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Sengchanh Manivanh


Sengchanh (Tony) Manivanh 1960 was born in Vientiane, Laos in 1960. As a young man, he worked across Laos but was ultimately forced to leave his village, so he crossed the Mekong River into Thailand, where he lived in a refugee camp for two years. He resettled in the United States with the help of a sponsor in Michigan, but he resettled in Minnesota to join a cousin.




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My name is Sengchanh Manivanh. I was born in Vientiane, Laos in 1960. When I was five years old, my parents separated and I had to leave with my brothers and live with my grandma. My grandma had a small market in front of her house where she sold meat, vegetables, and street food. I had to help her by working at the market after school. I started working from sixth grade and even after I graduated high school. I worked at gas stations, where I pumped gas and changed the oil on cars. After I finished high school, I worked around different states in Laos. Around this time, the Vietnam War was ending, but there was still a lot of danger left behind. The people in my village had warned young men to not fight back against anyone who came, or they would go to jail or be brought to an island. The people who were taken never came back.

I didn’t want to listen to them, and my friends didn’t want to either. I was lucky. I was kicked out of the village instead of being taken. After that, I had hoped to reach a refugee camp because I had nowhere to go. But, the only place known to have a refugee camp was in Thailand. The only thing keeping me here was the Mekong River. I was scared, because many people who were crossing would be shot and killed, but my friends were more scared because they couldn’t swim. I swam one mile across the river, against currents, pulling my two friends behind me with a line of plastic wrap. One of them got a clam on their leg and I had to pull them farther across the river. I was able to reach the refugee camp and stayed there for two years. While in the camp, I was allowed to leave and work in Thailand by fixing cars. I only had enough money to travel back and forth from the camp.

After all that time, I was able to gain a sponsor who paid for me to come to America and let me live with them. I was alone and worried, but had arrived in California to a camp to be moved to Michigan to meet her, my sponsor. Somehow, my cousin had heard about me coming to America, and before I could even meet my sponsor, I was on my way to Minnesota. I still haven’t met her, or remembered her name, but just that she lived in Michigan and she was the reason I was able to be here.

When I first came to America, I couldn’t speak any English and was not able to receive any government assistance because of so many law changes. I lived in a one-bedroom house with nine other men who I was related to.

I spent many years working at different hotels and assembly jobs for no more than four dollars an hour. In my spare time, I would teach men how to fight in a park. That is where I met Leah, the only woman who came to also learn from us, and had a child named Marlina with her. Eventually, I met Douangta Sengsourinhet and stayed with her for 13 years and had two kids: Molly and Tiffani. I went through a lot of ups and downs and was able to find better work at a company called Waymar, where I worked for 27 years. I was able to buy three different kinds of sports cars. One of my favorites was the Corvette, but I had to sell it when I had kids because you can’t fit a car seat in the back. Eventually, I got divorced but met my current and beautiful wife Praiya soon after. I spent the next years of my life supporting my family. Eventually, I even changed my name to Tony Manivanh, received my American citizenship, and now live in Prior Lake, Minnesota.