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Interview with Kim Sin

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Kim Sin was born in TakTo, Cambodia in 1977. He started the Cambodian Association of Rochester, Minnesota. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Early life in Cambodia and family - living in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge War - living in a refugee camp - coming to Minnesota - adjusting to living in Minnesota as a child - being behind in school - starting the Cambodian Association of Rochester, Minnesota (CARM) - involvement in the community and assimilating - never quite being treated as an American - accepting his own identity - future generations of children coming to Minnesota - starting a non-profit organization - helping out all people, not just certain groups - judging people fairly.

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Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Narrator: Kim Sin Interviewer: Saymoukda Vongsay

KIM SIN
Narrator

SAYMOUKDA VONGSAY
Interviewer

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 MINNESOTA ASIAN COMMUNITIES ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
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

 

Kim Sin with his family.

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Kim Sin.

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THE INTERVIEW
 

   

Kim Sin Narrator Saymoukda Vongsay Interviewer February 18, 2012 Rochester, Minnesota

Kim Sin Saymoukda Vongsay

-KS -SV

SV: My name is Saymoukda Vongsay. We are in Rochester, Minnesota, and it is February 18, 2012. And I‟m here with Mr. Kim Sin. And we will just dive into the interview. Can you please tell me your name, age, date of birth, and place of birth? KS: My name is Kim Sin, age thirty-five. And I was born on March 20, 1977. And birth place, Takéo, Cambodia. SV: Can you tell me your parents‟ names and where they were born? KS: My mom‟s name is Som Rin and my dad‟s name is Sokhom Sin. And they were born in Cambodia. And my mom was born in Takéo and my dad was born in Pursat. SV: So how many siblings do you have and can you tell us their names? KS: I have five brothers and two sisters. And my oldest brother is named Seachan. And then I‟ve got Vanny, Vanny Sin. Then I‟ve got Jack, he changed his name. It was. . . it used to be Pheap. And then I‟ve got my brother Sophon, and then I‟ve got my brother Mesa. And then for my sisters, I have Vanna Sin, she‟s the oldest sister. And then my youngest sister is Sokha Sin. SV: Okay. Do you remember your childhood in Cambodia? KS: Hmmm. SV: Do you want to tell us a little bit about that? KS: I was born during the Khmer Rouge War, and so it was very hard. And when I knew everything, noticed everything, I was in a Thailand refugee camp it‟s called Khao-I-Dang Camp. And so I did not know much about my country because we were in war and my family had to flee the country for my whole family‟s safety. And so I only know and remember during my time in the refugee camp. And the living conditions and the environment was very. . . different, you know, you‟re given a certain lot, very small. And it‟s just like an open hut, I would say. And with 12

the number of family members, I mean, I had a. . . you know, we all bunched into a bamboo. . . like a bamboo kind of bed with, you know, some wood frame. But it was not like, you know, it‟s. . . it‟s very hard. And so I would be sleeping with all my brothers, you know. And so. . . and days to days, you know, never having enough to eat, especially when I‟m young. And so I always have to scavenge through cans of garbage, and sometimes there‟s good food, sometimes there‟s spoiled food. And my dad, you know, found out that I was doing this. He punished me, he hit me. And it was a disgrace to the family, because the nearby neighbor and everybody talked about, you know, “Oh, you know, Sokhom‟s son went to the garbage digging food.” You know, when you‟re little. . . You know, when you don‟t have enough food to eat, it‟s very hard. SV: Okay. KS: And so, I mean, we didn‟t have anything education-wise. You know, we were very limited. I was too young even to attend school. And even if there were school, I mean, you know, you have to pay some of the teachers. That‟s what I heard, that, you know, you. . . and it‟s supposed to be free, you know, but then sometimes you have to pay under the table to get good grades. And sometimes I heard that you‟re punished. . . SV: And this is in the refugee camp? KS: In the camp, yes. Yes, and so in the refugee camp it‟s very. . . you know, it‟s very hard. And we moved from. . . I would say three refugee camps. From, you know, from Khao-I-Dang and then after that we went to another place. Hmmm. Kap Choeng, and it‟s in Thailand, also. Yes. Kap Choeng. And then after Kap Choeng we went to the Philippines. SV: Oh, okay. KS: And so. . . and, you know, life in Thailand was very, very hard, and very limited with foodwise, you only get. . . You know, each month you get a certain bag of rice and a certain can of, you know, food, like some veggies. And sometimes my mom had to grow, you know, nearby the house that they give, very small. And, you know, like grow lemongrass, onion leaf, anything that, you know, can cut down on spending. SV: Yes. KS: And then the rest. . . either you had to buy. . . SV: Okay. KS: And then when we went to the Philippines, it was a little bit better, you know, because over there you‟re getting ready to come to America. So I was, you know, put into school. It was like a preschool. Well, I was to learn ABCs and. . . 13

