[00:00:00] Sokhom: I am Sokhom Tauch and I’m executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization in Portland Oregon.
[00:00:09] Dmae: And would you tell me a little bit what it means to be a refugee?
[00:00:14] Sokhom: I I was a refugee in 1975, came into Portland back then something August in 1975 and the tough thing is the change in culture but a shock in culture and also the language barrier that we had back in the ’75 and the job is to come up with different language skills. So we had hard time really get a real job other than picking strawberry, dishwashing at a restuarant or busboy at a restaurant. But that what my experience is and we didn’t even know how to take the bus at that time because no such thing like this organization back then.
[00:01:01] Dmae: Let’s talk about what it was like in Portland during that time. Were there any services?
[00:01:07] Sokhom: There’s not much serices around. IRCO not exist until 1977. And we do not have anybody who’d been here before us. We had a very hard problem trying to find appropriate service to help. I found out that I was sponsored at that time was Catholic Charities and what they did is they gave us money for. So for a job interview and we had to go to regular employment office to find some ads. So we can follow up with the tip to look for employment.
[00:01:47] Dmae: When was IRCO foudend?
[00:01:47] Sokhom: In 1977 by a group our Asian. We have Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian who come together feel that we should try to form something that so these newly arrived Southeast Asian.
[00:02:06] Dmae: Were you one of the core people?
[00:02:07] Sokhom: I I joined a go through a job so they asked me to stay with them in a couple of days later a couple months later they asked me to stay there. But as an interpreter my first job.
[00:02:25] Dmae: What was Portland like when you arrived?
[00:02:26] Sokhom: Well it’s a small city not Portland. Portland was a small city and my sponsor so at that time is Catholic Charities. It’s a father Catholic Church. Airport is very small and my first introduction to Portland is the airport. I didn’t know where to go. Waiting for my sponsor and they took me to the bridge downtown bridge and I was so impressed. And I-84 at that time is only two lanes you know veering from here all the way to Wood Village. And you know car is not that much at that time. We don’t even have a high rise in the many high rise in Portland downtown office. And the Chinatown is still very old. You know very old Chinatown.
[00:03:24] Now it looks better. But when I first came it’s not a real city at all you know and dirty, and I also I hope people are coming and telling me that to go back where I came from you know.
[00:03:42] Dmae: In what way?
[00:03:42] Sokhom: At that time people did not know where Cambodia is and who was Cambodian. They are always telling me that they go back to Japan because that’s all they know properly at that time. And you know people are now much friendlier. At that time people are not that friendly and they keep looking you like a stranger because you look different. You speak different. You didn’t even speak the language at that time. And I always had my address with me at all times in case I get lost. Several times that I stay in a bus for a long time because I don’t know where to get off. You know until I pulled my address and show it to the driver and stuff like that.
[00:04:23] Dmae: Were there are very many Asians or people of color?
[00:04:28] Sokhom: There not many people of color in here at that time and Asia seem to be the only refugee group in 1975. We had lots of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian at the time. Hmong and Mien. That’s about what. And then the mainstream people they know only Japanese and many times either be Chinese or Japanese because they don’t know where basically where Southeast Asia is or where Vietnam is or Cambodia is.
[00:05:04] Dmae: Did you run into people who know about Vietnam and maybe were upset about the war?
[00:05:11] Sokhom: I heard about it but I’d never run into it myself.
[00:05:15] Dmae: I just wondered if maybe in some anti-Vietnamese sentiment too.
[00:05:17] Sokhom: I think it probably that time it’s already the war already end and anti sentiment may not be there anymore since the already end.
[00:05:30] Dmae: What about economically? You mentioned people doing jobs like strawberry picking and more manual labor.
[00:05:44] Sokhom: Yeah yeah. The job we cannot do anything to earn money. At that time you know and after strawberry picker it’s dishwasher for m, janitor. Until I land a job IRCO here. I had become an interpreter. At the time, I they didn’t speak much English but I know translation is written material. We do Cambodian newspaper in IRCO here at a time. And at that time we called it Indo-Chinese Center not even IRCO. So we know Chinese most of the time. And I’m since then I began to come to the office but instead of going to the restaurant and at night cleaning people office and people and medical clinic and stuff like that. That’s what I did in the 75.
