Mai Xi Lee

Director II, Social Emotional Learning, Sacramento City Unified School District. Escaped from Laos at age 6. Currently living in Sacramento, California.

Video Timeline

00:00 – Introduction

00:45 – Clip 1
Mai Xi shares earliest memories of Laos and escaping at age 6.

01:47 – Clip 2
Describes packing and hastily joining long line of others making their way to the Mekong River, heading towards Thailand.

03:52  – Clip 3
Recalls perils of the escape by watching for landmines and staying quiet.

05:26 – Clip 4
Describes crossing Mekong on raft, hoping to make it safely to Thailand.

07:26 – Clip 5
Family scrambles to build a shelter in the refugee camp.

08:44 – Clip 6
Recalls communal aspect of refugee camp, along with need to conserve food.

10:58 – Clip 7
Describes application for visa as frustrating process for her mother, who was vetted over and over, often by same person, asking same questions. Eventually sponsored by Church of Christ in Stockton, California.

12:17 – Clip 8
Recalls tearful good-byes boarding bus from camp to Bangkok. Loved the luxury of the plane to San Francisco, with caring flight attendant. Brothers stayed up all night for sodas (their first).

14:07 – Clip 9
Describes stay in San Francisco as they went through processing center. Hotel room had 1 bed for all 5 to share. Mai Xi was conscious of myths told to her about flush toilets and giants that fed on children.

16:20 – Clip 10
Summarizes San Francisco stay as “overwhelming” with all that she was seeing. Family is reunited with aunt, who comes to pick them up.

17:11 – Clip 11
Talks about aunt and cousin driving them to Stockton where they moved into their first apartment.

19:04 – Clip 12
Shares memories of entering 2nd grade at end of the school year, a welcoming experience. Loved cafeteria “sloppy joes.”

21:13 – Clip 13
Describes apartment complex as “2nd refugee camp,” given that residents were Hmong, Mien, Cambodian, and Vietnamese.

25:10 – Clip 14
Starts new school year (3rd grade) going between two schools, neighborhood school and “new comer” school, but, before end of school year, redesignated and no longer needed to attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Remembers school as safe, supporting place.

30:19 – Clip 15
Elderly couple “adopted” Mai Xi, inviting her to stay with them when mom moved to subsidized federal housing. Mai Xi was very involved in school, including orchestra, so being able to remain at same middle school was important to her.

35:19 – Clip 16
Recalls frequent statement: “So you’re from Cambodia.” Had to often explain she was from Laos. Frequently dealt with racist remarks, but felt support of apartment complex community and church more than made up for the negative encounters.

38:13 – Clip 17
Remembers dealing with gender roles: expectations of Hmong daughters to clean and cook vs. school message that women can be anything.

42:48 – Clip 18
Although Mai Xi’s mother adhered to traditional gender role expectations, she did prescribe to early marriage. Mother was adamant that both girls must pursue college and careers.

44:14 – Clip 19
Recalls 11th grade history teacher alluding to Secret War, but it was not in textbook – nor was it covered in college.

45:50 – Clip 20
Talks about her career path. Graduated from Pepperdine with degree in psychology. Taught English for year in China. Returned to U.S. teacher shortage. With emergency credential, taught 4th grade at Mark Hopkins Elementary in Sacramento City USD. Used her psychology background to develop class management programs. Returned to school for masters degree in counseling.

56:21 – Clip 21
Speaks as an “insider” to refugee/immigrant experience and stresses importance of getting to know students’ personal stories. Students need sense of safety and belonging.

58:31 – Clip 22
Shares that biggest hurdle in leaving Laos, to Thailand, to America was not learning the language, but rather trying to understand a new culture, while maintaining her own cultural identity.

1:01:02 – Clip 23
Encourages teachers to have an open heart and mind in embracing refugee and immigrant students. They have tremendous stories to share.

1:01:54 – Clip 24
Expresses some anxiety about returning to Laos. Recently attributed years of terrible fear of water to her experience in crossing the Mekong River.

1:04:31 – Clip 25
Reflects on trepidation that refugees carry via memories of their escapes; for instance, being warned not to step on landmines, on hearing babies cry … and then not. Feels strongly that teachers need to have a sensitivity to the traumas suffered by many students and an awareness of what triggers fears and anxieties.

1:07:21 – Credits