SV: So you were still under five years old when you moved from three different refugee camps? KS: Yes. SV: Okay. KS: And so when I was in the Philippines, I was about five years old. And so I was put into a preschool learning, but it was harsh for me because, you know, trying to teach a young kid who doesn‟t know English or is familiar with, you know, the culture. SV: Yes. KS: Because all I see is just, you know, huts, hut. . . it‟s like, you know, and then all I do is just run around. There weren‟t any kind of. . . At the refugee camp there wasn‟t any education that, you know, teaches English or anything, because you never know which country you‟re going. You‟re just. . . so until you get to go like to the Philippines, then you know that, oh, you‟re going to be coming to America. SV: Okay. KS: And so that‟s when they gave you, you know. . . and they sent you to school. You have to. . . you know, you have to be there for six months to a year depending on the process. And we were there for six months. And six months, it was really quick. And I learned, you know, about how to use a stove. And it was very. . . scary. Where they talk, you know, and they say everything is electronic, and you can get shocked, and you can get killed from it. But then there was a good and the negative part. Where the good part is like everything is very easy, accessible. Where if you need to cook, you never need to, you know, start a fire, go to the forest to get a log and start. . . You know, it takes about half an hour to prepare food. Where they talk about in the States you need to, you know, turn. . . to turn oven to cook or stove to, you know, cook the rice, it‟s just in minutes. And you get, you know, fire or there is gas. SV: Yes. KS: But there were a lot of things that they talked really good about America and it was like they showed us big houses. And, you know, compared to what we were living in, you know, huts. . . Or else they gave us a certain part of. . . in the Philippines they have like. . . it‟s similar to like a townhouse, but they only have two levels and there is no bedroom. SV: Right. KS: They only have like upstairs and downstairs. And so there. . . but they were designed like a townhouse, you know. Next. . . next to each other. And then, you know, life was much easier. You get more food. And there was, you know, we can go out to the forest to find other. . . you know, fruit. 14

SV: This is in the Philippines? KS: Yes. SV: Yes. KS: There were certain boundaries that we can‟t pass, and then if you go beyond that, then you‟re. . . you can endanger your life. SV: Yes. KS: So, a lot of times, my brother. . . and he knows, you know, the Filipinos that lived there, and my family exchanged for clothes, rice. And they really appreciated that. And they would bring a whole bunch of, you know, mangoes, fruits, and like animals that they caught or killed there in, you know, in the forest. And that kind of helped our family out. SV: Mmmm-hmmm. KS: And so we stayed there for six months and then we were given approval to come to America. And I moved to Rochester, Minnesota, and stayed here in 1983 on July Fourteenth, that‟s when I came to the United States. And I was so. . . SV: Well, where did. . . which state did you land in first? KS: Minnesota. SV: Minnesota is the very first state? KS: Yes. Yes. SV: Okay. KS: 1983 until. . . almost thirty years. Yes. SV: Yes. Mmmm-hmmm. KS: And just coming here, you know, getting off from the plane and stepping out, you know, from the plane, and just feeling the fresh air. Seeing, you know. . . Seeing the buildings, because we got off in, you know, international. . . Minneapolis International Airport. SV: Yes. KS: And just seeing, you know, the buildings were way different from us. The roads, you know. And then just driving past. . . You know, from each town you can see, you know, the buildings, the houses. I was so impressed just riding in the cars. Like, wow, no more walking, you know! 15

SV: Yes. KS: Where back in the refugee camps or in the Philippines, everything, mostly, you had to walk by. . . you know, for your transportation it‟s mostly with your two legs. Where here, it‟s like, wow! We‟re riding in a. . . in a car. And I got dizzy because I never. . . You know, and I threw up because of it. SV: [Chuckles] KS: I was just getting myself. . . spinning. . . SV: Oh. . . KS: And I was looking through the side window. SV: Mmmm-hmmm. KS: It‟s. . . it‟s hard. SV: Right. KS: And you‟re just. . . shhh, shhh, pretty soon you‟re throwing up and, you know, get sick. I never, you know, that was. . . SV: But that was fine. KS: Yes, but I was just happy to come to the land of opportunity, you know. SV: Mmmm-hmmm. So even at a young age you understood that you were coming to a place that you had opportunities. KS: Yes. Yes, because they were teaching me about, you know, grocery shopping, where you never have to go into the forest to hunt for food. SV: Yes. KS: You never have to go to the forest to pick fruit. You can just go to a grocery place and you can pick up, you know, meat, you can pick up vegetables, fruit, anything. They have a variety of good things that you can. . . you know. I didn‟t know about buying; they said you can get it. SV: Right.

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KS: You know, the. . . because I didn‟t understand then about money, and at that time you‟re young. . . And so when I came here they took me to this, you know, grocery store that they told me about. So I saw a row of fruit. . . SV: [Chuckles] KS: Like apples, bananas, and pineapple. . . I was just picking. . . and started eating. SV: Yes, because you didn‟t understand it. KS: Yes, it‟s like, wow, I just grab. . .! And eating. And then one of the sponsors was like, “You can‟t do that.” And I look at him. It‟s like, why? SV: So that‟s who. . . that‟s who greeted you at the airport? KS: Yes. SV: Was it a Cambodian family? KS: Yes, his name is Mr. Chervy. SV: Okay. KS: I forgot his last name, so. . . Yes, and he. . . SV: Is he a family friend? KS: He‟s not a friend, he was like one of the workers for, you know, for the new settlement. So he came and kind of, you know, greeted us and took us to, you know, get food. SV: Right. KS: Took us to different places. And there was a first Cambodian grocery store in Rochester, too, at that time. SV: Really? Oh. . . KS: Yes, I think they started in 1979. . . that. . . SV: Oh, wow. KS: 1979 or 1980 they started the. . . it‟s called an Asian Food Store and it exists that now, but different owner. Many, many owners. But it was called an Asian Food Store. SV: Who would have known? I didn‟t know that. 17