[00:06:38] Dmae: If you could learn English as quickly as you did what happened to people?
[00:06:45] Sokhom: The family is still us. You know they still have a problem up to now because you know luckily the younger generation can do much better. You know they have children that go to school and they can do a lot and become a good helper in the family. Other than that the parent. I met people who are still not speaking English after 20 or 30 years here. So um.
[00:07:14] Dmae: What is it like for them?
[00:07:16] Sokhom: They going to hell hard time doing all kind of thing.I don’t think they ever work, they ever get a job.
[00:07:23] Dmae: Yes I wonder about people who are perhaps highly educated in the homeland country and then here don’t get to do you know what they were trained for.
[00:07:36] Sokhom: There’s a lot of people like that.
[00:07:37] Dmae: Can you give me examples?
[00:07:37] Sokhom: Examples like the officials from Cambodia. They came here they used to be having people serve them. And when they came here, you can get that kind of stuff in the United States that we are. Mentally they are very depressed. You know they but they learn how to live with it how to go with them. You know they learn how to solve a problem you know. So they just the earlier year they have a lot of problem but later down the road they learn how to adapt with the situation.
[00:08:15] Dmae: What about some people who didn’t?
[00:08:17] Sokhom: I think thempeople who cannot do what they children will somehow make them do it because now that children you know at that time children is going to college going to community college and stuff like that. They learn much much faster than the people.
[00:08:36] Dmae: I also wonder about adjustment issues. What were some of the major adjustment issues. Learning English and getting jobs? What are some of the other issues?
[00:08:51] Sokhom: The child-rearing practice is a big problem because back home we don’t raise the children the way we raise here.
[00:09:00] Dmae: Describe the differences.
[00:09:01] Sokhom:The difference is back home we tend to take that discipline on the hand you know like hitting children with small stick and punish them–through punishment rather than by counseling type in here. I get a lot of calls from authority I need to understand that by this family hitting children, why these family having the 10-year old kids go outside the house or 8 year-old kid go outside the house without the clothes. You know all those in Cambodia, it’s normal. You know that the way we raise children over there and here children cannot be have to comply with the law, had to be do all kind of thing that really different from back home.
[00:09:56] Dmae: How do you explain that to families?
[00:10:01] Sokhom: We get parents/child service in here that go out and get to the community. And I tried to explain to them what different and what the parent had to be careful when disciplining their children.You know.
[00:10:16] Dmae: In Cambodia when you say striking children I mean that could be considered violence here. Can you give some examples.
[00:10:25] Sokhom: Well there’s a case that they’re using and in some very very small stick.
[00:10:35] Dmae: Oh Incense.
[00:10:36] Sokhom: And then they hit the children and she being deported.
[00:10:41] Dmae: Can you see that again. There is a person.. There’s a woman?
[00:10:44] Sokhom: There’s a woman who tried to discpline the children by using the little incense stick and then hit the children with it. And she being deported. And.
[00:10:57] Dmae: Right now?
[00:10:58] Sokhom: Right now in Cambodia now.
[00:11:03] Dmae: She is? How did that happen?
[00:11:03] Sokhom: There’s a law that you know if you have domestic violence, if you have some kind of criminal background doesn’t matter if you’re not in United States. Doesn’t matter where this happened. INS can go and make a case about you and proceed with deportation process.
[00:11:27] Dmae: Is that recently?
[00:11:27] Sokhom: This is the law passed in 1996 and you know mostly young adults,they fight each other when they are in school, like 12 years old and stuff like that. And when they grow up these case with them even though they already pay for the crime they or whatever offence. they do. Like stealing a car and stuff like that. They have to do some kind of community service if they admit to the crime, their record still have criminal.
[00:12:02] In while about you go do to interview for citizen you know and your record if the police have a record on yo you know.
[00:12:13] Dmae: No I’m wondering who reported that incense incident.
[00:12:18] Sokhom: I think probably the neighbor or the teacher or the neighbor because this is. In back home the teacher never reported this kind of stuff but here if the teacher see some mark on your child, they report it. Even the ??? they do that too.
[00:12:35] Dmae: We are –this is not part of this story– but we’re also doing stories about Cambodians who have been deported because of the Patriot Act and so on and we’re trying to find actually a man that we can talk to either in Cambodia or here who is being deported?
