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Interview with Bounlorm Soumetho



Bounlorm Soumetho grew up in Laos but escaped to Thailand after his land was taken from him at the end of the Vietnam War. He was a former president of Lao Community of Worthington, Minnesota, and at the time of the interview was chairman of the Lao Buddhist Organization of Southwest Minnesota. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Family, marriage, financial struggles, education, unemployment, immigration to Thailand and the United States, Vietnam War, Minnesota's Lao community.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Bounlorm Soumetho Interviewer: Pa Yang



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2013 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980 and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

Ryan K. Barland Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans


Bounlorm Soumetho and his wife, Massa Soumetho.


Bounlorm (center) pictured with his wife, Massa (to his right), and their daughters Xaynhong, Bana, Susandra, Chanhome, Sengdeane, and their granddaughter, Dana Dang.


The Soumetho Family embracing winter in Minnesota. Bounlorm pictured again with his wife, Massa, and their daughters Xaynhong, Bana, Susandra, Chanhome, Sengdeane, and their granddaughter, Dana Dang.





Bounlorm Soumetho Narrator Pa Yang Interviewer Worthington, MN September 22, 2012 Pa Yang -PY Bounlorm Soumetho -BS

PY: Today is September 22, 2012. I am here in Worthington, Minnesota. I will be conducting my interview this evening with Bounlorm Soumetho. Can you please state your name for me, please? BS: My name is Bounlorm Soumetho. PY: Can you spell that out for me? BS: B-o-u-n-l-o-r-m and my last name, Soumetho, is S-o-u-m-e-t-h-o. PY: Thank you. When and where were you born? BS: December 10, 1950. PY: In what country were you born in? BS: Laos. PY: Can you tell me what region of Laos were you born in? BS: At the south end of Laos, at the Si Phan Don Province. PY: Can you describe the area where you were, that you lived and grew up in? BS: The area that I was born are very small islands, only thirty families, but the islands include farming, each family we do have a mini-farm to work for to feed families. We have a temple in there, and there are more islands in the middle of the Mekong River. The islands are very close to the Cambodia and also South Viet Nam. PY: Can you describe your home for me? BS: My home is very poor condition. My mom was a single mom. My dad passed away when I was only twenty-three days, and my dad pass away. We worked at the mini-farm 14

and the house is not very nice. It is not very safe, comparing to the village and the home over there. So I can tell, yeah. PY: Can you tell me about the neighborhood around you, if you can describe to me how the village looks like or the city looks like, how would you describe it? BS: The area where I grew-up in is very different from the city, because the island that I was born is in a suburb, very far away from the city. City of Don Khone to my village is about eighteen or twenty kilometers. But, is not the grassland, because the islands of Si Phan Don Province are many islands. So that’s why that name is Si Phan Don. That means four thousand islands. Yeah, my home village is on the islands. So only thirty families in there and the land are only one-point-five kilometers in length, and only, I would say, about seven or eighty meters across only, but is a little long. PY: So, small. BS: Very small [chuckles] compared to the city. PY: Can you tell me about your mother? Do you remember, or do you know where she was born? BS: I don’t remember when she born. I just remember and recognize her face and on the last visiting my mom before she passed away—she passed away in 1997. So, I went there only about four day and four nights. I took some picture of her, and I forgot to ask her when she was born. PY: So you don’t know the exact date. BS: I don’t know exactly my mom’s birthday. Yeah. P PY: Do you remember what city she was born in? BS: Yeah, she was born in the Champasack Province, but in the Soukhouma District in Champasack Province. It is about thirty-seven or forty kilometers away from the islands where I was born. PY: Do you have any brothers or sisters? BS: I do have my one brother, and he lives in California right now. Other than that, I have three step-sisters. One half-sister and four half-brothers. Because when my mom been support the family, my dad passed away, and later after that my step-father, he is from Kunming, China—he is businessman—and he moved down south to Laos, and so he marry, finally marry, with my mom. So that’s why I got many half-brother and halfsister. PY: Are they all living here in the US? 15

