They approve me to come to the United States.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Monoram Hang
  • Age at interview - 26
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 07.30.1992
  • Biu Kanika holds Heidi Christ, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard Christ, 1975.
    Khmer Americans at dinner, 2000s.

    The Journey

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    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.   The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform Cambodia into an agriculture-based classless society, and to remove all Western influence.  Educated people, professionals, city-dwellers, and any opponents of the Communists were quickly rounded up and placed into forced labor camps in the countryside.  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, and the refugee camps quickly filled.  Newcomers were forced back to Cambodia or managed to stay in the camps illegally.  The U.S. began accepting refugees from Cambodia in 1979, and took 150,000 in that year alone. 

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

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2

    Download Monoram Hang 7
    6:52 Minutes | 6.61Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  After I escaped when the Vietnamese came in, I left Cambodia. There are many reasons that I left Cambodian. I snuck into the [Khao-I-Dang] refugee camp, I thought it was better, but actually it is better compared to the Khmer Rouge, a lot of better, because you got support from the many organizations from the world like IRC, a lot of thing. But for me it was different, because I got into the camp late, which I mean late is the U.N., U.N. Board, United Nation Board, the relief organization, they stopped the arrival, new refugee arrived at certain times. After '84 they didn't accept any more. Maybe they ran out of funds or something, I'm not sure, but they said no more refugee.

    And then the refugee kept coming, still coming from Cambodia, because they know that the only place along the [Thai-Cambodian] border you can get food.

    And then I came which was late, 1985, and I was not accept as a refugee. I was called illegal refugee, which I can live in camp illegally, nobody give me food, nobody give me water, nobody give me a cell to live, to stay, to sleep, nothing. Then a lot of people came and got into refugee camp and they were illegal but they still survived because they have some relatives living abroad, send them money, and they use the money to buy food from the legal refugee because they got rations from the U.N.

    And for me I didn't have any relative to support me in that way, and how I survived was I worked for the elderly, the legal refugee who they were old like the nursing home here, something like that. They cannot go to get rations, go work, because they distributed the water twice a day or something like that and the old people cannot go and get the water, cannot carry the water. I would do that for them and they would give me just a bowl of rice to eat.

    And at night I slept on the roof of the hospital, called OP-7, Outpatient Seven. I slept most of the time on the roof because at that time the Thai's government tried to catch, you know, tried to get the illegal refugee and send back to Cambodia.  If you go back we would be killed by the communist government in Cambodia. That's why most people didn't go. And then when they were catched by the Thai soldier, they paid Thai soldier the money. The money they got is from the relative abroad. Paid them the money like two or three hundred dollars, then you live free in the camp but you still not legal.  You can live there but you cannot do what you want.

    And then for me I'm afraid of that if I was caught and sent back to Cambodia, I would be killed, too, because there is many reason that I left. And then I tried to be away from the Thai soldier by living in the ground. Like live in the ground like a mouse or rat, like an animal, and put a bed inside the ground, something like that. And during the day if I know there is no more Thai soldier walking around looking for illegal refugee, I see outside. And if I see somebody coming, I ran back into the hole and close it up. And no oxygen. I almost die once because they were walking around a very long time, like an hour or something, and a lot of illegal refugee would die. They die from not enough oxygen or something, die in a hole and in the water tank. They tried to hide every place they can, you know. And for me, most of the time is on the roof. And the roof nobody can see because it's high, and I stay on the top of the roof at night because then I can sleep very well.

    During the day I came down and most of the time it's just around the OP-7and I started to like OP. I saw that if I were accepted to be legal refugee, I would do something or go to school and come back and work for OP, and it was lucky, just my fate that I was accepted to be legal refugee. Then I went to the Cambodian - Khmer Health Training Center which they train me about Western health, Western medicine. And I go through that class for about a year and a half. I got contract with IRC which is when I finish school I have to come back and work for IRC, and then I worked for OPD-7 where I used to live, where I had lived for many - for a long time.

    Then Dr. Walker, Patricia Walker who is still director of international clinic right now, she was the director of OPD during that time. Then I worked with her. I was the translator and medical translator and also a medic assistant. And that's why I study - how I start to know her and she sponsored me to come to Minnesota.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Monoram Hang 8
    3:58 Minutes | 3.81Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    Interviewer: Dwight Oglesby (DO)

    DO:  And when did you leave the refugee camp and where did you go?

    MH:  In that time I had permit to live in refugee camp, so I had been sponsored by American here. At that time they approve me to come to the United States and transfer me from refugee camp Thailand to live in Philippine refugee camp.

    DO:  How did you meet your sponsor, your American sponsor?

    MH:  In that time before I don't have any permit to live in refugee camp, I live with a group of – a hospital place they call OPD-7, and after that I got a permit to live in that refugee camp so I come ask to work in hospital and end up meeting him in hospital.

    DO:  And where were you living in the Philippines?

    MH:  I was in the Philippine camp they call Bataan. Most people have been transferred from Thai to Philippines and wait to come to the United States so know how to - how to know American culture, how to live in American style.

    DO:  And how long were you in the Philippines?

    MH:  I live there about six months.

    DO:  And where did you go then after the Philippines?

    MH:  After I stay in Philippine camp, they were training us to live, how to speak English, learn more English. Up to that they transfer us from Philippine camp to United States.

    DO:  And how long have you been living in the United States now?

    MH:  About three years, three and a half years.

    DO:  And had that been in Minnesota the entire time?

    MH:  Yeah, in Minnesota only.

    DO:  And what has your work been while you've lived in the United States?

    MH:  Right now my job is in Ramsey Hospital in St. Paul.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adverb:  Beyond the borders of a certain country; in foreign countries.


    Noun:  An agreement between two or more parties, to perform a specific job or work order, often temporary or of fixed duration and usually governed by a written agreement.


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Verb:  To divide into portions and hand out.  (distributes, distributing, distributed)


    Noun:  The cause, force, principle, or divine will that predetermines events.

    Khmer Rouge

    A Cambodian Communist guerrilla force active from the 1970s to the 1990s under the leadership of Pol Pot.

    Listen to this word: 


    Adjective:  1. Relating to the law or to lawyers.  2. Allowed by law.


    Noun:  A document giving someone permission for something.


    Noun:  A portion designated to a person or group, often of food.


    Noun:  A person forced to leave his or her own country and seek refuge in a foreign country out of fear of persecution or violence or because of poverty or natural disaster.

    refugee camp

    Noun:  A temporary settlement where those fleeing political persecution, war, or natural disaster can live before returning home or permanently resettling elsewhere.


    Noun:  1. Aid or assistance offered in time of need.  2.  The removal of stress or discomfort.


    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)


    Adjective:  Of or having to do with Thailand, its people or language.

    Noun:  1. A person from Thailand, or of Thai background.  2. The langauge spoken in Thailand.


    Noun:  One who changes written text from one language to another.


    Adjective:  Of or pertaining to Vietnam.

    Noun:  1. Inhabitant of Vietnam or person of Vietnamese descent.  2. Language spoken predominantly in Vietnam.

    Western medicine

    Noun:  The type of medical treatment that is the most popular in North America and Western European countries, based on the use of drugs and surgery to treat symptoms.


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