[00:12:54] Sokhom: I I know the place because my last day I wanted to that area and my son getting sick and I had to cancel.
[00:13:04] Dmae: There’s a place?
[00:13:05] Sokhom: There’s an agency. a program that try to settle this Cambodian speaker from the United States. And they do look out a job for them, try to counsel them and stuff like that. And I want to see the program manager to talk to him and if there’s a way I can talk to the deportee who currently in Cambodia now but my son getting sick that day. And I had to be in emergency room rather than go to appointment.
[00:13:36] Dmae: I’m sorry about that. Is there a way to find out. We can send somebody.
[00:13:41] Sokhom: Yeah. I I have his email. I’m writing to that person.
[00:13:51] Dmae: You just came back. It’s fresh for you. But we’re trying to do a story because the Patriot Act allows more and more people to be deported for very small offences.
[00:14:02] Sokhom: And very small offences and Cambodia happened to be very unfortunate one because the government accepted, you know the Cambodian government have to accept that to really have this arrangment going on. And we see a film that you know where the father commit some kind of offences when they get young school and now they are grow up having children of their own. Then the next thing I see is the INS officer escort them to the plane. And one year old daughter kept running to him saying “Daddy Daddy”you know it’s very traumatizing.
[00:14:47] Dmae: Some people have been here for most of their lives and are being deported.
[00:14:53] Sokhom:Because they been here for the children. Whatever problems they have, it’s this environment, not Cambodian environment. Because they raised here like eight years old, nine years old you know. So some of them had joined the gang at that time in the late 90s and their record if they go to interview for citizenship that where they get busted.
[00:15:16] Dmae: Some of the earlier adjustment issues talked about poverty, language, child rearing. What are some of the others?
[00:15:29] Sokhom: School school that. You know PTA Association all want to involve parents in school. But Asian parent you know, now they began to involve but not when they first came. They don’t even speak English. They want their children to learn to be excelled in school. But as a parent they may know how to do it, how to proceed with it. So I see a lot of adjustment there. And just the day to day living. The food.I have to go to Chinatown to look for rice because we don’t eat bread. We eat rice. A big sack of rice only lasts a couple of days.
[00:16:29] Dmae: What about things like having come from countries where there’s been a war and use starvation. What are some of the post traumatic stress issues.
[00:16:42] Sokhom: We had a lot of that but the University hospital.OHSU had some kind of counseling. So we had a lot of Cambodian went there just for treatment or medicine.
[00:17:09] Dmae: Do most people think they have it?
[00:17:11] Sokhom: Most people probably after been there for awhile they know. But those who feel they doing okay, they stop going there.
[00:17:20] Dmae: Because people don’t talk about it.
[00:17:23] Sokhom: It embarrassing to say you have psychiatric problem or post-traumatic problems you know you head because Asian feel that you crazy instead. So people doesn’t talk about it at all basically.
[00:17:43] Dmae: So how does it show up?
[00:17:46] Sokhom: I think what it is they began to feel that they see a doctor you know or there something that may not be able to keep a job and they refer to doctor and the doctor began to diagnose it. And we have a Cambodian counselor that go around at OHSU and that talk to people.
[00:18:09] Dmae: And what kind of things do they find out when eople go and talk to people about stress?
[00:18:19] Sokhom: I know there’s some depression. Nightmare at night. Yelling and screaming and stuff like that. Those are the type of signs they have this kind of illness from the war.
[00:18:25] Dmae: I would think also there’s domestic violence too? Is there some of that?
[00:18:41] Sokhom: Domestic violence is not really facing. Because people also at that time domestic violence is just little crime. Not like now.
[00:18:56] Dmae: I’m talking about now. Still issues?
[00:18:57] Sokhom: Now peole espeically Asian know some cases. But not a lot of them because I held a service here. Ladies services. We had counselor, a woman come be in classes, stuff like that.
[00:19:12] Dmae: So people are more aware.
[00:19:16] Sokhom: People are more aware of the law. We have family law education too. that want you out of the.
[00:19:22] Dmae: There’s so much more available to people now.
[00:19:24] Sokhom: Yeah.
[00:19:26] Dmae: You recently. Oh I also want to talk about when the refugees first came. What about health care and medical practices? Wasn’t that a big change?
