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Interview with Saksady Xai Song Kham



Saksady Xai Song Kham was born in 1958 in Pak Se Champassak, Laos. He arrived in Minnesota as a refugee in 1980. At the time of the interview he was an active union representative and a dedicated supporter and organizer of the Lao community in Minnesota. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Crossing the Mekong River to escape to Thailand, living in a refugee camp - traveling back to Laos to help his captured family escape - life in the refugee camp - adjusting to American culture - adjusting to the Midwest - building and supporting the Lao community.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Saksady Xai Song Kham 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


Saksady, and his wife Chansay.



Top row from left to right: BG, Karrie, Kimberly, and CJ. Bottom row: Chansay, and Saksady.


From left to right: Saksady, Karrie, and Chansay.

From left to right: Chansay, Kimberly, and Saksady.


From left to right: CJ, Kimberly, Chansay, Karrie, and BG.





Saksady Xai Song Kahm Narrator Pa Yang Interviewer Worthington, MN September 23, 2012

Pa Yang Saksady Xai Song Kham


PY: Good morning. Today is September 23, 2012. I’m here in Worthington, Minnesota. I will be conducting my first interview this morning with Saksady Xai Song Kahm. Can you please state your name for me? SXSK: My name Saksady Xai Song Kahm. PY: Can you spell that out for me? SXSK: S-a-k-s-a-d-y X-a-i–s-o-n-g-k-h-a-m. PY: Can you tell me when and where you were born? SXSK: I was born July 18, 1958. In Laos. PY: What part of Laos were you born in? SXS: I was born in Pak Se Champassak. PY: Can you spell that out for me? SXSK: P-a-k S-e C-h-a-m-p-a-s-s-a-k. PY: Can you tell me about your parents? Do you remember who they are? SXSK: Yes. My parents name Leune—L-e-u-n-e—Xai Song Kham. PY: Is that your father’s name? SXSK: Yes, my father name. PY: Do you remember your mother?


SXSK: Yes, Boudsady—B-o-u-d-s-a-d-y. PY: Songkham. SXSK: Yup. Songkham. PY: Do you remember how your father looks like? SXSK: Oh, my father, he’s very big guy and tall. Not dark-skinned like me—he’s white. Not white American, but he had light skin. PY: Lighter skin? SXSK: Lighter skin. He’s one hundred seven years old. He passed away, I think, two months ago. PY: Two months ago—in Laos? SXSK: In Laos. PY: Did you have the opportunity to attend his funeral? SXSK: No. I went and visited him when he’s still alive, and… I was only thirteen when I left home, thirteen years old. Now I’m over thirty-seven—forty year… PY: You haven’t seen him. SXSK: I haven’t seen him. PY: What about your mom—do you remember how she looks like? SXSK: My mom, she was dark skinned and not too long—short. PY: She was shorter? SXSK: Yeah, she is shorter. PY: Can you describe the environment where you lived in for me? SXSK: Well, you mean in Laos—in Laos I was born in a little, small county, village, what-doyou-call. Very small town. We live far from the city, you know. Very small country, we live by the mountain. Yeah, this is very small. No electric when I was born, though. After I turn six years old, I went school. I started school as a third grader but I had to leave home, go to different town for the other grade level. I went and live in some small town, you know—they start fourth grade till sixth grade. I graduated from high school in Laos. And after that I went to a college in Laos, for four years. That’s my story. 17

