The reason that brought me to Minnesota because I found one of my sister.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Henry Nelson
  • Age at interview - 38
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 08.13.1992
  • Naturalization ceremony for 113 new U.S. citizens on Citizenship Day, 1976.
    Monks at Watt Munisotaram Cambodian Buddhist temple, Minnesota, 2000s.  Photo co

    The Journey

    Javascript is required to view this map.

    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    The Journey: How did this person get to the U.S.?

    Words to look for

    Background Information

    The Khmer are the people of Cambodia.  In 1974 a Communist group called the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, gained control of Cambodia.  Many Khmer were executed under this tyrannical regime, and many others died of starvation, exposure and exhaustion.  During the period of genocide from 1975-1979 approximately 1.4 million people were executed, and it is estimated that a total of 20% of the Cambodian population died.

    Once the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in 1979 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Khmer refugees began to flee the country to camps in neighboring Thailand.  Continued fighting by the Khmer Rouge, fears of persecution by the Vietnamese occupiers, and starvation caused by poor harvests caused refugees to continute to pour out of Cambodia.  The U.S. began accepting refugees from Cambodia in 1979, and took 150,000 in that year alone.  The Khmer, like most refugees, were placed in locations all across the U.S., but then often moved to be closer to family or the Khmer community.

    To learn more about Khmer history and culture, visit our Khmer Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Henry Nelson 16
    2:35 Minutes | 2.48Mb


    Narrator: Henry Nelson (HN)

    Interviewer: Jim Dorsey (JD)

    JD:  And The Catholic Relief Service sponsored you to come to the United States?

    HN:  Yes.

    JD:  In what year?

    HN:  In 1982.

    JD:  And where did you come in the United States?

    HN:  At first I came to Ohio. I get down in Ohio. Cleveland. I get down and it's amazing. I get down in the year in February and it's really...the ground is white, snow all over. It's freezing. I cannot afford to stay here. Then I ask a gentlemen, who's taking care of me, he work for World Relief Service. I ask him, anywhere that have a warm weather. That's nicer than this. I want to go there. Then he told me, California, it's very nice weather. But I stay there a week and I say I'm sorry I cannot stay here. So I decide to go to California. And I fly to California.

    JD:  And then how long did you stay in California?

    HN:  I get to California and I go to college there. I met some friends; Cambodian people I make friends with them and they told me, "Do this, do that in order to get up your life.” And I go to Long Beach City College there, daytime, and I work at nighttime part-time to support myself. And later on I really need sort of a financial living. Then I decide to go to school only part-time and I work full-time at the McDonald's. And I become a chef manager there in six months.

    JD:  What brought you to Minnesota?

    HN:  The reason that brought me to Minnesota because I found one of my sister.

    JD:  How did you find your sister?

    HN:  The World Relief informed me. They say, “One of the lady saying claim that you are her brother. Do you know this lady here? Her name is Chaophan Nary and you are Samreth Vandy. It's completely different.” But when I heard that name I know that's my father's name. She is my sister for sure. Then I contact the World Relief that I want to have a photo. Later on they send me a photo and I say, "That's my sister!” That's my first sister, the oldest one. But I am her brother, older brother. Then I call her and we actually brother and sister. That's why it get me here.

    JD:  And she had relocated in Minnesota?

    HN:  Yes. She located in Minnesota here.

    JD:  So you came to be with her?

    HN:  Yes.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Related to finances, the management of money and other assets.


    Noun:  A person or organization that is responsible for another person or organization, especially legally or financially.

    Verb:  To take responsibilty for or vouch for another person.  (sponsors, sponsoring, sponsored)


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 568