[00:19:38] Dmae: It is big change. Just the way doctor visit different. When we first came we had to be immunized. Required to cure the TB. Everybody had something in Cambodia by putting some virus in your body and when they came in with the test, it show. They had to take year-long medicine.
[00:20:17] Dmae: I was thinking about the kind of medicine that you might have in Cambodia be different like in different medical practices.
[00:20:24] Sokhom: Well we believe in the countryside. We believe in this spiritual healing more than in the city. In the city they have medical facilities much more Westernized but the country they believed that there’s something wrong. What you did to the spirit and stuff like that you know. But now people still believe in it because of these belief pass through generation to generation. I hope that younger generation be better off with Western medicine practices.
[00:21:06] Dmae: But it’s also spiritual healing to so. What about spiritual practices at that time? How do people practice their religions?
[00:21:16] Sokhom: We have our own temple.
[00:21:18] Dmae: Was one here in Portland?
[00:21:21] Sokhom: Not for Cambodians. But a group tried to form in one in I believe 1980.
[00:21:31] Dmae: But there’s that temple now.
[00:21:33] Sokhom: Yes there’s a big one in West Linn. Yeah. So everybody go there.
[00:21:39] Dmae: When do they go?
[00:21:41] Sokhom: They go when they have Buddhist ceremony. Big holiday or religious holiday and they go there.
[00:21:48] Dmae: There’s one coming up.
[00:21:53] Sokhom: I think it’s September. Seniors go weekly.
[00:21:53] Dmae: They do? And sing?
[00:22:00] Sokhom: Yeah. And sing Buddhist. It’s the one that closely practice the Buddhism. But for younger generation, they usually go there with their parent’s only. That’s what I’m trying teach my kid to be aware of that religion also.
[00:22:23] Dmae: Is it Buddhist religion? Is it possible to record some of the singing time or do you have a CD or that that they do it right by.
[00:22:43] Sokhom: Not CD but cassette/video tape. We do it all the time so not rare to find.
[00:22:56] Dmae: Would it be possible for me to record some time?
[00:22:58] Sokhom: Yeah. You when they do a ceremony. Yeah. You can call me. We have all kinds of event.
[00:23:20] Dmae: But there’s one in September I should be on do that one is in trouble. Can anybody come?
[00:23:27] Sokhom: Anybody can come and there’s 15 days in September. Some in early October. Because September is rainy season.Different regions for one day. All come together on final day.
[00:24:09] Dmae: Oh that’s lovely. It’s just a lovely image. You know when does it start, what date?
[00:24:16] Sokhom: I do not know exactly but I know it mid to late September they begin that.
[00:24:22] Dmae: I’ll check back with you.I want to also talk about your recent trip to Cambodia. And what do most Cambodians and most refugees still have ties to.
[00:24:34] Sokhom: Yes.
[00:24:35] Dmae: Describe those ties. How strong is that?
[00:24:37] Sokhom: Very strong. Most Cambodians here have some relative home. We still keep our custom. You know you are older brother, you are take care of siblings. That’s why there’s a lot of money sent to them. You know like we have a parent, some build a house for parent. So relationship is still very strong in term of relationship in Cambodian community even though they are back and we are here, we still send money to them.
[00:25:12] Dmae: Have there been a lot of people who wanted to move back to.
[00:25:24] Sokhom: Yes. Some people but most of the people already retired, does’t have to work, they can just go and live there easily. Because it very cheap to live in Cambodia. Just regular people don’t have to have mansion and stuff like that. Very cheap.
[00:25:46] Dmae: I’ve just heard a lot of people, Vietnamese especially, and Cambodia and go back and want to retire there or go and have busineses.
[00:25:57] Sokhom: I don’t think the law there is–. You get used to the law t here. You know it’s not going to be the same in Cambodia. Lot of bribery if you want to open business but it’s not going to happen. You just pay license fee here and open own business. go. I chose to go on vacation to see family members.
[00:26:38] Dmae: How was that trip for you? What you did, what you saw?
[00:26:38] Sokhom: Well there’s a lot of poor. People unfortunate childrenthat had to sell stuff at tourist site to make ends meet. Lot of restautrants, nightclub and stuff like that. Those are for the rich after they work and enjoy themselves. But the poor if you can ear $2 a day, you’re considered very lucky.