KS: Mmmm-hmmm. Small town. SV: Yes. Can you. . .? So I know you said that you were so excited about. . . and even at a young age you understood the opportunities that were going to be presented to you when you came. KS: Yes. SV: Can you talk about your childhood experience in Minnesota, in Rochester? For instance, any like cultural experiences that you. . . KS: Yes. Hmmm. When I came here, attending school was very hard, you know, not knowing the education system, not knowing the culture. And usually my mom made me wear the same clothes for five days. The reason, because she. . . you know, it‟s hard for her to wash by hand. So and at that time, you know, you can‟t afford a laundry or, you know, or like a clothes washing machine. It was so expensive at that time, no, we cannot afford that. SV: Okay. KS: And my mom, she has other kids that she had to. . . you know. And so she told me that I have to wear the same clothes for five days. And you know what happened. . . My mom doesn‟t understand what goes around at school. And I didn‟t want to let her know any of these things that was going on. I didn‟t want her to, you know, get upset or. . . especially, you know, stopping me now from going to school. If she knew that somebody was bullying me or picking on me, she would just say, “You‟re not going to school anymore.” And I was in fear of she‟s telling me that you can‟t go to school anymore. So I hide it from her; I didn‟t tell her anything. You know, I was picked on every day. I was. . . you know, during recess it was just. . . like a running for your life. Each day. SV: Mmmm. KS: I get five to six kids, you know, jumping on me, chasing me through. . . And the teacher, they thought that we were playing. You know, they didn‟t. . . because I had a hard time communicating. I didn‟t know what to tell the teacher if, you know, these kids are beating me. And they know the language, so it was easy for them to, you know, kind of lie, saying, “Oh, we‟re just playing.” But for me, I was just like, how do I tell her that this is going on? Now I tried to speak Cambodian to her. She‟d like. . . and I thought everybody spoke Cambodian. SV: Okay. KS: But I didn‟t know that. . . you know, where we speak different languages. And so that was hard. And you know, especially wearing the clothes, I‟d get picked on. They‟d call me stinky, they called me gook. They called me, you know, dog eater, you know, go back to your country, and a lot of name calling. And young kids, you know. 18

SV: Okay. KS: And at that time I didn‟t really know. I just knew that they were just yelling at me. It‟s more, you know, their face expressions showed that they didn’t really want me to be here. SV: Yes. KS: And they‟d give me a middle finger. And I. . . I‟m like, oh, it must be a greeting. So I start giving everybody a middle finger, too. And then like, wow, they‟re greeting me with this. So I was like giving it to my teacher, I‟d give it to, you know, anybody. It was like. . . until my teacher grabbed me on the hand. And it‟s like, why is she mad at me? Other kids do it. Why? You know, what. . .? And then, later on, they had an interpreter, Cambodian interpreter. And they kind of tell me, “This is not good.” SV: Mmmm. KS: “Can‟t do this,” and all that. And then I tried to tell the interpreter that, well, I‟m getting picked on and everything, and I don‟t know if the interpreter knew how to explain all of these things. Where the bullying and the fighting continued, you know. It was like a continuous. . . beating. I was. . . until all the way until fourth grade. You know, and there was a few Cambodians that were in my class. So what do you do? And then later on I got. . . you know, another kid came, so I was able to hang out. And one day I. . . my uncle gave me sleeping clothes, it was like one of those sleeping pajamas. SV: Right. KS: It was all white. And in our culture, you know, clothes is just clothes. You don‟t have your sleeping pajamas. . . Maybe we have clothes that is for special occasions. SV: Right. KS: But to us, we wear our sleeping clothes and our clothes regardless. If it‟s a normal day, we just call it clothes. So my uncle just gave me these sleeping pajamas. You know, it had the white pants and a white, you know, long-sleeved sleeping clothes. And I was like, wow, I‟m actually getting something new. So I was so happy. I couldn‟t sleep that night, you know, I want to show off to my class. And because I always had to wear same old clothes, and it was clothes that was from my brother, it was not clothes that. . . SV: They were hand-me-downs? KS: Yes. SV: Yes.

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KS: So I didn‟t get any kind of new clothes or anything. It was like. . . and at that time it was like you were, you know, wearing the 1970s, you know. . . SV: [Chuckles] Mmmm-hmmm. KS: It‟s. . . it‟s embarrassing. You‟ve got these stripes. And then you have the wide leg. . . SV: Yes. KS: You know. It was like, oh! You look like nerd. SV: So true! KS: I know, they always. . . I think they called me a nerd, but I. . . it was hard, because you don‟t understand English. SV: Right. KS: And so I‟m wearing these clothes, these white sleeping pajamas, you know. Put on my backpack, go and wait on the bus. And then we got these kids that were waiting, too. There was like three or four of them. They‟re just like looking at me. And I‟m like, yes, you know, look at my clothes! Looking good, you know. And some of them were just like putting their mouth over and start giggling. They‟re like, you know. . . I don‟t know what they were talking among their peers. But it wasn‟t a. . . their face expression was just like, this guy‟s going to be a joke here, you know. SV: Yes. KS: I can‟t believe he wore that. Sleeping pajamas to school! I got to school. Oh! It was. . . this was the most embarrassed moment in my life. SV: What grade was this? KS: Second grade. SV: Okay. [Chuckles] KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: That‟s. . . [Chuckles] KS: I know. SV: It‟s alright. [Chuckles] 20

