My first teacher in Minnesota tried to encourage me to speak to anybody on the street.: Becoming Minnesotan

Female silhouette.
  • Name - Thaly Chhour
  • Age at interview - 32
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 08.14.1992
  • Otto Werner leading Khmer and Vietnamese refugee English Class, 1974.
    Watt Munisotaram Bulletin, 1999.  Minnesota Historical Society.


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    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Assimilation: Does a person have to give up part of his/her culture to become more American?

    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. 

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Thaly Chhour 12
    2:6 Minutes | 2.01Mb


    Narrator: Thaly Chhour (TC)

    Interviewer: Cheryl A. Thomas (CT)

    TC:  When I got here I was so worried and concerned, I don't know what to do. I did not speak any English, I learn very little from the camp but when we stay in Philippines, I learn a little bit, a few more months over there. So when I got here, I was concerned, I thought in my family I don't have any brother to depend any more, now I have to stand up, be independent and all that, so I went to school, they call adult school, Gorland School, for a few months and my first teacher in Minnesota tried to encourage me to speak, just speak to anybody on the street, on the bus and all that. So I remember what she say and I try so hard to speak so I can get better and better.

    Then I thought after a few months it was summer break, and then I decide to go to TVI vocational school to study some skill, maybe I can find job right away because I thought I don't want to stay on welfare too long, plus I never have any experience that I should make a living by myself, be independent, always my parents support us, that's how Cambodian culture. So when I came here, my mom cannot speak, how can she have some business to support me, so I have to do it. Then I decide to go to TVI to study a skill to get a job, and I studied general office.

    CT:  Where is TVI?

    TC:  The one on Marshall, vocational school, now they call it St. Paul College School, yeah. And so I study there for a little bit over a year and then I got a job from - one job after another until now.

    Related Glossary Terms


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


    Noun:  1. Participation in events, leading to knowledge, opinons, or skills.  2. The knowledge thus gathered.


    Adjective:  Free; not reliant on anyone or anything else.

    vocational school

    Noun:  A school that teaches specific job skills, rather than general academic subjects.


    Noun:  Aid provided by a government to people in need, especially financial aid


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 574