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Kaochi Pha



Kaochi Pha’s family was forced to flee Laos because of the Secret War. Her parents met in Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand and married in 1988. Her parents moved from Ban Vinai to Wisconsin, where her uncle lived, in 1993. Kaochi was the first US-born child in her family. She lives in Minneapolis, MN and is a student at the University of Minnesota.




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Kaochi Pha Transcription

In 1988, my parents met and married in the refugee camp called Ban Vinai, located in Thailand.
The refugee camp consisted of mostly Hmong people, who fled from Laos because of the Secret War. We call the war a secret because Laos was supposed to be a neutral zone, but was used as a secret spot for many countries to utilize during the Vietnam War.
My three older brothers were all born in the refugee camp, each a year or two apart. In 1993, my parents got the okay to migrate to America, where they would choose to live in Wisconsin. That was the only place we had family in, with my dad’s uncle living there for a few years already. All my brothers were younger than five years old when my family made the move.
When they arrived in America, our first house happened to be my dad’s uncle’s house, which they let us stay in until they found a new place.
In 1995, I became the first-born American child in my family.
Since I was born, my family has had two additions as well. That includes my little sister and my newborn baby brother. We have also since moved to Minnesota.
Growing up as a refugee family was hard for my parents. This meant racial slurs being thrown at them consistently as well as not being regarded under the model minority, and rather, they were poor and uneducated. But being smart, they picked up the language easily and made a life from what they were given. Now that I’m older, I can recall how my family went from working class to the middle class.
My mom talks about how she and my dad’s siblings used to work in a pizza place in Wisconsin. Without what we would call “proper” English, they were unable to find a higher-paying job. My mom also talks about how her and my dad provided for their kids with welfare money as well as food stamps.
Now my parents have created a company that they left for my brothers and I to help them run.
I also see the struggle my parents have in helping my siblings and I to stay Hmong, when we identify as Hmong American. This means that I have not only incorporated being Hmong as an identity, but American as well. Both of these cultures affect and impact the way I see myself as well as how others see me in America. It will be a concept that I don’t think my parents can ever accept, because they faced hostility because of their race and can’t regard themselves as fully American.
My family’s refugee story has created a life for me that isn’t like any other American’s. It is a Hmong American’s story.
I don’t want to live as an American who forgets my history, I want to live as a Hmong American whose past has made me a stronger person.