KS: So. . . SV: Hmmm. [Chuckles] KS: Kids. . . Everybody‟s just laughing at me! SV: [Chuckles] I know, I‟m trying to. . . it‟s like. . . it‟s such a funny image. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Like looking back on these things, it‟s just so funny now. KS: Yes. SV: Because you have a better understanding of American culture and whatever. KS: Yes. SV: But were you in any programs that helped you. . . I don‟t want to use the word assimilate, but helped you better become more. . .? KS: Adapted to this culture? SV: Yes, adapted to like the community and the culture. Like did you take ESL or anything like that? KS: They had that in. . . like in the mid-way of my second grade. SV: Okay. KS: They had an ESL program. And Mrs. Taft was my first ESL teacher. And. . . SV: Why do you think they waited so long, until second grade? KS: I don‟t know. I don‟t know if there. . . you know, because there weren‟t a lot of Cambodians or because there were not a lot of people that know how to be interpreters at that time. You know, because a lot of immigration coming. . . You know, to Rochester. And so it was just not enough staff and they didn‟t. . . maybe they don‟t know who to hire or then maybe the person who knows didn‟t know where the job posting is at. SV: Right. KS: So they couldn‟t put me in the mainstream and then. . . you know, I mean, each day is like going and just, you know, watching a Spanish channel, like. . . 21

SV: [Chuckles] Mmmm-hmmm. KS: [Unclear] You know, where you don‟t even understand a word. SV: It‟s so fast. KS: Yes. And you‟re sitting there and people are reading. I‟m just like, what are they doing? SV: Right. KS: Or doing math. I didn‟t even know how to do math. Or I even didn‟t even know how to read, you know, until. . . I was struggling like even fifth grade all the way to eleventh grade. SV: I see. KS: I didn‟t know how to read. I was not told the proper way of reading. And I, you know. . . and I can go deeper into how I started to really. . . understanding. . . to read. And in eleventh grade it was like, I‟ve only got one more year, you know. It was halfway, you know, to the end of eleventh grade. I went to my ESL teacher and I, you know, I told her all these years I‟ve lied to myself, pretending that I am somebody that knows how to read and everything. I memorized, but I never knew how to read properly. SV: Yes. KS: I can memorize the words and I can. . . You know, my memorization was good, but then I wasn‟t good in reading or pronouncing. So I went to her, I go, “I‟ve only got one year and a half left and I want you to help me.” So I stayed after school an hour each day with her. And she told me, “This is how you pronounce the words. Consonant, vowel. . . When you see a consonant, you break. . . Well, you know, consonant, vowel, consonant, break.” SV: Yes KS: And then she‟d say, “Take those. And you try to pronounce those.” And then she said I am the [unclear] she gave me the tip on that. It was like, oh. . . Then after that I wanted to learn. Through all this time, I never wanted to learn. I hate reading. I just couldn‟t read. I didn‟t know how to read. So my mom would say, “Kim, read.” You know, she would tell me to go read an hour. And then I would lie to her, “Oh, yes, Mom. I read.” And she never knew how to ask what was it about, the book. She couldn‟t help me. SV: I see. KS: As long as I, you know, read, she is. . . I would. . . You know, she wanted us to read aloud. And I can read aloud, you know. I can say. . . make up words. She wouldn‟t know. And so she‟d hear that. Okay, it‟s an hour, my son has read, my daughter. . . You know, she made me and my sister do that every day. And then. . . and then, you know, she would say, “Oh, did you. . .? How 22

was the book?” “Oh, good, Mom, you know. I really like it, you know,” and just lying to her about it. But then I realized I was lying to myself. SV: Yes. KS: And I. . . I regret that. And that‟s something that I do not want to see the next generation, if they‟re struggling, if they are having a hard time. . . SV: Okay. KS: I want to, you know, be there to help them and to guide them and to show them the right way and the right path to their future. And I don‟t want them to be. . . you know, to make the same mistake as I did. I know many of our, you know, Asian kids these days are struggling and they don‟t have a place to kind of help them. And that‟s why, you know, I started CARM [Cambodian Association of Rochester, Minnesota]. SV: Yes. Let‟s talk more about. . . KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Let‟s talk more about. . . Because of the struggles that you had to go through. . . KS: Yes. SV: And there wasn‟t necessarily a path that was already made for you. KS: Yes. SV: You mentioned earlier that you feel the responsibility to create those. . . the basis for the next generation. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: And can you talk more about your community involvement? And. . . Let‟s just start with that first. KS: Well, because of my youth, you know, struggle. And I feel like our community is not really, you know, together. It seems like everybody is trying to, you know, look after for themselves. And I don‟t blame them, you know, this is. . . the American culture is very hard. And it takes a lot of time to even understand and try to, you know, be a part of the mainstream. It‟s not easy. And if you don‟t really know and understand the resources, you‟re going to have a hard time. And if you don‟t have the right education. . . and you‟re not going to make it. And the most important thing is to never be afraid of asking or seeking help. And that‟s why I want the Cambodian community to start, you know, asking, and start expressing their voice. 23

