My name is Liachoua Lee. I am the son of Chee Lo and Naoyen Lee, one of the descendants of Youaxa Lee who emigrated from China to Laos in 1870 and settled in Nongkew in the province of Xiengkhouang, in northern Laos, in Nongkew. In this wild village, four generations, including my father, were born and lived more or less peacefully, until the war broke out. On January 1st, 1957, in the village of Ladhouan, a few kilometers from the Plain of Jars, I came to the world. Born in a country at war, my mother told me of its devastation. It was on her back I traveled from town to town across battlefields, to go to Pha Dong in 1960. Two years later on October 14, 1962, I arrived at Long Cheng. It was in this secret military base well known to the CIA that I spent my childhood, a witness to the horrors of war. I can still see disemboweled corpses and their guts strewn along the roads, helicopters that brought back the bodies of soldiers killed in battle, shooting, gunfire, artillery, mines exploding in the night, the bombardiers known as the “Skyriders” in their T-28s on fire attempting to land. In my deepest memories, this period evokes the war, fleeing Laos, the dispersion of my family, the loss of beloved faces. It was during this period of my childhood that I became fully aware of the difference between life and death.
In 1967, the enemy invaded Long Cheng and my family was forced again to flee and to cross hostile mountains and streams. I finally arrived in Vientiane in June 1969. There, in the capital of Laos, I could go to school and really learn the Lao language. After finishing elementary school in That Khao, I studied for two consecutive years in Pakpasak High School in Vientiane. During this period of my adolescence, I built so many hopes, so many plans for the future, but my dreams disappeared as soon as the enemy took over the country. My father, because he held an important position in the administration, was aware of the danger; he knew that if he stayed, his family would perish entirely, but when it comes to leaving everything behind to go into the unknown, his choice was very painful. For the survival of his family, he decided to have us secretly cross the Mekong River to go to Thailand. On May 17, 1975, I arrived safely to Namphong camp in Thailand, before being transferred a year later to Ban Vinai refugee camp. Life in the camps was painful and difficult. I had to adapt quickly to a new life and a new language. Many of my questions remained unanswered.
I lived from day to day. I had no idea what my future held until the day France opened its doors to me. On November 1, 1976, I arrived in Paris. I was nineteen years old, and I did not speak, read, or write French. However, I had no choice, I had to provide for a family of eleven people because even a leader such as my father found himself overtaken by the events, powerless.
It was as though he had become deaf and blind. The world had turned upside down for my parents. As the eldest of the family, my task was very difficult, and became more and more so over the first four years of our arrival in France, due to the health of one of my younger brothers … this younger brother, Pasua, wounded by a grenade explosion in Long Cheng, never completely recovered from that accident, lived longer in hospital than at home. Despite the goodwill of the French doctors, suffering from leukemia, he could not be saved. Then it was the turn of another younger brother, Tupao, who fell ill in his turn; this lasted a year. After being in a coma for another year, he left this world in my own arms. As if life was not painful enough, all this time, I also took care of another younger disabled brother who today still lives next to me here in Detroit (Michigan). France was a wonderful country; everything was so new, so beautiful and so serene. But for me, it was another new challenge. My parents saw that it was too much responsibility for me to bear alone, and they wanted to reunite our extended family, which is why they made the decision to leave for the United States. This time, it was my turn to make a very difficult choice. After thirteen years in France, I had acquired a reliable occupation as an electrician and then as a salesman. My wife had a good job as an executive secretary; she was French; she had never known poverty in her life; her family was in France; France was her country. I had started a family. Once I was in the United States … would she keep her promise to join me? On June 3, 1989, I arrived in the US with my parents. Thanks to our love and the trust we had for each other, six months later, I rediscovered the joy of living when Sylvie and my three children joined me and we were reunited in the United States. In the country of United States of America we faced another huge challenge. We had to start over.
13851 Liberal, MI 48205 Detroit, it was in this three bedroom house that several families lived together. We were a total of 17 people living together under the same roof, and we were piled on top of each other for two years. Financially, there were only three people who provided for the needs of the entire family, as they were the only ones with the legal right to work. My wife and children lived illegally for seven years, and therefore could not benefit from social or financial assistance from the state, or even work. I had caused my wife great suffering as she had no choice but to get up very early in the morning to cook Asian cakes for five hours with my mother, and all for ten dollars a day.
Finally, with the help of a lawyer, whose fees were very expensive, I finally obtained green cards for my wife and my children. Today, we are all American citizens. Sometimes I wonder what gives me strength to continue fighting. It is difficult for me to answer this question in a few words. But I can share some of my memories to illustrate my reasons. My mother told me all she had done for me to protect me when I was just a baby. Also, the day my brother Touxiong Lee died, I saw my father cry for an entire night and a whole day without stopping. It’s rare to see such grief coming from a man of such strength. Until then, I had only seen my father as a cold leader without a heart. It was then that I realized that my father also had feelings, and that he loved his children. I realized that my parents spent their sweat and their blood not only to save the lives of their children, but also in the hope that one day we could have a happier life. I realized since then that their responsibility had become mine. My duty now is to ensure the continuity of my parents’ hopes and their dreams. At each stage of my life, I like to think that better days are yet to come, and that is why I continue to move forward.