PY: Did you know what you wanted to study when you left for college? SXSK: You mean in Laos? PY: In Laos. SXSK: First, before, in Laos, I planned on joining a law school in Laos. They go study about become a lawyer, you know, and you have to go study in French. Yeah, they say all the students; whoever wanted to be there and go must study in French. PY: Can you tell me your experience as a third grader,—how was it like? SXSK: Oh, I don’t have… PY: Do you remember? SXSK: Yeah, I remember playing sports, you know, and running, tracking, that’s all in school there. I live far away from home and I live with the monk. I lived in the temple because the school was far away from home, you know, because in Laos, the schools were far away from the family. I lived with the monks from thirteen years old till, I think, eighteen. PY: So you lived with the monk while you attended school. SXSK: Yeah. I live with the monk. I knew it was the only way for me to be successful, yeah. PY: Wonderful. Can you tell me, as a child what kind of toys did you play with? Or what did you do for entertainment? SXSK: Oh, you mean when I young, or right now? PY: When you were younger. SXSK: Oh, when I young. When I young, there were no toys to play with so I was physically active. There were many games that I liked to play. The kids would sometimes make weapons toys from a bamboo stick, you know. We liked to play fight and throw things around. That’s what we did as children in Laos. PY: Sure, so no toys, SXSK: Yeah, no toys. PY: You had to make your own toys. SXSK: You have to make your own toy and play. We made little toys that would spin by pulling a string—I don’t know how they call that. 18

PY: What kind of materials did you? SXSK: Yeah, you can make by the wood. PY: So, like a spinning ball, kind of thing. SXSK: Yeah, a spinning ball and we play with the rocks something. Yeah, that’s our toy. You born in United States, right? PY: Yes. SXSK: Oh, you don’t know nothing. [Chuckles] And if you born in Laos you should know that kind of game. This is a game that a lot of people play in Laos. PY: Can you tell me about when you enter high school—what was the curriculum like? What kind of subjects were taught in school? SXSK: You mean in Laos? PY: In Laos. SXSK: OK. Well, in Laos the system is different from the United States. You have to study all general education, like science, geography—what do you call it?—geography? You have to learn about accounting, too. PY: What was your favorite subject? SXSK: My favorite subject is math. I’m pretty good in math. PY: Good. What was your first job in Laos, do you remember? SXSK: Oh, yeah. When I fifteen years old—I think seventeen—I still in college. My first job, I was a responding contact person with the army, through a radio. I don’t know how they call it, they call… PY: Like communication operations? SXSK: Yeah, communication operations, my dad was in the army, too. I have two brothers. I have one brother in the army and my dad. My parents had seven children together, you know, brother and sister. PY: Oh, so you have seven siblings. SXSK: Yeah.


PY: Are you the oldest? SXSK: No, I’m four, I think. PY: You the fourth one, down the line? SXSK: Yeah, down the line. PY: How many boys, how many girls? SXSK: Three boys and four girls. No—four boys and three girls. PY: Oh, four boys and three girls. SXSK: Yeah. PY: Where are they now? SXSK: They all in United States. And only one younger one with dad, and I don’t know—I gotta bring him over here or not. He has big family. He has a family, in Laos. PY: So he has a family in Laos now, too. SXSK: Yeah, his family in Laos. He has two kids. PY: Two kids. And he is still in Laos because he stayed behind to take care of your dad? SXSK: Yeah, take care of Dad, and we have some kind like land, you know, property, and maybe he can take over. We have two rice farm, and I think—I don’t know still there or not—we have coffee farm, coffee big, about eight acres, ten acres, for coffee. PY: Oh, so you have a coffee farm? SXSK: Yeah, I have coffee farm. PY: And a rice field. SXSK: Yeah, my dad owned the two farms. After first time I left home, my dad bought land somewhere. He was in the military, he moved a lot. During Viet Nam war, whatever, you know. He knew General Vang Pao. PY: Yes. SXSK: Yeah, he’s a friend, good friend. My dad and my brother, they flew single engine, like airplane, single engine bomber, T-28, what do you call? Yeah. He’s a pilot.


