A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

An American[-Cambodian] success story


S.J. man, who decades before escaped Khmer Rouge, becomes U.S. citizen

Hann Soy, community liason for Creekside Elementary School waves to the crowd Friday after being sworn in as a naturalized citizen of the United States during a ceremony at the school in Stockton.CLIFFORD OTO/The Record

By Keith Reid
Record Staff Writer
October 22, 2011

STOCKTON - Hann Soy was 17 years old when he arrived at the snow-filled streets of Boston on Dec. 26, 1985, the end of a horrific four years struggling to survive in the scorching humidity of the Cambodian jungle and eventually a Thailand refugee camp.

He'd never seen snow before. It may as well have been gold.

"We said it was heaven," said Soy, 41, on Friday, moments before he took the oath to become an American citizen.
"We were in Cambodia at a bad time. I was 8 years old and taken away from my family to work hard labor in the rice fields 24 hours a day. I called it 'the killing fields' because not everybody could survive."

It was late 1978 or early 1979 when Soy could no longer manage his fear. He said he decided to escape the Khmer Rouge - the communist regime that killed millions of Cambodians - and he fled from the rice fields back to his village, where many had already died of starvation. He was "shocked and happy" to find his parents there alive.

"They both weighed about 60 pounds," he said. "More than 80 percent of the village had died. They were alive."

The family, including Soy's brother and sister, fled to the Cambodian jungle where they lived for 31/2 years, surviving by eating leaves, snakes and bugs.

The border was littered with millions of land mines and Khmer Rouge operatives searching for escapees. The family was "scared every day," until they eventually found their way to a Thailand refugee camp and later moved on to the Philippines before moving to the United States.

"We came to Stockton in 1987. I went to Morada Middle School and Tokay High. I didn't know any English. It was very hard," he said, noting that he was bullied by his peers. "I graduated, and all I wanted to do was work for the school district."

Now, 24 years later, Soy stood in front of the Creekside Elementary students roaring in approval.

Many waved miniature American flags and sang patriotic songs in his honor. His wife, Kosal Kruth, also a Cambodian refugee, and two daughters, Julie and Sallida, Soy watched proudly as well.

"This is something he's talked about a lot," Kruth said.

The federal Department of Homeland Security arranged to be on campus to help Soy through his citizenship oath, the same school where one year ago they came to celebrate the citizenship of Principal Louise Roachford-Gould, who immigrated to the United States from England.

"It's a little bit of a unique way to put Creekside on the map," Roachford-Gould said. "Mr. Soy was here last year, and he told the students and staff he would become a citizen, and he kept to it."

Susan Curda, Homeland Security's district director of Citizenship and Immigration, delivered Soy his certificate of citizenship and quizzed the Creekside children with naturalization questions that appear on the citizenship test.

The children knew that the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are the longest in the country, and they knew several other facts.

Soy said he is now making it his mission to find a third member of the Creekside community to become a citizen in front of the student body next year.

"I'm the last in my family to become a citizen. I can't believe it," he said, thanking his late father for giving his family the courage to escape from Cambodia. "I came here as a non-English-speaking boy. I'm an American man today."

Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 or kreid@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/lodiblog.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can relate to his story. I was at that age when they took me away from my family. I came to this country 30 years ago and I became a U.S citizen in Oct. 1991 in Northampton. Now I lived in Bridgewater, MASS, worked in Boston, MASS, USA.

I am still all alone in the world.

Anonymous said...

Alot of Cambodian who arrived in US and became US citizen five year later why this guy took for so long to became US citizen?

Anonymous said...

If you're not a U.S Citizen yet, please become one. It maybe pricy but it worth it. The benefit outweight the cost. You have much more previlages than greencard holders. You also risk of not being deported back to your home country for crime that you might commit.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be American/Canadian or Australian citizen. There are more life than to become to be a particular citizens or you have to be in a rich countries.

You should be proud to your heritage. Cambodia was once a richest country on the planet. Angkor Wat was the tallest building in the world at the time it was built from 9th-12th century).It is still rich up to present day,but our country is being abused by neighbours and the present government (CPP) that was set up by Hanoi.

Paradise is in you hands and is in your philosophy.Our existence and our earthly affair is not paralleled. You are already a special citizen of our human league.If you are strong you should believe that no one is above you or below you.This planet is not invent by any race. It is our home and so far it is the only planet in the whole universe that claimed to have life forms like our planet.

You are already special. When you conceived in your mum womb,you were the only person that travelled the impossible journey that you are the only person survived among hundred and thousand of your brothers and sisters that all died along the journey to your mum egg. See how special you are.

Yes,you can live against all the odd,for our existence is full of mystery.All you need is a meaningful life and a fresh air to breath.

True Khmer

Anonymous said...

Many Khmer migrants who did not become American citizens have been deported to Cambodia for committing petty crimes. So please become a U.S citizen as soon as you can, so you can't be deported.

Anonymous said...

True Khmer, I admired your motivational speech but we're talking about reality here. Adopt and adapt to your new country and surrounding if you want to live, but still retain your original identity and pride. You can be both. America, Canada, Australia, France, etc. are great countries. They are not perfect, there are flaws but it's alot better off than other countries in the world. If you have dreams and willing to sacrafice for them. You would most likely achieve them because the opportunities are likely greater than your first home country.

Anonymous said...

Refugee statute in Europe, we all have the same right, working, travelling and enjoying life same as a citizen of the country.
But not to vote for a politcal decision or to be a state employee.
Any crime we did in this part of the world, they will not send us back to Cambodia, because they still respect the international statute of refugee.
To send the former refugee or still refugee back home is again the Geneva convention and it is only only working under the US law. In this case. it sound America still has a different democracy system (underdeveloped) as Europa.

Anonymous said...

Good point 4:45 PM. It would make more sense as a law to not deport anyone under the refugees entry statue regardless of what level crime and punishment for any of those refugees. If the crime is committed in America, they should serve time in America( which they did) and that should be the end of the story. Appearantly, America stood alone and above the international law set forth by Geneva convention. In that case, most if not all Cambodian deportees appearantly came from America. What a shame.

Tiffiny Sean said...

I'm realated to Hann Soy

Anonymous said...

I'm related to Hann Soy