BS: Only one, my full brother, living here. Other than that, they just live in Laos, and some of those die, because the war, the Vietnam War. PY: Can you tell me more about your childhood? Do you still have any memories of what kind of toys you played with as a child? BS: Oh! It is so much different, according to the time that I born, I don’t even have the factory toy. I just have the home-made toy from my dad and my cousin, [Gee-Mao], like a horse. We have to build by the coco tree, palm, to build a horse and put some bamboo to be the—I don’t know how to explain—to be the horn. PY: The handle. BS: The handle thing and we just walk the toy by our legs and playing. Another was homemade boat. We use bamboo tree leaves to put on together and snap together and tie to build the boat, during the heavy rainfall, so we can run the boat around, back, in the front yard and along the neighborhood. Another thing, we have the Makong. Makong is a solid wood that they build, a shape of that is like hard, but we have another knob on the top, so we can tighten more round and round and round, and so we can turn and pull hard to our side so the Makong can rotate. These were all homemade toys for fun. [Chuckles] PY: It sounds very fun. BS: Yeah, very fun. And other than that, we were kids so we loved to just jump around. Many, many thing, many different neighborhood sharing the toy, so I have a lot of fun. And playing with animals, like at my home I got about twenty-nine water buffalo. A lot of work for water buffalo. Each single day my mom tracks back the animal to the farm field, and I can play with the animal. That’s my toy. [Chuckles] Yeah. PY: Wonderful! Did you know who your grandparents were? BS: Yes, I know both sides. My grandparent on my dad’s side, his name is Charn Kou Lee, but I didn’t see his face. I just remember his name. PY: Can you spell his name for me? BS: Charn Kou Lee—C-h-a-r-n K-o-u L-e-e. Charn Kou Lee. And my dad’s mom is Khem Deng, her name Khem Deng—K-h-e-m D-e-n-g. PY: Lee as well? BS: D-e-n-g. Khem Deng. PY: Khem Deng. What was her last name?


BS: Soumetho. PY: Oh, Soumetho. So you never met them but you knew of them. BS: I know my grand-mom, Khem Deng. PY: You know her. BS: Yeah, I met her many time. PY: Can you describe her to me? BS: She’s white skin like me. White clear. She is a middle-size lady. Not too tall, not too plump, and the last time I met her, she was about ninety-three. PY: What about your mother’s parents? BS: My mother’s parent, I only saw my grandma. Her name is Tieng—T-i-e-n-g Thammavong Keo—T-h-a-m-m-a-v-o-n-g K-e-o. And my grandpa, Charn Ma—C-h-a-rn M-a Thammavong Keo. PY: Grandma. BS: She is very skinny and she white skin. The last time I—she pass away when she about eighty-two, but my grandpa pass away earlier than that. I didn’t even see grandpa for both side, but I saw both grandmas on both sides. PY: Can you tell me about the education you received as a child? Did you attend any school? BS: Yeah, just in a public school, high school diploma, 1969, in Don Khong High School PY: Can you spell the high school for me? BS: OK, Don Khong—D-o-n-K-h-o-n-g High School. PY: Do you remember the curriculum that was taught in the school? BS: The curriculum? PY: The different types of class offered? Reading, math? BS: Yeah. PY: What was your favorite subject?


BS: History of Laos I would say at that, yeah. [Chuckles] PY: Why did you enjoy history? BS: Because I love my nation. I had to study hard about the Lao history. Many might come oversea to the US and not remember much history and know where they are from. I believe that it is important to bring the community, to get to know themselves and where they are from. PY: Can you tell me about how your high school looked like—do you remember? BS: High school is on only one floor, straight, and a straight school, not even a section or anything, just straight. PY: Were the teachers strict? BS: Yeah. They expected everyone to study hard. PY: Do you remember what kind of punishment you would get if you did not do your homework? BS: Oh, yeah—stand one leg and fly like a bird at the corner [chuckles] maybe fifteen minute, twenty minutes, and other than that, sitting at the corner—no talk, no friend, no communication. PY: What was your first job—was it here in the US or what was your first job in Laos? BS: My first job is in secretary to work with accounting to support neutrality, our government after Vientiane City. PY: Can you tell me—do you remember how much you were paid? BS: I got 27,000 kip of money. My salary, a month’s salary, I can buy about four bar or six bar of gold at that time. The living cost is very low, so is very comfortable, comparing right now, even living in America, I got paid, currently, $19-something dollars I make, I make $3,000, American dollars, something—comparing that my salary at that time for my first job is excellent pay, yeah. With the good working at the very nice office, I was very comfortable, work with the government, high benefits. And more privacy to support my family. PY: Great. Did you give married? If so, who? BS: Oh, I got a fiancée only, that time. Her name is Tieng Kham. I got one daughter with her. PY: How do you spell her name? 18