PY: Oh, wow—wonderful! So your dad was a pilot. SXSK: No, my brother. PY: Your brother, your brother was a pilot. SXSK: He flew over Laos, and Viet Nam. PY: During the war. SXSK: During the war with General Vang Pao, yeah. PY: So he worked with General Vang Pao. SXSK: Yeah, my dad knows him a lot. He’s commander, too. PY: So, did you stay in Laos throughout your whole childhood, or did you flee to Thailand after the war broke, or did your family stay in Laos? SXSK: Well, first I came alone by myself, because at that time I was studying military training, too, in that radio thing. After I leave school and my dad got shot; I think it is on—what—1975? Yeah, that is when Communist took-over, on that same day; I had to leave Laos to Thailand. I walk. I walk, cross Mekong River. First time I drive my own motorcycle, and I take off with four people, four friends. After that, I think that all my friends went to different country—one in France, one in Australia, and one in Canada, and me in United States. I walk about one week to get to Thailand, without food for three day. PY: Wow. SXSK: Yeah—that is my story—I will survive. PY: By yourself. SXSK: Yeah, with four guys. PY: Oh, four guys. SXSK: Four guys and we came about midway, you know, we meet some like military. They capture us and took us to stay with them, and I helped them work in the fighting, building the wall when it’s broken through. I think about two, three year in there. PY: So you were also in the war. Did you serve in the military when the war broke out? SXSK: Yeah, I serve about three or four year, I think from 1975 through 1978, I think—’78, ’79, I came here to United States.


PY: So after serving in the military you walked to Thailand, you said. SXSK: Yeah, I walk. PY: And for a week, it took you a week. SXSK: For a week, yeah. PY: Tell me about that experience. SXSK: When I live in jungle; I have a lot of experience in fighting. PY: Did your family stay behind in Laos? SXSK: My family stayed in Laos. My dad got captured, what do you call—yeah. PY: He was captured? SXSK: Yeah, he was captured. PY: Into a camp? SXSK: Yeah, into the camp, I think it was three years before I got him out. Yeah, I felt like a Rambo before [chuckles], you know, going back and fighting. PY: So, you fled to Thailand, but then you came back to Laos? SXSK: Yeah, I go back a lot of time, because we still spend some time in that big mountain over there, you know PY: Wonderful. So, when you returned back to Laos, after you left to Thailand, how was your experience like, coming back to Laos. Did things change already? SXSK: You mean right now? PY: No. Before. PY: Was it hard for you to come back to Laos? SXSK: Yeah, it’s not easy to go back to the Laos. Sometimes we have got to fight, during like a combat, you know, yeah. PY: On your travel back. SXSK: Yeah, on the travel back.


PY: Saksady, did you get married? If so, to whom? SXSK: Yes, I married, Chansay, when I came to United States, in Illinois. PY: Oh, in Illinois. SXSK: Yes. PY: Can you tell me when you decided to move to the US? SXSK: OK. You mean from refugee camp? PY: So, you were in a refugee camp. SXSK: Yeah, I was in a refugee camp for, I think, two, three—from 1978—1977 to 1978. PY: Was this is Laos or Thailand. SXSK: No, in Thailand. In the year 1977 I went and stayed in Thai refugee camp till 1980. PY: In 1980. SXSK: Yup, in 1980. PY: Can you tell me about your experience in the refugee camp in Thailand? SXSK: The experience in the refugee camp—I can’t get out of camp, you know. We were not allowed to work. We just stay in the camp and work hard for family. I traveled back to Laos on many occasions to get the rest of my family out of the country. I was able to get three family members out and the rest after. PY: So you went back to Laos just to go and get your family members. SXSK: Yeah, go get family back. Go get my dad back, my mom, I got him out. PY: It was because he was locked up in the camp? SXSK: Yeah, my dad was locked up and, yeah. PY: Was that hard? SXSK: For them? PY: For them to come out of that camp?


