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Monologue by Gao Zoua Ly

Ly, Gao Zoua
Ly, Zoua
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers; Cultural identification
Gao Zoua Ly talks about escaping Laos during the Vietnam War era.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Zoua Ly interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
ZL (Gao Zoua Ly): ( ) Zoua Ly and I'm going to translate, um, what I have recorded about my own life experience stories. [Clears throat] I began with my name, my full name Gao Zoua Ly. Uh, Ly is my husband's last name. My maiden name was Vue. And I'm 27 years old. I will be 28 come October the 28th. I have two children, a son who is eight years old and a daughter who is five years old. I am pregnant right now, with our third child. Um, I'm going to just talk briefly about how I got to, how I came to the United States. I came when I was five, um, and I remember that we had to sneak a lot and escape the country Laos. Um, at that time, my mother had a big sister, Wa and my younger brother, me and she was also pregnant with my youngest sister who was born in Thailand [clears throat], um, we had to leave our country due to the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, our people helped the Americans fight, and part of the Americans going out of the country, they had problems with people that would give us salvation. In other words, safe country, a safety, place to live, um, the Americans did do what they said they would do, however, um, there were, there were a lot of the Hmong family left behind, um, and those that were left behind were prosecuted by the, um, communists, the, the Laos communists. Um, and they were killed, we couldn't own land, we couldn't do anything because we were considered to be traitors of our country because we helped the Americans. Anyways, um, my family and I remember, we tried to leave, escape the country of Laos at least more than three times, but I remember, finally at the age of five, we were able, we were able to escape, um, the country, um, and it was during the summer of 1979 I remember that we were escaping. We were escaping with at least five other families, and, um, there was grandma and my near family, my mom and dad, my sister, my brother and, um, my mom and dad had paid some, um, Thai, guidesman, uh, to take us across the river, the Mekong River which is between Thailand and Vietnam. And, um, I'm not sure how much money they paid, but they did pay a lot. Anyways, um, [clears throat] I was in between there, I'm talking about, like um, you know, of course, I was five, I can't remember so many things in detail, but, um, I think that's it's true, um, that every child remembers the good memories and the bad and a little bit about good memories, I remember my sister and I, we were living in a village in Laos up in the mountains, we used to always liked to go to this lake and swim and, um, and I remember the lake being clear and beautiful just like the blue sky. You know, I remember seeing fishes swimming down at the bottom of the lake and I have not yet seen a lake like that in America since I've been here, but, um, you know, I asked my mother and she said that, "That's true. You and your sister always liked to go swimming in that lake." So I reckon that that must be a good, you know, I do remember some things like that good and bad. But going back to we were trying to escape from Laos, um, my mom and dad had paid these Thai money to take us across the river and, um, there were six gentlemen if I remember well, there was three boats, um, and then, um, you know, families were put into one of the boats, but, um, as, as they started taking us across the river, um, one of the men that was on our boat, guiding us, started calling out to the other men, at the- ,and, to the other two boats and said, you know, "Get ready to drown them when we get to the middle of the river." Well, my dad, thank goodness, he went to school, he was educated, and he understood, um, and he could speak Thai, and so he, you know, because of him our lives were saved. He called out to the other, um, family members, said, "Please," you know, "Hold onto your children and wife because," you know, "They're shouting to each other that when they take us to the middle of the river, they're going to drown us." Eventually what happened was, when we got to the middle of the river, um, you know, our family and the other families overpowered the, these cruel men and, uh, instead of us drowning, they end up drowning. Um, it is sad, you know, that they did drown. We do have, uh, you know, remorse and we feel terrible but at times like that it was either our lives or theirs and, um, we know, we feel that in our hearts, God understands that. But, um, to continue on we, you know, continue to row our boats across the Mekong River to Thailand and I remember that the time was probably between four and six am in the morning, I remember that, you know, as we got closer to the Thai shore, I saw the boats with lights on and, and it was quite amazing because again, you know, electricity it was not an everyday thing for, um, for me to see. So I was quite fascinated by that, I can never forget this. But I remember, too that immediately after we landed or after we got onto the shore of Thailand the lights that I remember being turned on was immediately off, um, just like the snap of a finger. And, uh, you know, of course, uh, I didn't understand why at that time but now I realize it was because they were fearful of us. We were illegal immigrants and they didn't want to have to be involved with us. So, I remember me and my mom and dad and other families knocking on their doors and asking for help and there were homes where no one would help and finally they did aid us. But finally we did, uh, I remember this one house had this elderly couple and they did come out and they explained to us that, you know, it's not that they don't want to help us, but they were fearful that they would be arrested for helping, for aiding an illegal, um, immigrant. So they directed us to this bus stop where we can stay and, you know, the next morning the police would come and help us out and whatnot. But at this bus stop here, it's quite neat 'cause it's kind of like a, you know, a nice wooden shack-type bus stop, it had like a rooftop over the head and whatnot. We went there and, um, that afternoon, um, some Thai policemen did come and take my father and several of the young adult males to prison to question them, and, uh, we were-, I remember I was really terrified, uh, didn't know what was going on 'cause all I knew was they were taking my daddy away, and my sister and I were very scared, we cried. And Mom said, "Now don't worry, dad will be back." But anyways, I remember too, that that evening, my first night in Thailand, on that bus stop, uh, we were robbed, by rob-, robbers. And, um, you know, they took all the strong, healthy, young adult males and so they left us, the women and the children and the senior citizens, uh, you know, we did the best we could to fight them off and eventually we did. But, um, I remember that after that no one would fall asleep, and the night after that no one was able to fall asleep, we stayed there for at least