And we‟ve been, you know, quiet for many years, for almost thirty years. And then. . . things that happen, nobody‟s willing to speak out, or willing to say something. It‟s because a lot of times I ask the elders, I go, “Why do you not speak out back?” And then they say that during the Khmer Rouge, if you. . . I went to the killing fields and went to the [unclear] line, that‟s where they did all the torturing. They had fourteen amendments that they had to follow. You cannot speak. You‟ll only speak when you are asked. And you do not, you know, talk back. I mean all of these. So they. . . you know, they are thinking that even though they‟re here in America, that there might be. . . somebody might. . . you know, if they talk again, something maybe bad happens to them. So, because of what happened then. . . SV: So there‟s still a fear from there. KS: Yes, because they‟d seen all these killings at that time. People get shot in front of them. People get. . . you know, just killed. . . You know, because of their education level, because of their light skin, and all those things. SV: Yes. KS: Because they were classified as somebody that was successful. And so that‟s why our community, even though when things. . . it‟s still like, it‟s not my problem. I‟m going to learn to be silent. And right now, I‟m telling them, “No. You‟re in America; you‟re going to be safe. You can speak out.” Things that bother you, things that you feel that is not. . . you know, what you think. . . Or how people are treating you, even at work, or anywhere, you need to tell them. SV: Okay. KS: You know, you need to tell them that what they‟re doing, how you are treated, is being unfair. And discrimination, we see that all the time. No matter how hard I try to speak clear English, or how much education I have, I will never be treated the same as an American person. And I. . . even though I‟m a citizen, everything, [an] American person will never see me as American. They‟ll. . . they will see. . . classify me as an Asian. And I‟m okay with that, but. . . SV: So not even Cambodian, just. . . Asian. KS: Yes. SV: Not even. . . no distinguished anything. [Chuckles] KS: No. They fear. . . A lot of the Americans these days or. . . anyone, the fear of. . . Sometimes they‟ll come to me and they say, “Are you Chinese?” And I‟ll be like, “Come on. Do I look Chinese?” SV: Yes. KS: “I‟m Cambodian.” 24

SV: Yes. KS: And like, “Oh, I‟m sorry. I thought you guys look alike.” So the fear of classifying if you‟re Cambodian. . . sometimes they make many wrong guesses. SV: Maybe it‟s safer to just. . . KS: Say Asian. SV: Say it and then be corrected later. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Yes. KS: So they‟re just like, “Oh! You‟re Asian.” And then a lot of, you know, the [unclear] they‟re like, “Oh, you‟re Asian. What part of the country are you from?” So they‟re being. . . trying to be very respectful and not just. . . They say, “Oh, you‟re a Chinese.” “Oh, you are Vietnamese,” I get a lot. “Oh, you‟re Hmong,” or. . . you know. It‟s like, okay. . . and I. . . and sometimes I correct. I just say, “The best way is just say. . . You know, don‟t ask them about their nationality.” SV: Okay. KS: Just. . . you know. SV: Yes. KS: Introduce your name, how you‟re doing. And if they‟re. . . you know. And then, later on, ask them where they‟re from. I think it is better conversation than go ahead and dig in and say, “Oh, you‟re. . .” “Hey, you‟re Chinese. How are you?” You know, it‟s like. . . SV: So maybe come from a genuine place. KS: Yes. SV: And not just. . . because sometimes you can‟t blame people for being ignorant. KS: Yes. SV: Because they just don‟t know. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. 25

SV: But there are times when people just don‟t care to learn more about you, so. . . KS: Yes. SV: Yes, I totally understand. KS: Yes, it‟s like. . . if you‟re going to be my friend or if you‟re going to want to know me.... [Recording interruption] SV: Ah, I know that you mentioned having a very strong Cambodian identity is important. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Especially being in a country where you have to balance, you know, American identity and then Cambodian culture, American culture, but in the end, you‟re Cambodian American. What are some of those things that you are doing through CARM to help the next generation of Cambodian Americans? KS: Well, you know, I want these kids, these youth. . . They are, you know, they are our next generation of, you know, Cambodians. And I want them to be successful. And some of the stuff that I have been starting is focusing on having them use technology. SV: Yes. KS: And technology, it gives them many career opportunities. And the future is going to be [unclear] and you know, and technology. And a lot of these kids, you know, some of them are very smart but they don‟t have someone to direct them or to take them to the next level of their education. I mean, yes, you know, you can go to, you know, a school district and everything. But they will need to meet somebody that motivates them, somebody that they can look upon to or somebody that will care about them, because a lot of times, in a class environment, teachers are there to teach. They‟re not there to, you know, to be their coach or push them even a little bit. And so with my work with the youth is to encourage them and to, you know, like find their talent. And I got. . . you know, with the youth that I have here, I mean, I learned that the youth have so many challenges that not a lot of the community, especially the Cambodian community, know about their challenges. SV: Yes. KS: And I have been, you know, like working with other community organizations to kind of get them connected, so kind of help this, and the Cambodian youth. . . To where they need to go. And they can also help their community. And this is something that I really see that it would be successful, is getting our community to be. . . our youth to be engaged with a broader community. I mean, just allow them to feel important, to feel proud of themselves. 26