BS: Her, my wife? My ex-wife? Tieng Kham. A fiancée —not marry yet. [Chuckles] PY: Not marry yet. BS: No, not marry yet. I broke up because the Communists took the land and I lost my job, my reputation—I lost everything, and they took me to the prisoner camp when I got released from the camp, my fiancée, she change her direction with something else. And grandpa, parent-in-laws, cousin, brother, sister of her sides—they all understood my situation. And that still hurts, still. So that’s why I broke. [Chokes up] So that’s why I broke up. When I got released from the camp I tried to work out with her many time, and it didn’t help, you know. And, finally, I end up with the final decision. I lost everything, right. I try myself hard, but never, never recover, so I escape the land to Thailand, to be free. [Chokes up] There is some political changing, change my life, that time. Um hum. And finally I escape Laos land to Thailand on February 2nd, 1976, to Thailand, and support by my own self with by working with a construction company. I worked very hard. I lived there about for four years and I went back and forth in between Lao and Thai. I return as a volunteer to be a unit organization to support the war, because I want to know exactly what is going, what’s going on about Laos, after the political changed, and I want to learn and study more before I leave the country. Can I be fighting them back or can I seek some way and opportunity to get Lao to be free, something like that. My life during that time was very dangerous. Lots of my friend got killed, because there were bombs spread all over. The communists they found out who were liberals, who are trying to taking back power, and they were looking after, and after, and finally just in my unit, many got killed. So, I don’t feel safe enough, and the third year that I am in at the border of Laos, and I fall in love with Massa. PY: Can you spell her name? BS: Massa? M-a-s-s-a. Massa Soumetho. PY: Can you tell me about your experience being imprisoned? BS: In Laos? PY: In Laos. BS: My experience over there, I work with a carpenter. I study, that is an extra job that I have been learning from high school to support my life, in case something wrong or maybe I run out of the job or something like that, but I’m so lucky that I been working with the secretary of the military function, with the money. Very lucky boy up until that time. But my luck quickly turned over. Life after the Communists took the land was not so lucky no more, and my life became very dangerous. I might have done very bad and dumb thing then. Things that I was not suppose to do, but I have to do. I went to back to Laos. I try to fight back to the North Vietnam, and I study a lot of those in my memory. They took the land after I was released from camp. I broke up with my wife. She turned a 19

different direction, because she fell in love with the Communist party, you know. [Chokes up] And I went to the jungle. I lived in the jungle for about seven months before I escape the land from Laos to Thailand. It was so dangerous. I have a little bit food for daily, to survive on. I worked with a volunteer unit organization, they were my friend. I worked so hard and it was not very safe. So the communist followed us and, they try to kill us. They followed us, and tried to track us. Finally I cannot stay in the land, so that’s why I finally escape Laos to Thailand, and stay in Thailand about almost four years. PY: When you were locked up in the camp, were you treated wrong? BS: I was in the camp for almost a year. I try to follow them, and do what they say. I have to be careful because I lost everything, my reputation, my armed forces, they released it. The government, they took away the power and they punished us to work and track us. We worked every day to support them but without no salary. Work daily, find food for daily, can you eat what you find—you have to find food for your own survival. So they punished us by following them, and finally they believe that my behavior is OK. My age is very young, so that’s what they said to the Communist officer, they said—he is young guy, so he didn’t do any stupid thing for the Lao country. He didn’t have any influence to the government function. That’s why they decided to release me, and the general and commanders of the Vang Vieng Province, he took me, he kept me over there, and finally he released. He supports my family back at home, back in Vientiane. PY: When you were in Thailand, you said that you met your wife Massa. BS: Yeah, Massa. PY: Is she Thai or is she Lao? BS: Massa is Thai. She was born in Thailand, but her parent and cousin lived in Laos. Massa’s parents liked me the most. They had about sixteen or fifteen construction worker working for them but her father—Massa’s parents, they study my behavior for about twoand-a-half years. They decide by themselves, but I never known that. They send Massa away from the local and work at the Ubon Ratchathani City, but the company that they own is, I would say, almost eighty kilometers from Ubon. Almost three years exactly then they gave me the opportunity to think about getting re-marry. They already knew about my story because I shared that my fiancée and I broke up. I will never marry again, I told them! [Chuckles] And they finally told me that they like me the most and that they choose me to be their son-in-law. Massa was away from home in Ubon. Massa’s parents traveled to Ubon and they ask me-I will go Ubon city, do you want come along, do you want go along with me? Oh, I say, yes! Because my brother he bought the rice meal, the rice meal equipment from Ubon. He told me that the—Bounlorm, this rice meal I bought from Ubon—Ubon is very nice, very nice city. I think about Ubon all the time. So finally they took me along to Ubon. When we arrived in Ubon, I asking them—who is this lady? This is my daughter. I didn’t tell you before. [Chuckles] That’s very secretive. Yeah, they didn’t tell! I just knew her other two sisters at home. They are very young. One of them is fourteen and the other one eleven. She is nineteen, yeah. 20