SXSK: Oh, yeah. It’s really hard, because when they see you escape they will kill you, you know. PY: So, if they capture you they will kill you. SXSK: Yup, they will kill you. PY: How did you manage to get your dad out of the camp? SXSK: Well, take me about a year or six months, maybe. I have to go over there and… PY: Did you have people help you? SXSK: Yeah, some people over there helped me. They tried to move them out from the refugee camp in Laos, where they were capture. PY: So, were you able to bring your parents and your family to Thailand, then? SXSK: Yes. PY: Yes. SXSK: Yup, I got all of them—after I got my dad, then I go get my mom. PY: So, different trips. SXSK: Different trip. Yeah, that’s too many trips. It took me about two-three years before get anybody out. PY: Wow. SXSK: Yeah. PY: That’s lots of traveling. SXSK: Yeah, sometime we didn’t come to the Thailand easy, just stay in there, mountain over there, you know, about six month, whatever. Go find out, contact with anybody from village, small town, how to get there. Yeah, is hard for me. PY: So you were able to take everyone back to Thailand with you, then, on your last trip? By the time you were in the refugee camp in 1980, was everyone in your family in the camp, as well? SXSK: Yeah, yeah. I think one brother he got captured, and he’s last person came out from Laos, and he came to the United States. I think 1994. PY: He came to the US in 1994? 24

SXSK: Yeah, and he passed away. He got aneurysm, what do you call it? PY: So he had brain… SXSK: Yeah, brain, yeah—I don’t know what they call it. PY: Disease, was it a disease? SXSK: The blood pop up, like what do you call? I don’t know. PY: Kind of like a stroke? SXSK: Yeah, some kind of stroke. PY: What year did you guys decide to come to the US? In 1980? SXSK: 1980. On April 1980, yes. PY: Why did you guys decide to come to the US? SXSK: Well, my dad knew a fellow by the name of W. John Tucker. He’s work for –USAID, I don’t know, with my dad, you know, like order supplies from American base, you know. And that guy, John W. Tucker, he’s the best friend of my dad. And John W. Tucker, I remember him, because he took me to live with him in American Embassy for three month, in Bangkok. PY: Was the United States your only option, or did you have other countries that you could have gone to? SXSK: Well, that guy, John Tucker, said—I have to send you to United States. I came to the United States in April 1980, I said to John; send me to the place where there is a lot of snow. You know where he sends me? Minot, North Dakota. North Dakota there’s a lot of snow. PY: So you wanted to see the snow. SXSK: Yes, I want to see the snow. When I came from refugee camp, I got only one bag, like military bag, and only one shirt, t-shirt. When I came in April there’s a lot of snow, about six feet here. PY: Oh, my! SXSK: And I have a sponsor. I got put my sponsor name in there sometime, too. PY: Sure. What was your sponsor family? SXSK: Wayne. Wayne and Cathy Holdeman were my sponsors. 25

PY: Holdeman, you said? SXSK: Holdeman, yes. They were very nice. PY: And they lived in North Dakota? SXSK: Yup, they lived in Minot, North Dakota. That’s how I learned how to speak English with them. They teach me everything. They are pretty nice people. PY: When you decided to come to the US, did you come alone? SXSK: Come alone. PY: The rest of your family stayed in Thailand? SXSK: Yes. PY: In the camp? SXSK: Yes. Everybody have their own relationship with United States, like my brother, he’s pilot, he’s work for American army, they can come easy for them. And I work for SGU, for two year for SGU-Special Command Unit, United States—that’s what they call it, SCU. PY: Special Command Unit, you said? SXSK: Yeah, something like that. PY: So you came in April when it was still snowing. How was your reaction to the snow? SXSK: [Chuckles] I don’t want to come out from the plane—it’s too cold, and they bring me the blanket, pick me up. I say—Oh, I want to go back to Thailand. PY: Did you know how to speak any English at all? SXSK: No. PY: No English. How long did you stay with your sponsor family? SXSK: I think its five years. PY: Five years. SXSK: Five years, I go to school, like adult education, right? Like a second language, what they call GED thing.