SV: Yes. KS: And the parents also feel like. . . you know, that they‟d see their kids are being more successful than. . . at my time, it was very hard. When I. . . you know, I‟ve done a lot of good things, but my mom, she usually doesn‟t, you know, understand the value. Like if I get an award, I say, “Mom, oh, I‟m getting an award.” My mom would be like, “I don‟t have nobody to take me to. . .” It‟s hard, because she doesn‟t drive. My brother is busy going and doing other things. Where she would want to be there, but then how does she interact with other people? So she was kind of more shy, and kind of staying. . . you know, just rather stay home. And I would just get this award, hoping that I would have my family member be there. SV: Yes. KS: But these youth, if they, you know, receive something, if they do something, I‟m going to be there for them. I want. . . and I‟m going to encourage their parents to be there. If they don‟t have a ride, I‟m going to offer them to ride, too. SV: Yes. KS: Feel the self-esteem. And these kids need that. They need somebody that helps them, to motivate them. And they will be successful as other. . . you know, other people that are living in Rochester, in the state, or in the United States. SV: Mmmm-hmmm. So you‟re being an elder and a mentor. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Because I feel that it‟s so important to have mentors in people‟s lives. KS: Yes. SV: To guide people and all that stuff. KS: Yes, because I‟ve gone through the education system. And I know the struggle. I know what it‟s like to be in a class environment. What it‟s like to be. . . you know, being pressured by other. . . And I hope to build their confidence by letting them know that when you go to school your purpose is to build a better future for yourself, to get more knowledge, so that way you are prepared for college. SV: Yes. KS: And don‟t let anybody that, you know, is bullying you or just hating you to bring you down. To make you. . . don‟t want to go to school. That‟s what happened to me. When I was young, I wanted to give up. I was so depressed. And I wanted to be like an American. And I had a tough time finding that answer. Even. . . until now. 27

SV: Yes. KS: And it‟s hard to say that you‟re American. And. . . and I tell myself, I cannot be American; no matter how hard I try, I cannot erase my identity. And people will see me as an Asian. And that is the toughest thing. And that‟s the challenging thing that. . . SV: Yes. KS: For the youth, they‟re going to see. . . they‟re going to have that struggle. No matter. . . even though they were born here, they will never, ever be considered American. SV: Do you think that will get better for them? KS: I hope that things will get better. Even myself, I have challenges. . . even in the workplace or even in the community, it‟s very hard. And. . . you know, I have known a lot of people, and I have done a lot of volunteer work, and I see a lot of that. Even though we say things are getting better. . . But slowly. They‟re getting better but very slowly. SV: Yes. KS: And in the near future, it‟s going to be hard. And how do we overcome that? I think through awareness, educating others about who we are. And that‟s what I‟ve been doing. I‟ve been going out to the community and, you know, putting events. . . especially like annual events that we are putting one for April 21st. And we are doing that each year and we are inviting the larger community to be a part of this, to share our culture. And hopefully, the younger generation that attends this will learn that: who we are. And I want them to know that we are the same. SV: Okay KS: We are adapting to the American culture. We. . . we play music, we dance, we have jobs that are, you know, upper jobs, and then we have jobs that are not. We are human. SV: No matter what, still contributing. . . KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV:. . . to, you know, Minnesota‟s economy, contributing to the community, contributing to society. KS: Yes. Yes. Yes, and I want people to know, in order for us to be a great state, they have to take that mind set off, that judging people, looking down at other people. And if we‟re going to be a community, we need to. . . You know, no matter what, we‟re going to live together. And why do we need this, to discriminate each other, when we are human? 28

SV: Yes. KS: And I saw this one thing on Facebook, and it‟s. . . this morning. It‟s just. . . it‟s just, you know, very true. And it says, you know, I may be black and everything, you know, but then the ending of that, saying that you‟re a color, too. When you get cold, you become blue. SV: Blue. KS: When you get sunburned, you become red. When you become ill, you get pale. And so it doesn‟t matter who you are. And that, right there, I was just. . . that just made my day. It‟s like, yes! No matter who we are, what color we are, we‟re all a color. SV: I think that‟s a very lighthearted kind of way to. . . to really say that we‟re all just the same. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Yes. KS: Yes. SV: Well, I know last year the city of Rochester, the mayor named. . . oh, which date was it? KS: Yes. May 7th. SV: May 7th as. . . KS: The Cambodian Community Celebration. SV: Okay. Can you tell us more about that? Like what that. . . I can imagine that being one of the most. . . proudest moments for you. KS: Yes. SV: And for the Cambodian community. So how did that happen? KS: Mmmm. I was able. . . in 2010 I was able to start a nonprofit. And it took, you know, many. . . about a year and a half just, you know, to kind of gather, getting people to, you know, be a part of this. SV: Right. KS: And it was very hard, challenging. And then finally, you know, we met at different organizations, we met at IMAA [Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association], we met at people‟s homes, we meet. . . you know. And until we finally, you know, say, “Okay, we want, you know, to build a stronger community, Cambodian community.” And then we were able to, 29