PY: So was she there for school? BS: No. PY: Oh, working? BS: Yeah, working and learning to be a babysitter. I finally met her and never think about marry again, you know? And Massa, I didn’t know how about she felt, if she liked me. I thought—OK, she’s nice. And I’m scared, you know, to get back into a relationship again, to be a couple again. And then her parent finally went back home, and I go along back with them, and they asked me what do you think about Massa? We like you to be a couple. I would like you to be my son-in-law. They say like that. I just think about—let me think about—because I broke already. I still hurt, see. And, finally, I cannot control myself, because parent-in-law they keep tracking me and they love me and they treat me well—they buy things for me. I never asked them, because I lost my home land. I just crazy at that time, you know. I don’t think about money, I don’t think about salary, I don’t think about position, anything, you know—just crazy. I lost control. But they keep watching me. So, finally, the senior citizen of the neighbors, [chuckles] about fifteen or fourteen homes surrounding her parent’s home, they keep tracking both of us to come together, please. Something like that. They pushed my wife’s side, they push me—you guy so are polite and have almost the exact behavior. We would like you to be a young couple. Do you believe me? Finally we trust them, to be husband and wife. I got married with my wife. PY: How do you feel about her now? BS: She is so intelligent. We never broke up. We do have some problems and misunderstandings then, but we never broke. I feel so much comfortable because we are grandpa and grandma now. We have lot of kids. We feel very, very lucky. My life is OK. PY: After you and your wife got married, did you guys stay in Thailand much longer? BS: Yes. We stay there for about three years. Three years later we both had desire to get a better job and I want to stay in Thailand to be a Thai citizen. But thing did not work out good. We needed to have more income but lately the income was hard to support the family, and finally I heard the good news from overseas. A friend of mine wrote to a friend in camp that he’s living in America, and there is more opportunity here. Going back to school, helping your kids go to school, and more success. Everything. Working, nice family and nice land and more opportunity for everything. So that’s why me and my wife asked each other if we should move should we leave the country? And she agreed with me that living in Thailand, income is very low. Not even like Lao, you know, before. Living in Laos before I would say is better than living in Thailand. So that’s why we end up with the final decision, we agree to come to America. PY: How was the process like to come to America? 21

BS: For my family is very easy. Because of my background, my experiencing, my education and also my skill, I have more opportunity to find good thing for family so the international sponsor accepted me and that is why I got the approval to come to America. PY: What year was that? BS: 1979, December 29, 1979. PY: Did you and your wife have any kids yet? BS: Oh, we did. We had two kids, Xaynhong and Banchong (now Bana). PY: Boy or girl? BS: Both girls. [Laughs] PY: Both girls. Wonderful. BS: Yeah. PY: So, you moved here to the US in 1979. Why did you choose Minnesota? BS: I never knew much about Minnesota. I have never learned about America history. The only thing that I knew is that my friend who was with me during the Vietnam War, he was in Minnesota. He wrote to the camp. A friend at the camp told me that—your friend Vixay Ketgnam living over there. And, OK, I decide to go to Minnesota because my friend there. PY: What’s your friend’s name? BS: Vixay Ketgnam—V-i-x-a-y K-e-t-g-n-a-m. PY: So he wrote to you. BS: He wrote to my friend at the camp. PY: He was living in Minnesota, and that he had better opportunity, so you decided to come to Minnesota. BS: Yes. PY: Tell me about your experience or your first initial reaction when you arrived in Minnesota. BS: The first experience. We arrived in Minnesota on December 29, 1979. It shocked me 22