a good week, I don't remember if it was five days or seven days, but I remember it was a whole week. Finally I remember that, um, my dad and the other men were released from prison and, um, that same day when they were released and they got to the bus stop we were still staying at, um, the police officer directed us to, uh, the refugee camp which is in, um, which they called Ban Vinai, which is in Thailand, mainly, we just called it Venai. But I remember that we were there for about three months and then we were sponsored by a family in, uh, California, Los Angeles and, um, my dad had a sister who, um, was already here in America and she lived in, um, you know, California also. So because of that, you know, we were-, we didn't have to stay at the refugee camps for long. Normally what I've heard is that other families have stayed for quite a long time, but we were only there for about three months, and, we were able to, uh, get a, come to America. Uh, the family was a Japanese family and it was through a church that sponsored us. When we got to Los Angeles, the Japanese family said that, uh, it was so much easier for us to live among our people because we didn't speak English, didn't know, everything was so new to us, um, and so we went to live with my dad's sister in the city of Long Beach, California. Anyways, I have been living in the United States now for about 23 years, um, it will be 23 years after my 28th birthday. I didn't come here to the United States until I was five. I do remember that when we were landing, getting to land, um, you know the next thing I notice is that there were lights, lots of lights and this time it was colorful lights, red, green, yellow, blue and I've never seen so many lights in my life and I thought it was very cool. Um, anyways, I remember it was very hard, uh, attending school. Started first grade, didn't speak any English and, uh, had a very hard time asking the teacher to see if I can go use the restroom. In other words, for the first, for my first year or two I had to use sign language and, um, which worked fine, but, uh, at that time I was quite, you know, I was a little embarrassed, but then I figured, you know, you got to do what you got to do. Um, in the end, you know, that's enough about how I got here to America. I want to talk a little bit about, um, my childhood. I remember my sister and my brother ( ) Saturday we would go to this park in Long Beach where we lived in our apartments ( ) street and every Saturday the, this charity, um, charitable association would come and serve, um, lunch to, serving the homeless people. But because my sister and my brother and I, we and, you know, our friends, we enjoyed going to that park on the weekend, we discovered that, "Hey, we could get in line and get free food, too, free lunch." And, uh, how the process worked was that we would get in line and they would give us little stamps, stamp our hands and to let us, you know, to tell them that we have received our free lunch. Well, as little children and little kids, um, one little lunch was not enough [laughs] to fill us up so we went to like the drinking, uh, faucet and cleaned up our hands and then we went right back in line and got seconds and thirds. Um, of course, you know, the people that was serving us recognized us, but they were not mean or terrible people. They understood, they actually thought it was funny that we went to clean off our stamp and went back for seconds and thirds. But anyways it was really fun. It was, um, we enjoyed ourselves. And, um, you know, I remember it was every Saturday that we went and did that. Um, anyways, we lived in Long Beach, California for about, for the most, about two years and then we moved Fresno, California. My grandmother and grandfather bought a farm. They wanted to become farmers and we heard rumors that Fresno had, you know, one of the best farmlands. And so we moved to Fresno and they farmed. And, we helped them a little bit, they, they had, um, they had, um, snow pea farms, hot chili pepper farms, lemongrass and tomatoes and I remember that, uh, the peppers and tomatoes that had caterpillars galore. That was one thing I didn't enjoy. Other than that, my sister and my brother and I we, we certainly did enjoy, uh, helping grandmother and grandfather. So anyway, when we go to Fresno, we started second grade and my sister and my brothers, we were all raised there, in Fresno, I mean, I grew up in Fresno actually until I married my husband. And, um, but anyways, um, after grandma and grandpa got older they decided they didn't want to farm anymore. They didn't have the strength. So we did the farm, my dad be-, you know, he found a job working as the custodian for the school and my mother worked as a housekeeper cleaning wealthy people's homes. I remember going help her sometimes and these places were palatial, you know, like, big houses. Um, but anyways, I'm thankful though, you know, that even though that's what my parents did, that it made enough to, for all of us. Considering we have six children in the family, um, four girls and, um, two boys. But, um, pretty much that's really what I want to share, stories I wanna share about my, you know, life, uh, in America. Um, and now, um, kind of like a crisis in my life, um, a situation where I was very worried, and it happened only two years ago when dad was, um, very ill because he has a liver, um, infection and, um, you know, he needed to get a liver transplant or he was not going to survive. Anyways, during that time about two years ago, he did receive a liver transplant. And the best thing of all was that two weeks afterwards, my brother who was suffering from kidney failure since he was 18, also received a, you know, a kidney transplant. I was able to go out there and take care of both of them. Um, it was really hard at that time, because, you know, here I am the second daughter to the oldest and live here in North Carolina and then my other sister Bao Wa, she lives in Oregon. And our other sister, younger than all of us, lives in Arkansas. We're all married and live in all part of the United States, you know, my parents in California, it was really hard, we had to,um, you know,worry and, but, um, every else, everything at the end worked out fine. We are very grateful that, you know, that the Lord, um, blessed us, in, in helping our dad and our brother. And, um, now my last part of, um, my story, or my last remarks are that, um, I want to, um, just pretty much, um, be grateful that, you know, me myself be grateful and have gratitude that for anything that I have, which is, electricity, running water, plumbing and, um, you know, I realize that I've been here for so long that I've taken things for granted. And I look at my children who are eight and five and definitely they do take things for granted, but that's because of, you know, me and my husband, we, we do spoil them but, um, they're children and my husband and I have to look at look at the things we have. We are grateful, have gratitude and overall we're thankful to be here in this great country where, uh, we can be educated and no matter what, we can always better ourselves and I'm very thankful for that. That's my story so if I can think of any more I will record some more later on.