PY: So, did you obtain your GED in North Dakota? SXSK: Yes. Six months, I get it. PY: Can you tell me some of your struggles you had when you first arrived here, besides the language barriers. Did you have any other difficulties? SXSK: You mean difficult to live in United States? Oh, yes. PY: When you first arrived? SXSK: When I first arrived, and I said—Oh, how I gonna eat food. I didn’t know how to eat bread; I didn’t know how to cook all American food. My sponsor, Cathy, his wife, take me to a store. She said… show me a lot of chicken, a lot of beef, and all kind. I don’t know—I just go pick up four-five chicken, put in the freezer. It’s no lie that I can’t cook—and I just boil it and eat with the bread. [Chuckles] PY: It was tough. SXSK: That was tough. For at least three month. PY: Three months. SXSK: Since I stayed with them, I tried to eat their food so that I will survive. Better than to have no food for three-four day before—I walk without any food, yeah. PY: After you left North Dakota, where did you go? SXSK: I went to Illinois. PY: You moved to Illinois? SXSK: That time when I left North Dakota, I think after I get the GED, right, and I try to take two year at Minot State College. I studied about computer science. I want to learn about computer science. I do a lot of thing in United States, you know. When I studied in Laos, I enjoy studying. I want to learn this, doing that, you know. I almost learn everything. First I want to learn plane, I got license how to fly plane in North Dakota, too. PY: You did? SXSK: Yeah, I have my own private license, like a small plane. I can fly small plane, like a single engine. PY: So, you moved on to Illinois to continue schooling. SXSK: No. When I meet my wife I’m done. I didn’t go back to North Dakota. 27

PY: You didn’t go back. SXSK: No. PY: So, when you moved to Illinois you met your wife and you stayed in Illinois. SXSK: Yeah, and I stay in Illinois. PY: Were there other members from the Lao community in North Dakota? SXSK: No. PY: No one. SXSK: Yeah, they have in Bismarck, but it’s only in North Dakota state I think they have—I can tell, about three family in Bismarck and one family in small town. There weren’t many Lao members who wanted to reside in North Dakota. I don’t know. PY: Were there more Lao members living in Illinois? SXSK: Oh, yes. More people and they had oriental food. First time, in five years that I had the opportunity to eat papaya salad again, and my wife cooked it. The first time I met my wife was when I was in the hospital I said to her during one of our conversation was—I’m so hungry. [Chuckles] PY: How did you meet your wife? SXSK: I played soccer while I was in Minot Air Force Base and we would travel together as a team to play. When I was young I was good and strong. When they had tournaments in Illinois, we would fly over there to play because they have an air base in Illinois. I broke my leg. That’s how I end up in the hospital. The first thing I thought when I saw my wife was—Oh, she look like Lao people. PY: So you went to the hospital. SXSK: Yeah, and she was standing by the field with mom and her sister, watching, you know. But there were so many teams to watch, like twenty team, you know. I remember asking her— Are you Lao? She says—yes. But she’s so young, you know. She’s just look like she’s in high school… I think twelfth grade. She just came from Laos not too long ago. But, I said—Yes, I’m Lao. And I talked to—can you tell me where the hospital is at? She pulls me to the hospital. PY: Oh, she did!


SXSK: Yeah, and I said—I’m lucky I found Lao people around here to help, talk, you know. I was not able to go back home because my ankle were cracked from playing with the guy team from air base from Champaign, Illinois, I think. PY: Champaign, Illinois? SXSK: Yeah, that’s the air force base, where the tournament was held. PY: This was a air force tournament, you said? SXSK: Yeah, the air force tournament. There were many teams from different air force base that travel there to play. That’s how I met my wife. PY: So she took you to the hospital. SXSK: And I met her parents, and they say stay here until you feel better, for one week. Later I tell the team from the air base that I will not be going back with them. It was okay because I don’t belong to the air force, and I can go home by myself, like I buy the bus ticket, to go home. PY: So you said it was easier for you to stay behind in Illinois because you weren’t a part of the air force. SXSK: Yes, they pull me out from the college to play for them. Many of us were not a part of the air force, you know. And after I get hurt and I go to hospital and stayed there, until my leg feel better. And after that I didn’t come back home at all. PY: You didn’t go back home at all? You still stayed? SXSK: Yes. I did not return home. I was still in school, and I did little part-time work with Trinity Medical Center. I also did part-time help with my study about computer operator. I did the key punch with my sponsor. He’s a supervisor, he’s manager for the data processing department over there. PY: The data processing? SXSK: Yeah, data processing in the hospital. I got that job and he trained me to part of the study. Yeah, he’s a computer programmer. PY: So, did you tell them—did you call your host family and tell them you’re not coming back? SXSK: Yeah, I call him, I said—I’m not coming back. I met some friend. I met a lot of people, you know. Before that I had no Lao people at all. I have all American friend and we play game together, soccer and volleyball, go to YMCA. PY: Were they happy for you?


