In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay – This is my ‘Coming to America’ Story

I was born in a refugee camp in 1984 in Thailand. In 1980 my parents fled their home in the mountains of Laos and sought refugee by swimming across the Mekong River in the middle of the night, into neighboring Thailand. The safety of my family, who are of Hmong descent, was compromised because of a U.S. CIA secret operation in communist Laos where the Hmong men and boys fought for and along side American soldiers. Anyone who was Hmong would be persecuted by communist Laos for helping the US.

When my parents, my two older bothers and my oldest sister arrived on Thailand soil with nothing but the clothes on their backs, I imagine they were cold, dripping wet, hungry and tired. I imagine my siblings, who were still very young, fearful and unsure of what was ahead. I imagine my dad trying to keep a brave face and my mom, keeping an eye out to making sure everyone was together and alive.

Four years later, it was there in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand, behind barb wires and on dirt trails is where I was born. I lived in the refugee camp until 1987, when we were sponsored to come live in the USA. My parents decided to move us to Ohio. That was where my grandma and relatives were previously relocated to.

For the longest time I was embarrassed to show anyone these photos of me as a baby/toddler. I was born and lived in a refugee camp the first 3 years of my life. Due to an untreated illness because of non-existent medical care, I had rashes across my head that caused me to have no hair growth. My mom would tie a rag around my head. Diapers were non-existent and conditions were filfthy. If you saw me today you would not even guess that this was me, the little girl born behind barb wires, bamboo fences and on dirt floors. I am thankful to my mom who kept these photos after all these years so that I could share my story. I am proud of my history and my heritage. I realize I cannot change my past but I can work to make a better future for my children by being courageous and outspoken, now more than ever, as we are facing so many adversities around the world

To this day, people still ask me: Where were you born? Where are you from? I tell them “Thailand” and they automatically assume I am of Thai-descent, and thats enough to satisfy their curiosity.

Now, I just tell people “I’m from Detroit, Michigan –the U.S.A.” Not exactly what they expect to hear from a dark-haired girl. I realize ‘Where I am from’ is not where I was born, it’s where my home is. It is where I chose to make roots for my own family. And in actuality, I was born in a refugee camp that happened to be in Thailand, with no country to call my own and had to learn to accept that being here in America was my fate.

In 1997, in the 7th grade, I became a Naturalized US Citizen. You could say, maybe it’s the least the US Government could’ve done for the Hmong people for recruiting them in their secret operation against Communist Laos. Truth is, my parents worked hard for their citizenship. My parents were removed from their home in the mountains of Laos. They had to relearn everything in an entirely new country.

I am thankful, every day, for the public assistance and education that I received. I was able to go to Preschool, Kindergarten; graduated high school, obtain my Bachelors. The opportunities that I have had in living in this country far exceeded my parents expectations. All my parents ever wanted, like most parents, was to see their children grow, get a good education and job. My siblings and I were able to fulfill that American dream.

Seeing and reading about what has been happening in my country in the US today makes me extremely sad and distraught. As I look at my children, ages 1, 3 and 6, I cannot imagine them being taken away from me or crying in front of me helplessly as I do nothing. I would rather die than be separated from my children. Children need their mother, their father, their caregiver.

Children living in unsafe and violent places around the world do not choose to be born in these conditions and likewise do not make the choice to flee their place of “origin.” I should know because I was one of these children. Parents who flea from violent countries with their young children are hoping and praying for a better life for their children.

To instill the fear in society to believe that all immigrants are criminals or flea their country of origin because they want to cause harm in our country and should be detained and prosecuted as criminals is delusional, cruel and inhumane. So many parents who seek asylum in this country are simply trying to find a better place to raise their children and see them grow.

In this day and age, I am sad to say that this country is not the country to seek asylum any more. The world needs to know: the USA is no longer a safe place to seek refuge and will dehumanize you and take your children away from you. This is the message the government is sending around the world to instill fear in others that this is the treatment you will receive if you try to come into this country. What the government doesn’t realize is that these people who are fleeing have no form of communication and no way of knowing that this is happening until they arrive and are detained. They do not have media outlets or social media to warn them. This is counter-productive and counter-intuitive. It does not solve the problem.

I hope and pray that other surrounding countries will accept these people who are trying to flee their country of origin because of violence, war and unsafe conditions. I hope that our government and the leaders in this country will work together to change the current policy, to make it better for everyone, including children and families around the world. No child should be separated from their parent. Please give these people a chance to live their dream too.

By sharing my story I hope that others will do the same too, to keep the dialogue open and give awareness to this problem that we are facing today; to stand up for human rights, to stand up for our young children and to be a better society by understanding each other’s adversities.

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