about the weather, it was chilly cold. I saw the white cover over the land, the tree and the prairie, the houses and the brook. I did not see natural resources that were green. It shocks me that the tree turns to brown. I thought those trees, everything completely died. I slowly learned about new thing like that, I asking a friend of mine who lived in Saint Paul—Is those tree died? [Chuckles] They said—No, they will be green when the spring come. They said that. Oh, I can feel better— OK, spring is later, not now. See. And my skill of working—I never had a chance to make any good income because I have to work some hours and take two classes. I got the morning class and also evening class. One is mathematics class, and in the evening I study English. During the daytime, I work parttime at a restaurant. I got $2.50 per hour to working there. [Laughs] $2.50! Yeah, working at the Siam Café. PY: Can you tell me, did you arrive here and stay in Saint Paul, or did you come straight down to Worthington? BS: To Saint Paul. PY: How long did you stay in Saint Paul? BS: I stay in Saint Paul one week, at Kham Sing Soukaroune’s house. I did not know him. Kham Sing—K-h-a-m S-i-n-g S-o-u-k-a-r-o-u-n-e. A week in there, and international, our sponsor, they spread our news through newspaper—A Lao family who flew to Saint Paul are currently have no local sponsor. Who want to be the local sponsor to this family, please come to verify us. The international sponsor made this announcement to Star Tribune, the local newspaper of Twin Cities. PY: Star Tribune. BS: Yeah, Star Tribune. Finally, I got my local sponsor in Mound, around Minnetonka. PY: Minnetonka? BS: Frank Demarco and his wife Joanne Demarco. PY: Can you tell me, where you moved to after you left Saint Paul. BS: I got new sponsor, I lived with them in Mound for about two months. And finally I end up taking more classes. I would like to move up with my education, learning English, to get a great communication, right away, and to study more functioning thing. Better job, so I move to Minneapolis and my local sponsor released me to be free. In Minneapolis, I had no sponsors and so I was on my own for the next nine years. PY: Did you stay in Minneapolis for the rest of the time, or did you move around? BS: Fridley for two years. I lived in Minneapolis for two years. South Minneapolis for about almost five years. 23

PY: What made you decide to move down to Worthington? BS: I got a new job after I graduated from technical college, in Minneapolis Technical Institute. I got a new job in the Twin City area. I worked in several companies during the nine years, but Massa, my wife, developed bad asthma. Her health situation too much complaining and our family practice doctor, they been working on for about five years, and they end up with the condition of the pollution of the huge city like the Twin City. Family doctor suggested us to move away from the huge city like that to mini-town. So that’s why I choose Mountain Lake, Minnesota. My cousin there before, and he knows that situation of my wife is, and so that’s why I move to Mountain Lake, Minnesota for two years. PY: Mountain Lake? BS: Mountain Lake, Minnesota, for two years, and working with Mountain Lake, Land O’Lakes—Mountain Lake Land O’ Lakes Company for two years. Bad condition for her health. And the reason that it bring me to Worthington, the company Land O’ Lakes has been, whole plant’s moved [chuckles] has been moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I got a chance to go along with the company to Milwaukee, but I cannot move because Milwaukee is the same thing like Saint Paul, Minneapolis—the huge city— and that’s why my final decision, after the company remove, I just thinking about how to support my family, because I’m so unlucky person right now. My wife’s got illness; I lose job, and so thinking about. So, I came up with the idea to run my own business, yeah. So that’s why, and moves to Worthington to run my own business. PY: Can you tell me about your business? BS: My business started very, very small— Soumetho Asian Food Market. That is title name of the food market. I have been operating it about eight years, eight years. Kids grown and they more happily with the store. Parent always home, and the kids come home, and the house is next door to the store, so very conveniently to support the kids. They graduate here, they grown here. Oh, then they graduate here, they move away. Some moving away—1997, kids move away from home, and only few left over. Finally, the accident at the store. The electrical charge upstairs, so it turned smoky. It happened at night, so nobody knows exactly, but the police and saw that accidentally the smoky burn at the store, and finally I end up with the business. Kids grown up, moving away, and I try to re-run with the law to get my claim back from insurance company. They don’t support right away. I took me almost two years to get back everything. So, that’s why kids said—OK, I got no business, I got no support from you, Mom, Dad. I have to go and move away from town to go find a job or going with the college. Some of them go college in Normandale College, and some of them just working to support themselves because they over eighteen. And finally I end up, my business like that, and I sold the building to a friend of mine. He is from Chiang Mai Thai. He is a Thai person, come from Chiang Mai, Thailand.