you know, were fortunate to get, you know, Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans to help us out with, you know, our event. They helped sponsor, and that was able to give us the opportunity to make that happen. If it weren‟t for them, we would have had a hard time even trying to, you know, put the event. . . Because we were new, and it‟s very hard to even get grants. SV: Hmmm. KS: And even right now, we apply for many grants. We get denied because they want to see more diverse. . . For when we‟re applying for the grant, they want the service to be more diverse. And it‟s. . . it‟s hard. You know, how can we. . .? You know, and it‟s like we just started. And I talk to other organizations like United Way, Rochester Foundation. I go, “You know, when you see an organization trying to, you know, bloom, help them out.” SV: Right. KS: Just give them some. . . like they don‟t need a lot, you know. We don‟t expect you to give us, you know, tens, thousands of dollars, nothing. . . But just to help them and support, you know. . . And with all the, “No, no, no, on the grant. Sorry, sorry, we can‟t.” You know. Hmmm. You know, “We already gave the grant, we. . .” You know, “Continue. . . Please apply later.” SV: Yes. KS: And that kind of, you know, pulls my self-esteem down. But then I realize, you know, I‟ve done others that are successful, why am I. . .? You know, I‟m just going to continue. And I, you know, started renting this place and used my own money. SV: Yes. KS: And now the community is donating the money. And now we‟re doing the second, you know, annual event on April 21st. And we‟re hoping to, you know. . . I have to go out and talk to other communities to kind of help with, you know, the event, because we have zero dollars. And each month it‟s like, okay, can I afford to pay this? And you know we have a lot of youth coming. And we have more youth, but our place is small. And they really like a place, that they call it home where they come and gather and meet their peers. A lot of times they‟re at home just, you know, doing nothing, getting themselves in trouble. When they come here, they‟re learning and they‟re helping each other. SV: Right. KS: And they‟re building a stronger, you know, support. And so that‟s why I want to continue the celebrations. And we‟re continuing to do it every year. And, you know, we‟ll try our best to find funding. And that‟s all we can do with this, you know. And I think the communities are going to see something new, and I‟ve been working with a lot of other organizations. And collaboration is the key, because I tell a lot of the organization leaders, “I don‟t want to reinvent a program that already exists. If there is an existing program, I would like to be a part of that.” 30

SV: Yes. KS: “I would like to send my youth if. . .” You know. And sometimes they come to CARM and I offer training to some of the other organizations‟ staff about technology and they will come. Or sometimes I go to their organizations. SV: Okay. KS: And train their staff because, you know, why not help each other? Why not collaborate? And we try to help each other to cut down on funding, because a lot of. . . you know, the government, especially with the state funds, it‟s. . . there‟s not a lot available. SV: Right. KS: If we don‟t learn how to share the resources, the knowledge, then we as an organization and a community, we‟re going to fail. We can‟t rely so much on the government to help us, but we have to help each other and to build it stronger. And I‟ve been attending a lot of workshops. And there‟s a group up in the [Twin] Cities that I attend, and the way they talk about office space, they have two or three organizations sharing their office space. But then and. . . You know, like they have a meeting that they share, but then they get one or two offices within the same building. That cuts down on the rent, the electricity cost. And they learn to build more programs successfully because they share the knowledge. SV: Yes. KS: And that‟s what, you know, we‟re hoping. And, you know, CARM and other community. . . And we started a coalition. We will call it Community Alliance of Rochester for Equality. CARE, that‟s what we call it. And that‟s a mixture of community members from different ethnic groups, from business, that are coming together to help all people in this community. To be a voice. And so. . . SV: So start locally and organize locally first. KS: Yes. Yes. SV: Okay. KS: And CARE is going to be something. . . going to be new. It‟s new in Rochester. And we‟re going to be, you know, yelling loud. SV: [Chuckles] KS: We‟re going to want people to know about us. 31

SV: Good. KS: And we represent all people. It doesn‟t matter if you are any color. It doesn‟t matter who you are. We‟re going to represent you and we‟re going to, you know, provide all the information for you. And so we‟re excited. And we have professional people from all over Rochester. From. . . SV: Yes. KS: We have staff from Mayo Clinic; we have staff from the County. We have staff from. . . I mean we had a meeting here last night. SV: Wow. KS: And we came up with the name CARE. And so I. . . I kind of said, “I like the word care.” And so pretty soon we started. . . you know, I just say, “I want something „care.‟” And so finally they started Community Alliance of Rochester for Equality. SV: [Chuckles] That‟s great. KS: Yes. SV: Yes. KS: And so. . . and that‟s something that, you know, it‟s going to be a place for the Cambodian community. And that‟s what I want to see. And a lot of times when people, you know, make racial remarks to me. . . like back then and now, I always like to make it positive. I always turn it into a positive. I never get mad at them. I make them answer my question. SV: Okay. Would you give an example? KS: Hmmm. I have a friend that came from Burma. And he came here for only six months. And he worked at. . . I worked with him at a Kohl‟s. We did, you know, third shift. Night stock. And I was so tired I went and slept on, you know, there is like a bed, and for half an hour just to. . . you know. SV: Yes. KS: Taking my break. I‟m just falling asleep. And suddenly I was awakened up and it‟s like, oh! And one of the coworkers, you know, she woke me up. She‟s like, “Oh, come, come and listen to this person. It‟s like. . .” She‟s like, “It‟s so funny.” And I said, “What‟s so funny?” So I thought they had a joke to tell me. So I go out there and they start laughing. And this person who has just came from Burma for six months, they start laughing because he couldn‟t say the word right. And I stood up. I said, “You know, everybody thinks it‟s funny that because he came here only 32

