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Interview with Kilamphong Kounlavong



Kilamphong Kounlavong was born in Savanhnakhet, Laos. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Escaping Laos in 1975 - living in a Thai refugee camp - coming to Warroad, Minnesota from Thai refugee camps - Lao community in Warroad, Minnesota - going back to visit family in Laos. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview is conducted in Laotian but the transcript has been translated into English.





World Region



Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Kilamphong Kounlavong Interviewer: Saymoukda Vongsay



Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2012 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.

James E. Fogerty Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans




Kilamphong Kounlavong Narrator Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay Interviewer November 2, 2011 Lao Buddhist Temple, Warroad, Minnesota

Kilamphong Kounlavong Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

- KK - SV

SV: Would you like to introduce yourself, uncle? [In Lao culture, it is polite to address an elder as “uncle” or “aunt”.] KK: My name is Kilamphong Kounlavong, I am now 50 years old and my place of birth was at the village of Phonemouang, a district of Phonedoke in the city of Champhone, within the province of Savanhnakhet, Laos. My education level then was of an elementary school graduate. Before 1975 my occupation was being a farmer. My last address by the time I escaped was my hometown village of Phonemouang, district of Phonedoke, city of Champhone, province Savanhnakhet, Laos. I escaped [the war] along with a group of guerillas. SV: Please tell me what that experience was like. KK: You mean how I escaped? SV: Yes, please. KK: I escaped from the village with a group that was against the Lao government; we joined the guerrilla unit, which had constructed a camp in the jungle to fight the government. SV: You said you escaped alone? KK: Yes, I escaped alone, then joined the guerrilla unit in the jungle and came to Thailand after that. SV: Where was your family at that time? KK: I started my own family in a Thai refugee camp. I actually lived in the camp from 1980 until 1991. SV: Please tell me about your life in the Thai refugee camp. What was your experience? 8

KK: Every one who lived in a refugee camp was living in limitation. You could not go outside or pass the border of the camp without permission, and all the foods were supplied by the United Nations to the camp and then distributed to all of us. SV: Who were the distributors? KK: They were organized of Lao refugee volunteers who were supervised by the Thai officers in the camp, and all Lao volunteers provided the food to one another. SV: By that time in the camp did you meet or reunite with your family? KK: In the camp? Yes. SV: Could you tell me more about that? KK: I met my wife in the refugee camp and was married over there, and then we came to the United States. SV: Would you tell me more? I am interested in [family life] in the camp. KK: How can I truly tell you? Life in the refugee camp and getting married there was not too much fun [with] celebration, but we both knew we loved each other, we understood our situation, because of our culture we just married with a Baci ceremony. Over there [in the refugee camp] was not our hometown in Laos. We left the refugee camp in Thailand to resettle in Warroad, Minnesota, which is my first place in the US. SV: So you had a direct flight to Warroad, Minnesota? KK: No, I first landed in Grand Forks, North Dakota. SV: Did you have a sponsor? If so, who was your sponsor? KK: Yes, our sponsor was an American family who worked for the church. SV: Was it a Lutheran Church? KK: Yes, Lutheran church. You know I have been resettled in this town, and I’ve never moved anywhere else. After having resettled here for about a year, I became employed by Marvin to make the doors and windows. They’re the only big factory in town. There were not many of us at that time, about 30 Lao families here and we worked for Marvin. SV: What is the population of the Lao here?


KK: By now there are about 60 families. And I’ve worked for this company since I’ve been here so of course, I am proud to have a permanent job to support my family. It’s almost been 20 years that I’ve been working with this company. SV: Have you been back to Laos? KK: Yes, once, 5 years ago. SV: How did you felt when you back in Laos? KK: I was excited and very happy to see my parent, my sisters, and my brothers that I’ve missed for years. That’s about it. I’d like to tell you about my home town which is located in the Southern part of Laos. There were plain lands of farms and we lived in the rural area where most people are farmers and they have a good living over there. SV: How many sisters and brother do you have? KK: There are nine persons including me. SV: Could you tell me about them? KK: My older sister died years ago, but I still have my older brother name Southanong and family in Southern part of Laos such as Parkse, Laos. Another one still lives in my hometown, but all the siblings who hadn’t died have resettled in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos. SV: Are you only one from your family who lives in Warroad, Minnesota? KK: Yes, only me from my family. SV: You told me that you’ve never been to a seminar camp, is that correct? KK: Yes, it’s right, because at that time I was a young student, and still lived with my parents. [Mr. Kounlavong motioned for the interview to end.] SV: Thank you for your time.