Mai Lor Thao
After losing her parents when she was very young, while fleeing from the Communist Lao, Mai Lor Thao was raised by her grandparents. They fled to Thailand where she later married Vager Xiong and had two kids in the refugee camps. In 1990 they immigrated to the US where she raised the rest of her family, she is the mother of 10 kids. In 2000, Thao stopped working due to some injuries and is living off welfare.
“We are from the mountains and countryside of a third world country. Our lives revolve around the land. Because of that we weren’t educated. We didn’t even know how to spell our names. In terms of education we were very far behind. The first thing we learned is to use hoes and machetes to dig up the earth and harvest fields. We never had the chance to hold pens like others were able to. So we struggle to catch up to them. Whenever people ask me what I am, I say I am Hmong. Then they ask me where I’m from and I say I’m from Laos. Since I am Hmong, I can’t also be an American. But when they ask if I am a citizen, I say yes. Even though my background is Hmong, I have lived here for over 20 years. But I am still Hmong”
“But my family, I have two brothers and then there’s me so 3 total. Including my grandma and grandpa then there are 5 of us and we lived in Vinai, Thailand. In Laos, my parents were Cao Fa. If i was to tell the story, we were persecuted by the communist Lao and vietnamese allies, so my parents were killed. So I was raised by my grandparents. Life was very hard, and I was young, so my grandparents took us and we fled for Thailand. We crossed the Mekong River to Thailand, where I grew up and eventually got married. At this time, I wanted to return to Lao but I had no family to return to. Since my parents were killed, I decided to get married and immigrate to the US. We were sent to Phanat Nikhom to learn a little about America. Because in Vinai we did not have any education about it. I did a lot of sewing and such but no schooling. So in Phanat Nikhom we learned how to use the appliances and things in US houses. Like toilets, gas stoves, electricity, etc, everyday household things. Because we’ve never used electricity before, we had to burn fire for heat or to cool”
“When I first got to the US, it was very difficult. We learned about using household things back in Phanat Nikhom. I learned to use hot and cold water and use electricity, but it was still difficult. One difficult thing was not knowing how to get to the store. You don’t travel by foot much anymore, you have to travel by car since there are streets. None of us knew this when we arrived here since there weren’t many back home. In order to get to the store you had to ask someone to take you. But even after getting to the store you had no idea where things like food were located. It was very difficult many times, and I pondered on how I would be able to survive and live here. I was constantly stressed and missed my home country. I was here but my heart was there. However, I have my kids and I want them to know that even if they don’t run for President or something, that’s okay. Just get educated. So that they will be successful and capable of living on their own, finding work and food. Or if we as parents need anything like translation or help, they are not able to help us”