PY: How many more children did you have when you came to the US? BS: Three. PY: Three more. BS: Three more. PY: Boy or girl? BS: All girls! [Chuckles] PY: Can you tell me their names? BS: The one who born in America—Chanhome, C-h-a-n-h-o-m-e—yeah, Soumetho. PY: Is that the youngest one? BS: No, that’s the fourth one. PY: What about the two older ones? BS: The two older one is Xaynhong—oh, oh, sorry—X-a-y-n-h-o-n-g. That’s the oldest one. Second one, Banchong—B-a-n-c-h-o-n-g. The fourth one is Susandra. PY: Sue Sandra? BS: Susandra, yeah. PY: And the fifth? BS: The first one Xaynhong, the second one Banchong, the third one Susandra [chuckles] Sorry! The third one Susandra and the fourth one Chanhome. Chanhome, she was born in America. You got Chanhome, right? The fourth one. And the fifth one is Sengdeane— S-e-n-g-d-e-a-n-e. Asia her nickname—Asia Soumetho. Five children here. PY: Five daughters. BS: Five daughters. PY: You said some left to school, some left to the work field, and you have how many kids are living with you now, still? BS: Only one. PY: Just one.


BS: Yeah, just only one, Sengdeane. PY: After you sold your building and you discontinued doing your business, what did you end up doing after that? BS: I back to the position that I work, like a machine and tool that I learn about at machine tool technology. I back to do the job for factory. PY: What about your wife? Does she continue working? BS: After we lost the job, we lost our business, her health recover. Like the doctor suggested, go live in the suburbs without no huge pollution she might be recover, that’s what they told us. So the first year of the living in Southwestern Minnesota, her health is recovered exactly like they told us. PY: Wonderful. BS: Yeah. So that’s why my wife got the opportunity, and she work with the Campbell’s Soup Company. PY: Campbell’s Soup. BS: Campbell’s Soup in town here, and so after Campbell’s Soup closed their plant, and we closer to get the job with me in Iowa. I lost my business here, and I found my position in Sheldon, Iowa, working for Rosenboom Machine & Tool. PY: OK. BS: I started the job over there and I recruit my wife to get the job the same company, and I been training her at home to get to know technology, the skill that I got. And I got good friends around at the factory over there. They agree that they might help me to train my wife to be a machinist. So right now she is a machinist. PY: Wonderful! BS: [Chuckles] Yeah. PY: So how long have you been with this company? BS: This company over six years, and the other one that I been work for, Iowa company, ten years. PY: Ten Years. BS: Um.


PY: So, did you guys move to Iowa, then? BS: No, we are living here. We pay two different states tax. When annually tax re-file thing, so we have to pay for both of the states. [ Chuckles] Yeah. PY: Wow, so you live here but you work down there, and you come back up here. BS: Yes, yes, yes. Thirty-six miles, one way. PY: Not too far. BS: No, not too far, thirty-six miles. [Chuckles] PY: Can you tell me about your position as the former president of the Lao Community of Worthington? BS: Yes, community needs to get growing. We learn to know each other a little more, and I am the guy who handles business for eight years. After I lost my business, a lot of local Lao people think that I should be selected to do something else, to be a leadership to Lao community, and finally the first election growing up, 1998, and I been working to support the community to get to know local community more, especially out in the white community people. They got everything over here. We want to know, we want to learn more. How can we get close to them? So that’s why I think about to help the public to get growing like that. I put myself more part-time without any pay, volunteer, all the time. Go visit on each department of the city function, go learning about the neighbors, walk door-to-door, our community will get going more here, because Laotian need to get together, because our kids going to school over here so we want to watch them, to help them to get to know more. After the first term, the community is not going as well as we thought, because working only three years, how can the community get to be in good position? Need more time to grow. I got a second term to accept the same position. I got another three years, and I learn quickly at that time, and more people understood something that I want to change. I also reach out to public newspaper and television that we need help. The Southwest Minnesota Foundation, they know me well, they know me more, and they learn to get to know about minority over here. And I got a lot of good friends. Finally, I met city mayor, Bob Demuth, he understood minority. I am a city man. I stand in this position. I have to learn about my town, that’s what he said. So that’s why we make good friends and help us more. Yeah. And law enforcement, they understand more about Lao Community. We bought a building to be the office, to be re-built to be the office, and they saw me stand on Channel Three. Every morning children said—That is Mr. Bounlorm. He is the president of Lao Community, and teacher pointing to kids that he is running the Community to support his community. So, everyone, kids, and finally seniors, mostly senior people, they understood the foundation on the community movement. I got busier, invited to be with the jury, to decide, to help them to judge some criminal thing. I got many times to volunteer to go along with the law enforcement to help kids.