six months and he. . . he can‟t say this word right. And you‟re laughing at him?” I go, “Well, here‟s a challenge for you.” SV: Yes. KS: “If you can say something in my language and say it perfectly, I will bow to you. But if you can’t say that word clearly, I don‟t ever want to see you make fun of another person.” So they couldn‟t even say one word. SV: What was the word? KS: Souk sa bi dee. SV: Oh. KS: It‟s just saying hello. SV: With syllables! [Chuckles] KS: Yes. Hello, how are you? SV: [Chuckles] KS: How hard is that? SV: Right. KS: I could say “Hello, how are you?” SV: Yes. KS: You know, but. . . I said, “That‟s all I want you to learn.” And then next week, I want them to say that word again. That‟s all they need to learn is “Souk sa bi dee.” SV: They couldn‟t do it. KS: No. And then they realized, you know. . . And I go, “It takes time for anybody. If you even go to my country, I will not laugh at you.” SV: Yes. KS: “I would encourage you. I would not look down at you. My people will help you to get to where you are. Why not do the same for us?” English is a language that‟s not easy either. Any language is not easy. Try to learn Spanish, you know. And so they understand that. I think it‟s. . . instead of getting mad or using, you know, anger or physical. . . let‟s make it positive. There are 33

so many things that people. . . when, you know, like even now, I do a lot of presentations. Back then, they go, “Dog eater, cat eater.” And I explained to a lot of my. . . you know, even my teen years. I go, “Yes, we ate cat and dog at that time, at the war situation. It‟s to survive.” SV: Yes. KS: “But if you go to Cambodia or you go in. . . Would you get a menu that says, „On our special you can order cat and dog‟?” I said, “No.” SV: Right. KS: “But in order for us to survive, yes, we had to eat cat and dog. And we ate other insects, too, not just cat and dog. Would you do the same? Yes.” SV: Well, there‟s a lot of protein from insects, so. . . KS: Yes. SV: Well, wouldn‟t you? KS: Even. . . I explained to them, even the movie of, you know, Alive. They‟re eating their own people. [Alive is 1993 film based on a true story of the survival struggle of a group of Uruguayan rugby players stranded in the Andes following a plane crash.] SV: Right. KS: Humans. I go, “What‟s wrong with me eating cat and dog?” And so like, you know, it. . . it‟s just explaining. . . I think communication and education, it‟s very. . . you know, and has taught me to be more of. . . You know, like anybody who would say anything that is just a bad remark to me, I make it into a positive. Even today, I get discriminated, I get judged, I get, you know, treated unfairly. . . anywhere, you know. SV: Mmmm-hmmm. But let that motivate you. KS: Yes. And sometimes I‟m going to speak back. Even though I get, you know, put down because of my English skills and everything. And I get picked on or. . . everything. I just. . . I‟m not going to be a silent person. I‟m going to go. . . I would go to an HR [human resources], I would, you know. . . SV: Okay. KS: File a grief [grievance], because there‟s a policy in place. It‟s not because you are my boss or because you are my. . . you know, you have a. . . because you are better than me that you can look down at me. No. I will. . . 34

SV: Mmmm-hmmm. So if you could make a bumper sticker. . . KS: Yes. SV:. . . and give it to every citizen in Rochester, and throughout Minnesota, what would your bumper sticker say? KS: Let your voice be heard. SV: Okay. KS: That‟s what I would. . . Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Okay. Thank you. KS: Speak now. . . or let your voice be heard. That‟s what I. . . SV: [Chuckles] Speak now! Yell it out! KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Yes. KS: [Unclear] CARE, we‟re going to be screaming so loud that. . . everywhere you can. . . SV: I‟m looking forward to that. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: And I would actually like to be a part of that if I can somehow. KS: Yes. And we can. . . we can do Skype, you know. SV: Yes, yes. KS: Skype. SV: Okay. [Both begin to speak simultaneously] SV: Anything. . . KS: Yes. . . 35

[Pause] SV: Sorry, I don‟t mean to like cut it off, but. . . KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: Is there anything. . .? I think there‟s only like ten minutes left on the tape. KS: Mmmm-hmmm. SV: But is there anything that we didn‟t talk about? Like I didn‟t ask you, but you do want to say what is your final. . . your last message for the people who will be reading this and listening to this in the future? KS: Well, I just want them to know that, you know, wherever they are, listening in through the Internet or, you know, reading it from a book, I just want them to know that in order for us to be living in peace and everything, you know, as what we see, what‟s going around the world, we need to respect and care for each other. And, you know, learn to help each other and not just to think that we‟re better than the other person. But in reality, you know, no one is better than another person. SV: Yes. KS: It is only, you know, you only can judge yourself. And I cannot judge another. . . you know, they cannot judge another person. Because we don‟t know who they are and what they do. Sometimes they might be a person that doesn‟t say much. But never judge them that they are somebody that is not important. SV: Yes. KS: You know, I learned that. Even when I go back to my country, I learned that. Even. . . I go to the world [unclear] village or I am visiting the poor. I value them. I say. . . And they always have respect for me. I say, “You know what? You and me are the same.” SV: I see. KS: And they always say, “No, I‟m poor. I don‟t have nothing.” I go, “We are the same. You know, it doesn‟t matter. But for you, I see more love and within your family. And that‟s what makes you so special, and that‟s what makes me want to be a part of you.” And if you understand the people, you‟ll understand everything, because we are no different. SV: Right. KS: And so that‟s my message. It‟s never judge a person or what kind of condition that they are, because we‟re human. And that‟s the only thing I would say, you know. And that‟s my only 36

message is that we are human. And if we can speak, if we can talk, if we can walk, if we can see, you know, that‟s what made us human, because we care about each other. SV: Good. We‟re done, I think. KS: Yes. SV: Well, thank you so much! And I‟m going to say goodbye here. I don‟t know why I just waved at the microphone, but. . . you can wave, too. There you go. Okay. Thank you! KS: Thank you! SV: Okay.

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