussions.
1:44:39 – Clip 29
Explains why he ran for the school board.
1:46:54 – Clip 30
Discusses the on-going military issues that continue to plague Laos because of Hmong rebels who still want to continue to fight.
1:49:30 – Credits
The below photos were provided to us by Steve Ly.