PY: So you were asked by city officials to help make decisions for the city of Worthington, as far as crime rates and what you could do to make the neighborhood safer? BS: Yeah, to be safer, more understanding each other. During my second term my committee members they decided to have temple, talking about something huge. [Chuckles] They appoint me again and ask for my help to build temple. So, that is bigger project. I had to be busy with the Cottonwood County, Jackson County, Rock County, and Nobles County. Drive back and forth, tracking from gravel field to gravel field. Which location? What location, exactly? That is hard. Yeah. So, 2002, on May 2002, we bought a farm to build the temple. We end up with that very old and junky farm. Yeah. We bought a very condemned farm. And then we got the good news from the Buddhist organization that they said they going to send one Buddhist monk over to the Southwest Minnesota to support our temple. And the Buddhist organization volunteer one monk to send over here, but still no temple yet, and we wait for two years. The license from the public is not issue yet to build temple. The Buddha statue and the temple supplies was still on my hand. What should I do? The Buddhist members decided it’s up to me, whatever you can do, you please, keep moving and go on to support the temple. I am showing myself at the zoning commissioner council, and also showing myself at the court to represent Lao community and request to build temple. But, the zone is not for the school or the temple, they said. That’s why it took me almost three years to fight for the temple to be there for right now. Finally, we got approve from city to build temple. That Buddhist monk, he later passed away, because of cancer, and the temple is end up on hold because no monk to support the temple. Is hard, so finally we found another monk for the current time. PY: Did you have many helpers to put the temple together? BS: Yes, the condemned house was junky and need a lot of work. Usually local neighbor from the town right here, they dump everything, house supplies, freezer cooler, television, junk, and old equipment of house supplies. Everything over there, because that house has been vacant about four months. Four months. So we got the whole communities, we got about sixty, sixty-five volunteers every weekend. We brought out a huge meal, big buffet, about six weeks, six weekends. Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, Sunday— about six weeks to make that to be a completely clean there. After two or three months the house and the land completely clean and the house got the extension or remodeling to make it big to fit Buddha statue. PY: Can you tell me about the families here in Worthington? How many Lao families lived here in Worthington when you first arrived here? BS: I would say sixty-five Lao families, but thirty or thirty-five Tai Dam, is an ethnic group. PY: What about now? Do you see a difference—has the Lao community grown since the early years? 28

BS: Our community is growing before, but now get a little bit less, the amount of the Lao family people. The reason is because the big Campbell’s Soup plant has been closed completely closed, the company, and we lost our community members. Not many jobs. And I think—I would say forty-five Laotian family currently still living in Worthington. But Tai Dam family they still living here and don’t move away much. PY: You said which community? Tai Dam? BS: Tai Dam. PY: Is that Thai? BS: They are ethnic group. So we have Laotian and Tai Dam, we are Lao people and all apart of Lao community. PY: Can you tell me more about your position as a chairman for Lao Buddhist Organization of Southwest Minnesota? BS: My position is to keep watching society, our law function, our school district, and also keep watching our own Buddhist organization to keep it safe, following and to protect, not to destroy the agreement with the licensing that the public and the Nobles County provided. So as chairman, I also supported the Buddhist organization, because they are teaching us to make sure that we are in good shape, that they are helping us in the good direction. To be a good temple we must have a good teacher and also good follower. Keep track of them to be in safe place. PY: Have you gone back to visit Thailand or Laos since you’ve been here? BS: Yeah, two times. PY: Can you tell me about those experiences? BS: Those experience or currently in Laos. PY: Sure. BS: Um. Currently in Laos, right now, the situation is so much different from long before. Especially in Champasack. Champasack is a province of south end of Laos that I born. PY: Can you spell that for me? BS: Champasack—C-h-a-m-p-a-s-a-c-k. Southern province of Laos. The situation is so much different because our youth, young generation, move away from local area to Thailand, because the lack of job. They are looking to have the job, and more Vietnamese moving in—about two million Vietnamese living in Champasack now. More Vietnamese 29

