New Voices: Anon Sengaloun

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(HOST) All this week we’ve been hearing from people who fled their countries of origin to make a new life in Vermont. Today on New Voices we have Anon Sengaloun of Laos. She was part of the first wave of official refugees resettled in the Brattleboro area 26 years ago.

They came in the wake of the Vietnam War, which spread to Laos as well. As the Communists advanced in that country, people who’d associated with Americans made the dangerous trip across the Mekong River into Thailand.

Here in Vermont, Sengaloun’s bright-colored food cart became a fixture at the Brattleboro farmer’s market. She tells her story sitting in her popular Brattleboro restaurant, Anon’s Thai cuisine.

(Sengaloun) “When I came to United States in 1980 I was 22 years old. I have my three children already. Before we left Lao…when he was in Laos my husband was work with Americans. He just cooking in the house and cleaning up the house… so they take him away from us for 26 months that I never hear from him. And then they take him away again, So I just tell my husband that I have to leave. I have to take my mother, my father, my sisters and brother, and my children and go. My husband’s still in jail when I left Laos. And then he escape. And then he just swim across the river.”

“We have to walk two night and three days before we go across the border. My son, my older boy Seela, he was about five and a half. I told him that if you cry loud they will hear you cry and they will come and shoot all of us, you know.”

“My second boy Oosa, he was cry real hard. Yeah. And then soldiers say they going to give him some medicine to make him sleep. I said ‘No, you won’t give anything to my son. If everybody going to die, we’ll die together ‘. So and finally he stop and nobody hear us.”

“When I came to United States in 1980 . . . I was looking at American woman when they were driving. I never see a woman driving, in LAOS. And I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness they’re so smart’ and then they work. I always dream about it and I say, ‘Hmmm’.”

“So I went to apply for a job. And my sponsor say ‘No. You cannot work you have to stay home and take care of your children’ you know, and stuff like that, and I say, ‘hmmmm?’ I don’t even know how to speak English back then but I just want to go to work.”

“I was making something you know, to eat you know, with the people that I work with. And then they give me an idea. They say, Oh you are so good cook’ and they want to buy this and that so they order this and I make it and I sell it.”

“I think in 83 I start farmers market I sell just egg roll and rice cake and curry pie, those three items.”

“And I never think that I would have a house, because it’s a lot of money. How can we get money to buy a house? But then people give us an idea, that you can loan, and same thing as you pay rent. And then we go to the bank and they give us you know, the loan – and we get a house!”

“And my dream is having you know, a restaurant for my children. After school they come here and you know they help me out.”

(HOST) Two of Anon Sengalouns children live and work in Brattleboro. One son, Ousa, lives in a Lao-Thai community in Texas and is about to become a Buddhist monk.

This week’s series of New Voices was produced by Susan Keese and Betty Smith. Engineers were Sam Sanders and Chris Albertine.

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