SXSK: Yeah, I got a lot of friend from all the different countries when they go to college over there. Had friends from all over the world, Japan and Philippine. PY: Was your sponsor family happy that you were going to stay in Illinois, that you found friends, or were they sad? SXSK: Yes. She was happy—she said, finally you meet some Lao people. Stay however long you want, and if you want to come back home and school, it’s OK. After that I drop school. Oh, I feel bad. It’s too hard time for me to live in United States without a family support. Even my brother, my mom, my dad—we don’t know where they at. They were in the Philippines, in Thailand. I had a part-time job—do you know how much I got paid—I think it was $2.16, something, per hour. PY: That’s how much you were paid by your first job? SXSK: Yeah, first job. And I make about $85 a week, something, maybe $100-something, but the apartment’s cheaper. Apartment, when I lived in the school dorm, you know, and I think is about $40 or $50, when I go to college. It was much cheaper during that time. I try to take a loan, yeah, they give me the loan for the college, and I already pay off for that. PY: Good. Who did you live with in Illinois? Your wife’s family? SXSK: Yup, the wife’s family. PY: How did they treat you? Were they loving, accepting of you? SXSK: Yeah. They said, they needed help so bad. Eight kids. My wife’s family was so poor— eight kid. Nobody knew how to speak English, and sponsor just put them in an apartment and that’s it. They had a hard time getting food and around for resource. PY: So you were able to help them? SXSK: Yeah, I able to help. No one in the family was married. Nobody was able to help at all. PY: Can you tell me about your experience being new to a different environment—was Illinois different from North Dakota, the environment? SXSK: Yup. Yup, Illinois is different than North Dakota. PY: How long did you stay in Illinois before you and your wife got married? SXSK: It was only a month before I decided to marry the Lao way, you know, because the elders said OK—I looked like a nice person. We lived in Illinois for about five year. Within that five year, Illinois created a few social worker positions to help the new immigrant settle. They needed people like for different company, like IBP, to help people translate English during orientation in company. I help them out a lot. 30

PY: So you got a pretty good job when you moved to Illinois. SXSK: Yup, I got a pretty good job and after that I decided to go to a meat packing plant—over there, and I be trained there, help them train there, and I go on the floor, train people on the floor, too. PY: When did you guys decide to move to Minnesota? SXSK: I moved to Minnesota in 1990. PY: What made you decide to move here? SXSK: I have one brother, he lives in Luverne, and he said—Oh, come over here and bring family over here, maybe, in small town, this area, and everything cheap, like when you buy a house, whatever. Economic change, like living cheaper over here—we decide to come. PY: So, by then you found out that you had a brother that lived in Minnesota. SXSK: Yup. PY: And you moved here for family. SXSK: Yup, for family. PY: Can you tell me what city you moved into? SXSK: Magnolia. PY: Magnolia. SXSK: Yup, Magnolia, Minnesota. PY: And you’ve been here for how many years now? SXSK: From 1990 it’s going to be twenty-two… PY: Twenty-two years? SXSK: Yeah, it is twenty-two years. PY: When you moved to Minnesota was there a different culture shock, or did you feel like it was very similar to your lifestyle in Illinois? SXSK: Well, there was not much of a difference. It is cold in the winter in Illinois, and when we came here, it is cold in the winter too. My two older children Kimberly and Carrie were born in 31

