Hmong refugees share their success with sponsor family

Friday, June 5, 2009


Mai T. Her, left, her son Christopher, the Rev. Curt Matz, Chungsou Her and Darlene Matz reunited Saturday at the college graduation ceremony for the Hers’ children, Lucky and Chengfeng. (Contributed photo)

Chungsou and Mai T. Her already had been through hell by the time they arrived in the United States 29 years ago.

Chungsou was a young man when he fought on the side of the United States in the so-called "Secret War" in Laos. And when America pulled out of Vietnam, it also pulled back support for Gen. Vang Pao's Hmong army, and its efforts collapsed. Chungsou and Mai, who married in Laos in 1978, left everything they knew behind and fled to Thailand with thousands of other refugees.

In June 1980, the young couple moved to Park Falls, thanks to the sponsorship of parishioners at the city's Peace Lutheran Church.

Chungsou had to start life over. He knew three words of English -- yes, no, OK -- and everything was alien to him. So he and Mai had to rely on the kindness of strangers. The parishioners at Peace Lutheran Church helped Chungsou, now 50, get a job. They drove him and Mai to doctor and dental appointments, helped show them the way of northern Wisconsin, explained that Fourth of July fireworks weren't bombs going off.

From that start, Chungsou and Mai were able to get a foothold in a new land. And once they got traction, they used their brains and their ambition and proceeded to rebuild their lives.

They moved to Wausau. Chungsou got a steady job with the Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, and he has worked there for more than 23 years. The couple had seven children. They became small business owners, buying and running the Phou Bia Oriental Market on Sherman Street.

But maybe their finest moment came this spring, when two of their children, Lucky, 25, and Chengfeng, 23, graduated from college. Lucky received a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Chengfeng graduated with a double major of political science and legal studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Chungsou is so proud: "I feel like there's a big balloon in my chest," he said.

He would have loved to have gone on to school himself, and he attended NTC for a short period, but circumstances prevented him from continuing. Having his kids get degrees is the next best thing.

But he wanted to share the accomplishment with the people of Park Falls who helped him reach this point. He hit the Internet and looked up folks. The ones he found were the Rev. Curt and Darlene Matz, who now live in Middle River, a town in northwestern Minnesota. He invited them to the graduation ceremony held for Lucky and Chengfeng last Saturday.

Their reunion was powerful.

"When we first saw them, Mai and I, we had some tears," Chungsou said.

"It was overwhelming," said Darlene. "It was a real sense of reconnecting. We're thankful and blessed that it did work out this way. ... This was what God wanted us to do."

Curt, now a pastor of four Middle River area churches, and Darlene, a lay minister who works with Curt, once drove Chungsou and Mai to Duluth so they could eat a meal at an Asian restaurant.

For Chungsou, the Matzes are part of the family, and their help was a big reason the Hers were able to become successful. He wanted them to know that what they did 29 years ago makes a difference today.

"Just like a seed they planted, they probably wanted to know what this family is like and how we've grown in this country," Chungsou said.

Darlene, now 60, and Curt, 58, got involved with Hmong immigration in 1980 because "it seemed like we had a responsibility to the Hmong who had been fighting for the United States," said Darlene.

Helping Chungsou and Mai was part of what it means to be Christian, a matter of faith, Darlene said.

They weren't sure how the whole process was going to go in Park Falls, Darlene said, but they found that the Hers' ambition and smarts made it easier.

And Park Falls also welcomed the Hers.

"A lot of people were involved," Darlene said. "It was a church and a community project."

But he wanted to share the accomplishment with the people of Park Falls who helped him reach this point. He hit the Internet and looked up folks. The ones he found were the Rev. Curt and Darlene Matz, who now live in Middle River, a town in northwestern Minnesota. He invited them to the graduation ceremony held for Lucky and Chengfeng last Saturday.

Their reunion was powerful.

"When we first saw them, Mai and I, we had some tears," Chungsou said.

"It was overwhelming," said Darlene. "It was a real sense of reconnecting. We're thankful and blessed that it did work out this way. ... This was what God wanted us to do."

Curt, now a pastor of four Middle River area churches, and Darlene, a lay minister who works with Curt, once drove Chungsou and Mai to Duluth so they could eat a meal at an Asian restaurant.

For Chungsou, the Matzes are part of the family, and their help was a big reason the Hers were able to become successful. He wanted them to know that what they did 29 years ago makes a difference today.

"Just like a seed they planted, they probably wanted to know what this family is like and how we've grown in this country," Chungsou said.

Darlene, now 60, and Curt, 58, got involved with Hmong immigration in 1980 because "it seemed like we had a responsibility to the Hmong who had been fighting for the United States," said Darlene.

Helping Chungsou and Mai was part of what it means to be Christian, a matter of faith, Darlene said.

They weren't sure how the whole process was going to go in Park Falls, Darlene said, but they found that the Hers' ambition and smarts made it easier.

And Park Falls also welcomed the Hers.

"A lot of people were involved," Darlene said. "It was a church and a community project."

Source

1 hlub:

Pop Champagne June 5, 2009 at 4:05 PM  

wow what a great story!! Hope you have a good weekend :)

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