cross over to the land, more population of Vietnamese will get grow, and the local community members, like native population of Lao will get smaller, and Vietnamese will control more. PY: Do you know why? BS: The reason is political and for business. PY: So you believe the population of the Lao community in Laos will soon decrease because of the migration of the Vietnamese into Laos? BS: Yeah. Also the job will be more difficult in the near future, because everything is on Vietnamese production, and they are controlling many things. They have Vietnamese business, Vietnamese banker. They have Vietnamese in the factory. So, how can the Lao community in the area, who has been running their own land, support their own land? So that’s why Lao people will get more difficulty to keep their own land in the safe place. Agriculture and business completely in their hands. PY: What year did you go back? BS: 2008 the last time, and 1998. PY: So, you’ve been back twice. BS: Twice. PY: So, many changes over the past thirty years. BS: Yeah, many changes to the past forty years. PY: Forty years? BS: Forty years, yeah. Thirty-seven years. We can call about forty years. PY: Can you tell me about your experience now, here, in Worthington? What are some problems that the community of Lao faces on a daily base? BS: Lao community in Worthington faces, right now, to have the opportunity to bring our local Laotian community members to get to know each other more, to grow more opportunity for work, help our children and stay out of trouble and get better education, to build our community stronger and continue support for temple. PY: Do you consider Minnesota your home now? BS: Yes! Currently, one hundred percent, my Minnesota.


PY: Why? BS: It similar to the Lao, southern part of Laos. It is flat land mostly. Provides more lakes and brook—river? Wildlife. Natural resources. Changing little bit between winter and summer. Chilly cold, but very nice green on summer. Minnesota is the most beautiful and it won my heart. It urging my feeling good all the time, because similar to southern Laos of neighborhood that I born, four thousand islands of the Campasack. Minnesota is my currently home. PY: Wonderful. BS: Yeah. PY: Can you tell me something that you are grateful for in life? BS: I grateful for in life, in life—learning, or teaching myself, better myself, never give up with my education. Planning to read something different every time. Reading, teaching, learning this, learning that, and also the teaching of the Buddha’s words. I completely learn, and I proud myself. I born from very poor family, I would say that. My life had been stuck, very difficult and sad during the war in Laos for years, but finally I found the land of opportunity such like in America. Made me breathe more and brought my heart better—here, I am recover to be a human person of family, to protect our life again, get more education, yeah. So I feel myself grateful for my life, to be living in Minnesota, and living more for myself and my family. PY: How do you feel about being a grandpa now? BS: Oh, oh, hoh! [Chuckles] I’m a grandpa now, because I feel like I am an old guy. I feel I have to be more gently of doing things and working or talking, to be more patient to do things more perfectly. To be a unique of behavior for my family, that I’m a clean one, a clear one, a good one. To be a leadership of my family, to spend my life in America, a freedom land. And to teach my kids to learn after me, and get to know our ancestors. So, I’m so proud, I’m so proud to be grandpa. [Laughs] Yeah. PY: Soumetho—Mr. Soumetho. BS: Yes, yes, Ma’am. PY: Thank you so much for this wonderful interview. Before I end, is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview? BS: To asking this interview, I got to ask that Asian-Pacific organization will keep promoting our minority group like Laotian Community in Minnesota, to get to know together, and I would like to ask for the funds to support. I would like to ask about that because our young generation who born here. We want to keep them informed, keep tracking our community members, especially young generation. We would like to have 31

some special program to support. If the state of Minnesota have some grant to support, I want to learn about that. but to do that we need grant or program to support our community. I very respectful to the Asian-Pacific Organization for many years, but I don’t have a great opportunity to learn. So that’s why my question comes up. If possible, we would like to learn more how the organization can help support us. To get it to grow and to get more successful to bring our young generation on the good track, like education things, keep following our parents, providing them good opportunity, exercising for kids and doing more sport, or doing more program like studying by their own native language, and also study more about their own belief of religion. So, to do that, we have to keep our artists of national dancing program going. Support kids, to make them proud for themselves. To dress their own ancestor uniform, to dance during a New Year’s celebration. So, I have questions about those funds. If I can accept it to provide, to support the community members right here, I want to be a more happily in my own community, but the thing is currently in this Nobles County, we lack of those to support. PY: Lack of funding. BS: Yeah, funding. Our local—they are poor, too. PY: So you want more opportunities, more funding available for—not just the Lao community, but community in general, so that we can, so that you can extend your programs to help the Lao community children and the temple, even, so that the community could be more successful. BS: Yes. PY: Wonderful. And that’s something that would be a great partnership with the council. BS: Yes, yes. PY: And so I thank you, Mr. Soumetho. Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. Thank you for being a wonderful narrator. I wish the best for you and your family and to the Lao Community of Worthington, that we are here to support you and that we are very excited to be here, and thank you so much. BS: You are so welcome. PY: Thank you. BS: Yes, you’re welcome.