Illinois. When we moved to Minnesota, my wife and I had two more children, I had two boys over here, and I have to decide to stay in small town, maybe the kid can get more good education, better than live in big town. PY: So you had two children in Illinois. SXSK: Yes. PY: So, Saksady, you said your two older daughters were born in Illinois? SXSK: Yes. PY: Can you tell me their names? SXSK: First the older one Kimberly Kay Xaisongkham, and second one is Karrie Ann Xaisongkham. PY: How long did you guys wait until you had your two younger children? SXSK: We live in Illinois when we first marry about the second year and we have first one, Kimberly. PY: Karrie? SXSK: Yeah, Karrie. SXSK: After we moved from Illinois, we move to Minnesota, and we had two boys, CJ and Bg. PY: Can you tell me your children’s, their education experience here in Magnolia. Did they face any struggle in school? SXSK: Well, I have two kids that really enjoy the school around this area. They have nice friends, all kind of friends. They enjoy go to school here and they study hard. PY: Do you feel like schools here in rural area is better than in the city? SXSK: I think, well, I think it’s the same thing. The people that lives around this area’s, most people, they are all nice people. Usually are farmers, you know. We don’t have not too many activities going on, you know. My children would go school and come home. Sometimes they play some sport. They enjoy the game. PY: Can you tell me more about your position as the president of the Lao temple here in Worthington?


SXSK: Well, one of my very first task as the new President was to build the temple, I wanted to try to build an area for youth and elders to come together to appreciate the culture and religion. I wanted this area to make the community better. PY: So is this a very central place for a community to meet together? SXSK: Yup. This is a central place. A lot of people meet together, from about three different States. You know, from Iowa, only maybe eight miles. From South Dakota, maybe half hour and one hour drive. I thought it should be good place build a temple here. PY: So most of the south, southern cities, of Minnesota… SXSK: Southwest. PY: Southwest, all come to this temple to worship. SXSK: Yup. PY: Most of the Lao… SXSK: Most of the Lao people, they come over here. PY: Wonderful! SXSK: Yup. PY: Can you tell me—how do you feel about Minnesota now? Do you feel that this is your home? SXSK: Yup. Feels like home. Feel like home. I cannot live in hot climate places no more. I have to stay nice in cold weather over here. Last—what—thirty-two year when I came here, and stay cold weather all the time. PY: Can you tell me more about your position as a union member, or a union representative? What’s your duty? SXSK: Well, when I became a union representative and union member. I want to try to handle most people, oriental people, to their rights to work, you know, to fight for whatever rights it maybe that they are struggling with, and to become employee. We don’t want companies to push them to work beyond their limits. You could get hurt and they have to find a new job. I help them to find ways to keep their jobs and ways to do their job better. PY: Tell me about your children now—where are they and what are they doing? Do they live in Magnolia or have they moved outside of Minnesota?


SXSK: Well, my children, Kimberly, she is currently living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and she just graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from the University of Sioux Falls. She also has two Associates Degrees from Minnesota West Community College for Surgical Tech and her Liberal Arts. Karrie, my second oldest has finished college from Minnesota State University-Mankato with her Bachelor’s Degree in Finance. She is currently working for Aerotek as a CSA and she gets to travel in her career. My boys, CJ, attended South Dakota State University- Brookings, South Dakota for 2 years. He is currently working for Citi Group as a retention specialist and is enjoying it. And my youngest, last boy just finish high school last year, and he planning to go to college, too. He is planning on saving money first but is also working for Citi Group. PY: Can you tell me one person in your life that has influenced you, that has been a good influence to you? SXSK: One kid, you mean? PY: Anyone, anyone that you’ve met that has influenced you in a positive way. SXSK: Oh, well, I would like to thank my sponsor, and he taught me to learn in different way, you know—how to live in United States, how to handle the problem with the family, take care of the kid, you know. They are good people, Wayne and Cathy Holdeman. They have provided very positive lesson to life. PY: What are you most grateful for in life? SXSK: Well, I’m happy to have a family, and I’m grateful that I can help my community handle problems with regards to family and ways to take care of the family. Yeah, I enjoy and like to help a lot of people around this area, all friends or cousins from all over the place. PY: Tell me about what’s your favorite vacation that you’ve been on. SXSK: Vacation? PY: Where have you gone that you’ve enjoyed? SXSK: I like to go vacation, whenever I have time, I would like to go visit Laos. When I have time, I like to visit relatives from Oregon, Hawaii, and Florida. That’s where we all are! Some of the cousins live around this area like North Carolina, South Carolina, specially my niece—when they graduate from here, they move, get a job over there. Sometime, I would get request from them, oh, Uncle, come over to visit us. They would ask for me to visit them because they feel that it is a way for them to pay back for what I have taught them about life. Usually they just tell me that they have purchase a ticket for me to visit them. Yeah, that’s nice. That’s very nice. PY: Can you tell me some of the struggles living down here in Magnolia? PY: Struggles, like hardship in life. Have you faced any struggles? 34

