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Interview with Pheng Ly

Ly, Pheng
Lynip, Bryan
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Tolerance and Respect
Pheng Ly talks about memories of moving to the US and the difficulties that non-native English speakers face in the US.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Bryan Lynip interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
BL (Bryan Lynip): OK. I'm going to be talking to Pheng Ly and um, I know him from, I taught his wife at the high school and that's how I got to know him and also his father runs a store that I've been in and out of and I've told him what basically we'll be doing. Pheng, when you were growing up, uh, why don't you just tell us where you grew up first and um, just some of your memories.
PL (Pheng Ly): I grew up in uh, I move from Laos. I grew up here in Stanly county. The, the First Lutheran Church sponsor our family here. So um, it was it was hard for us because we didn't understand English. We just understand the uh, Hmong language. So it was hard for uh, being communicate with us.
BL: And when was that when you moved here?
PL: Um, it was 1976.
BL: And how old were you?
PL: I was about uh, probably three year old. Three or two year old. Probably.
BL: And how many brothers or sisters do you have?
PL: I have one brother and two sister.
BL: Do you uh, when you first came or even before, what were some of the first stories that you remember hearing and who told them to you?
PL: Well uh, one story was about uh, my father he told me uh, because at that time we was little kids so we kept on fighting each other. And uh, plus our grandmother had came over and it's like nobody want to take care of her, so he told us a story about how uh, maybe one day when you get old that's what your childrens going to do uh, do to you. So um, he talked, he talked um, about the story, about one day his son, his son was outside working and so he got tired of his father because his father is old and couldn't do anything. So um, so he was outside and he just started making a basket, weaving a basket up--.
BL: Yeah.
PL: And the little kid, his son, came up to him asked him what, why he was uh, going to do with that basket. So he told his son that he was going to take, make that basket and he was going to put his father inside that basket, take him and throw him away out in the forest. So uh, so the little boy he was thinking, then he told his father, he said, "Father, when you, after you take that basket take your father throw away in the forest bring the basket back and save it so next time when you get old I can take you, you the same way too." [Laughter] He told us that so that we won't be so mean to the old folks.
BL: Yeah. [Laughter] Did you um, [pause] uh, so your father told you a lot of the stories--.
PL: Yeah.
BL: Did you hear any, who else would tell you stories?
PL: Um, uh, it's been a long time so, sometimes my mother or my cousin. \\
BL: \\ Did your grandmother? \\
PL: Yeah. Grandmother.
BL: And the stories, did they often um, like you said that one was suppose to teach you something. \\
PL: \\ Yeah, that's supposed to teach you something. \\
BL: Were a lot of the stories like that?
PL: Yeah, a lot of stories like that uh, they, they uh, just try to teach us grow up, not be little kids no more.
BL: Uh-hum. Did uh, you said you were sponsored by the Lutheran Church, um, did some of the, did you end up having books read to you too by people there or did your mother and father start reading to you from books or was it mostly just telling stories?
PL: Well we, we go um, to the church they tell us the stories in the Bible.
BL: Uh-huh.
PL: Other stuff and a lot of other people tell us. We, we don't understand so when there's a, [pause] it was [pause] staying here in Stanly county was a big story because of the, the way the church was helping and we didn't understand English and try to communicate. So--.
BL: Do you remember any other of the stories that your father or your mother told you that you just think you'll remember, always?
PL: Well, I think uh, the story, I think the story that I'll probably remember was my father telling me when he went to work because uh, he didn't, he didn't understand English and it was, he stayed home for two days and the third day [pause] they, they took him to work and that whole day when he was at work he didn't have any uh, he didn't know how to get water out of the water fountain because he, he saw people going up to the water fountain, leaning against the water fountain and then this water come up. So, so, he saw the water coming up so that whole day he didn't get any water to drink. And um, he saw a big heavy black guy. \\
BL: \\ Yeah. \\
PL: \\ Come in um, to the water fountain and so he asked him how, how every time when everybody come to the water fountain, just lean their head and the water come up. So the guy uh, he, I guess he saw that my father didn't understand how the water's going to come up.
BL: \\ Yeah. \\
PL: So he show him how that you have to put your foot on the pedal on the foot, on the floor and step on it so the water come up. So my father came home, he explained to us that he thought he was not heavy enough to um, on the weight to put on to the water come up. That whole day he just didn't have any water until that last minute, that guy showed him.
BL: Where was that? What job was that?
PL: That was um, over at Collins and Aikman--.
PL: That was his first job.
BL: Well that's a good story. Nou told me about the um, the story about how the, I think it was some garbage men helped you.
PL: \\ Uh-huh. Yeah. \\
BL: \\ Helped your family? \\
PL: They helped us because um, we one day the refrigerator didn't have any food in there so we was uh, hungry. Just, just um, my mom, my father and me, my sister Nou, was home at that time. So um [pause], so we heard, we heard people was outside knocking on the trash, trash can so we figure we probably should ask them, but we didn't know how, so we just went, went and um, hold their hand and brought them inside the house and point at the refrigerator. So then--.
BL: So had people from the church been putting food inside there?
PL: Yeah.
PL: They bring about every week, but I guess that week that person forgot to bring it earlier. So--.
BL: [Laughter] So you guys were starting to go hungry over there.
PL: Yeah. But it was, there was a lot of, lot of stories when were we just coming in the US because at the end, um, I think it was 1980, '83, '84, that's when the refugee camps started training the Hmong people how to the basics for the English.
BL: So before that they didn't do. \\
PL: \\ Like use the bathroom. \\
BL: \\ They didn't do any training? \\
PL: No they didn't do any training. We just came straight from the camp here.
BL: Oh man. Man.
PL: So we had it worse than they did.
BL: Sure. Sure. [Laughter]