[00:27:25] Dmae: What about the government?
[00:27:26] Sokhom: The government just try to do their best. But you know I see there is plenty of law but no enforcement. It’s hard for people in United States to go there and be like regular people.
[00:27:56] Dmae: Did you go back to childhood places?
[00:27:56] Sokhom: It change a lot. A couple of people that went to school with me in elementary school didn’t recognize me. Getting old now. I took my children to see this where I came from, the school in here. Just a building, plenty of people and chalkboard.
[00:28:32] Dmae: How old were you when you left?
[00:28:32] Sokhom: I was 22. So you were an adult. I was in the Navy, Cambodian Navy when I left Cambodia.
[00:28:43] Dmae: So you were fighting the war then?
[00:28:45] Sokhom: Well I just joined the Navy a year and half or two year I think but have not any war experience at all. No action at all.
[00:29:00] Dmae: I don’t think people don’t realize how much the U.S.did in Southeast Asia besides Vietnam and cause so many people to have to leave.
[00:29:16] Sokhom: I see that. There’s a town next to my town, next province, it was bombed by B-52 and what they did is anybody injured get $200.
[00:29:31] Dmae: What does that mean?
[00:29:31] Sokhom: Pay for the thing that they done. But $200 for Cambodian is a lot. That’s how they stabilized Cambodian society. The war and Khmer Rough which the United States knew very well but did little to help.
[00:30:06] Dmae: What is the challenge for Cambodia right now?
[00:30:09] Sokhom: Cambodians. You know they usually surviving. They can make all kind of like motorcyles to put more people in it. They have all kind of mines. Like Bombhunters.
[00:30:26] Dmae: Oh you tell me about this film. What is that?
[00:30:29] Sokhum: I think you talk about some documentary in Cambodia.
[00:30:32] Dmae: About the mines?
[00:30:32] Sokhom: The mines. Cambodia used to mine to sell for scrap metal. So you know.
[00:30:41] Dmae: They try to get some scrap metal.
[00:30:46] Sokhom: From the mine field.
[00:30:48] Dmae: That’s what it’s about?
[00:30:48] Sokhom: These guys went to document these things.
[00:30:51] Dmae: But they get blown up?
[00:30:55] Sokhom: They supposedly very experienced. But you know you’ll see that it become a normal life for them. But you know what I want to see is you know Red Cross, Cambodian Red Cross can do as much as they can.
[00:31:12] Dmae: Red Cross?
[00:31:12] Sokhom: Yeah. Cambodian Red Cross.
[00:31:16] Dmae: What about like industries or are all the other countries going to swoop into Cambodia and start making a make shoes? I mean what’s going on?
[00:31:27] Sokhom: Well there’s some foreign industry there, but mostly clothes, materials.
[00:31:35] Dmae: That’s what I would think is cheap labor.
[00:31:37] Sokhom: Cheap labor but they pay them. Like have a friend to put button and for each button into the shirt and for each shirt he earn 5 cents. They sell it for $70. What I want to see is a fair payment to those Cambodian who work very hard. What they need is more vocational school, more skill training where Cambodian children cawn learn some kind of skills so they earn a livable job.
[00:32:12] Dmae: There was a controversy about someone who wanted to make the Killing Fields like the commercial park or something. Is that still going on?
[00:32:24] Sokhom: In Cambodia?
[00:32:24] Dmae: He was going to charge admission to see the bones of people. I don’t know.
[00:32:29] Sokhom: There’s always way to make money in Cambodia by the authority. If they can make money, they gonna make money. The forest, big jungle is cleared out and the month I went there no rain and the farmers having problem cultivating their crop. They bought grass in other areas to feed the cows. Never happen in Cambodia before. If they hear about drought or hunger or anything like the Cambodian Red Cross would help. You know what, it only lasts two or three days. If they trained them and established employment or them and some skills I think I. Wanted to find something like that.I think that would better for Cambodian society now and in the future.Because once the kid doesn’t have job, they play cards and drink and afterward crime going to follow. Front page of daily newspaper full of killings about each people killing each other, robbery stuff like that.
[00:33:59] Dmae: It all has to do with economics and it sounds like?
[00:34:05] Sokhom: What they need to do is have some skill training for the people that ready to become labor for the country and for now no such thing.