SXSK: Oh, yes. I got last year, oh, we got hard time in big time for family problem, like brother, brother-in-law, uncle and dad—they were all facing their own disease. They each t had cancer and we had to fight, go back and forth Rochester, take them hospital, and that kind of problem. We can’t help it because it was cancer, we didn’t know how even doctor can’t handle it either, you know. There were a lot of family struggles. My wife’s side, too- my wife’s sister needed family support because she was traveling overseas. She traveled to Iraq, Pakistan, and Laos. Every six months and we would take turn with watching her children. Sometimes I would send my kids go help. Sometime I bring the kid here during school time. PY: So you had many travels to Hawaii? SXSK: Well, I have been there two-three time. But my Kimberly spent a lot of time helping her aunt. PY: That’s wonderful that you can have that partnership or that helping hand between family members. SXSK: Yup. Family first. PY: Oh, definitely. Can you tell me about the living conditions like here in Magnolia? What are some struggles that you’ve had with the larger community here? Have you ever faced any discrimination, any racism? SXSK: Yeah, I can’t explain, but sometime they have a lot of problem, but it’s OK, I can handle them. When I become the president here, I knew I had to do the right thing, you know. I have to follow the rule, whatever they need to be done from the city and state, we have to follow that, otherwise we get trouble for that. There’s a lot of tough time, you know. Some people got hard time for me to run. Maybe I do better than them, I don’t know. I handle that. PY: Can you tell me the current projects that you are working on right now at the temple? SXSK: Oh, we try to build big building. I don’t know what English called, like to other people can go over there and pray, you know. PY: Like a hall? SXSK: Like a hall, big hall. We already have the temple that cost the community $40,000, $44,000, and then we are putting in more money to finish this. PY: Wonderful. Do you plan on visiting Laos anytime soon? SXSK: I plan to but not yet. Maybe after the hall is completed. Maybe I need to take a break somehow. PY: Sure. 35

SXSK: Because all kid grows up and I want to go, take a vacation, long trip, long way, go visit homeland, somehow. But, see, we don’t have that kind of money for stuff. PY: Very expensive to travel. SXSK: Yeah, it’s too expensive to travel. PY: Mr. Xaisongkham, I’m going to be concluding the interview soon. Is there any last statement or remarks that you would like to make? SXSK: OK. I would like to thank you for coming to interview me and to let the people who will read my story knows that there are ways to help and support to build this community better. Please, whatever support is great. I don’t want anything, I’m willing to do whatever I can here to become whatever this community needs to be successful. I will continue to try to make something successful, even within the larger communities. By helping people and working within the larger community. During, like, this time of the year. I’m so busy with the help them campaign, like an election year, you know. Even union or president, and I have to go speak out to all the Lao people, come over and help, help them out, too, you know—I don’t know. It works sometime. PY: Well, thank you so much. I had a wonderful time interviewing you this afternoon. I wish the best to you and to the Lao community down here in Worthington and Magnolia. Thank you very much. SXSK: Yeah. Thank you, thank you to you, too.