Celebrating Bao Thao

In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month May 2020

My parents were farmers who lived in the mountains of Laos. We lived a happy life until we were forced to flee our village. We were one of the last families to leave because my parents didn’t want to leave behind what they had worked so hard for. I am the youngest of 8 children. One of my family’s greatest triumphs is traveling from Laos to Thailand, by foot, which took us about a week to get to the Thai refugee camp. Traveling in silence, with kids, little food and no map or compass to help navigate our way – I’m so glad we made it there safely. My mother is my hero. She was courageous enough to take that step and led us to where we are now. The long journey from Laos to Thailand and then to America, San Diego to be exact.

As a child I remember ongoing hate crimes and trying to defend ourselves with no English at all was one of the hardest struggles; it’s like talking to a deaf person. One time someone gas bombed my brothers’ room and we had to rush one of my brothers to the emergency room and there my dad tried to explain it to the doctors by gesture only. Hearing racial comments and seeing rude people spit on us and told us to go back to where we came from is so sad that I have that embedded in my mind till this day. We couldn’t do anything but give them dirty looks and talk in our native language under our breath. My experience made me want to help those in need, hoping to make a difference and ease their worries a little. Maybe their story will be a bit better.

Coming from a big family, I always knew that I wanted to help others. At a young age I was my parents’ advocate. They don’t speak English so my siblings and I would take turns interpreting for them. Back in the days, there weren’t many agencies that provided support such as now. Language barriers still continues to be an issue with our community. I love the feeling of advocating for those who don’t have a voice or can’t navigate our confusing system. Whether I can get an extension for a tenant to stay for just one more day, educating an individual about the importance of a mammogram, getting health care coverage for those in need or providing moral support for an individual at their hearing, is all worth it. Just to see a smile on their face or a simple thank you is all I need.

I feel at home with CCLS, and it’s hard to find a place of employment that makes you feel like that. The respect and team work is well worth investing my career here. I had BIG dreams, I originally wanted to become an actress like most people I know. I remember the first day in theater arts like it was yesterday. It wasn’t as I expected it; I don’t know how to pretend. I dropped the class as soon as I got out and never spoke of it again. Back to reality, going into the medical field was something my father would have wanted. He had chronic illnesses and was in and out of the hospital. It was hard for all of us to comprehend and then to interpret it back to him was not so easy; medical terminology is a completely different language. But while continuing my prerequisites for the nursing program, and being a single mother, I needed a steady job, and so this is where I’ve been since.

I’ve been with CCLS for 15 years but prior to that I had been working with their staff on numerous projects, I love the work they do for the community. Instead of focusing on a specific population, CCLS is diverse and their programs are very broad. CCLS takes it up a notch!

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