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On ‘Radio Times:’ Southeast Asian refugees who fled their home countries in ’70s and ’80s

 (From left) K. Natoen Chhin, Satun Chan, Kau Our, Kim Our, Hor Chou, and Sokmala Chy. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(From left) K. Natoen Chhin, Satun Chan, Kau Our, Kim Our, Hor Chou, and Sokmala Chy. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia is home to one of the largest populations of Southeast Asians in America.  Many of these communities were the result of a refugee crisis caused by the Vietnam War and by the genocide in Cambodia. 

On Thursday’s Radio Times, Marty heard some of the stories of young refugees who fled their home countries in the 70s and 80s.  One of Marty’s guests was Thoai Nguyen, CEO of the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition, who arrived in Philadelphia from Vietnam in 1975, at the age of nine.  His family was part of the first wave of refugees being resettled in the U.S., but a subsequent wave of refugees made Philadelphia their home a few years later. Thoai described how he had assimilated by the time these new immigrants arrived and how his friends called the new arrivals “chinks and gooks.”

Also joining Marty was Sakmala Chy, executive director of the Cambodian Association for Greater Philadelphia.  She was born in a refugee camp in Thailand as her parents escaped the ravages of the Khmer Rouge in her homeland. She described what she calls “intergenerational trauma,” adding, “Even myself when I’m telling the story of my parents,  I feel hurt. I feel wounds. It’s not something that just festers in you, it’s also something that weakens generational bonds. Where not wanting to talk about these things, there’s lack of understanding on both sides.”

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