My Name Is... Sotha Chea


Escape from Cambodia

I’m originally from Cambodia. Communists took over in 1975. They killed millions. My father was a professor and my mother was a nurse. The regime called them “intellectuals” and killed them, and four more of my family. My brother survived and escaped to Vietnam. I escaped to Thailand, then I fought with the guerilla forces for six years. I got wounded and I got political asylum in the United States.

When I came here, I didn’t know anything but fighting in the jungle. I didn’t know English. I started reading children’s books. After 35 years, I still read every chance I get. If I want to live in a good society, I need to educate myself.

Joy and light

I take great pride in my work. I’m an arborist and irrigation tech, but I also help create beautiful holiday light displays. When I was young, I was fascinated by lights in parades and festivals in Cambodia. Today, when I create displays, I think about children. I see their faces as they look at my displays. It makes me feel wonderful. I’ve won championships for my light displays.

Sometimes when I’m dealing with problems or conflicts, I’ll get in the bucket of the boom lift truck and raise it up as high as it goes, and I just watch and relax. I suffered so much when I was young. I was tortured. We were caged. The Communists made us sleep in fields with animals. We had nothing to eat. When the memories return, I get up there and let it go.

'Don't do anything crazy '

Some of my crew came from Cambodia too. Some of our people heard about the Land of Opportunity, and when they got here, they got complacent. They want to forget the past, so they abuse alcohol. When they struggle, I tell them, home is home. Don’t think about it. Focus. Don’t do anything crazy. Do your job.

To me, I got an opportunity and I’m going to take it. That’s why I’m always working on another certification.

People say I’m taking Americans’ jobs. I don’t see it like that. I’m here to receive a job that someone else didn’t want. Now people enjoy the work I do. I don’t complain.

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