‘Coming to America’ From CAMBODIA

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of many interviews that Ventura County resident Kathleen Roos has conducted with immigrants from countries with oppressive governments.  Citizens Journal is eminently proud to showcase these valuable works which highlight real immigrant stories.  All too often today, main stream media treats the topic of immigration in a totally political light.  Far beyond the rhetoric of bluster and maneuvering, these stories illustrate the important human story that accompanies each and every immigrant that reaches our county. 


by Kathleen S. Roos Ph.D.


These are the stories of immigrants to the US who have experienced firsthand varying degrees of socialism or communism and forms of government that differ from the USA.  Many of these immigrants have lived through conditions and horrors that most Americans thankfully will never experience. Knowledge of these stories may lead persons both young and old to do more research into history and educate themselves on some of promises and rhetoric made by politicians and activists today in this Country.

Historian Forest MacDonald described George Washington as an “indispensable man.”  Americans have given up commemorating George Washington’s birthday,  February 22, and instead celebrate a 3-day weekend near that date. One of the downsides according to Gary M. Gillis (Feb 19, 2021) is that we are now more likely to overlook the wisdom Washington has to offer us. This is particularly unfortunate following an intensely uncivil and divisive election, whose subsequent “unity” has continued to be uncivil and partisan. The point here is that the civility and knowledge from history is being trampled by the very same people who once insisted it was imperative. Actions such as tearing down statues, burning books, silencing opinions, and wholesale revision of history are dangerous undertakings with potential to materially damage society.  One example: the Taliban destroyed >3,000-year-old Buddha statues against the entire worlds’ pleas.  We need to learn from the past and build upon it. Ignorance should not be allowed to destroy existing knowledge for future generations. Preservation of knowledge will allow future generations to have there most prosperous existence.

My purpose in writing this series is to alert those who may have little knowledge of the recent past of heart wrenching damage and depridations caused by socialism, communism and other forms of rule including dictatorships, monarchies and ‘military democracies’. The individual histories portrayed in these stories still exists in the hearts and minds of those who experienced it first-hand. Many still live under such rule as the people of Cuba, under totalitarian Communist rule since 1958. Unfortunately, even today, university professors and their students and many politicians are denying our history!  I come from parents and relatives who fought in World War II or worked in industry proudly on the home front. I have friends both living and deceased who served in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars. I am of the generation who understands that people left Europe to escape the likes of Mussolini, Tito, Lenin, Stalin and Hitlers of the day.

When I started to see friends of 30 plus years never speaking to each other again and close-knit families avoiding sharing holidays together, I felt I had to do something. To me that was so ‘not America.’ Today many do not understand or appreciate the damage caused by socialism and communism and are easily led by emotional blogs and suggestive media that provides only partial truths. To make this point I will share several examples: I shared with an acquaintance a rather horrific story, included in this expose, actions of Josef Stalin during one of his speeches. The reaction was laughter and he said young people today would say “Who’s Stalin”? Another example comes from one of my interviewees whose niece denied her experiences in Santiago, Chile stating she knew because of what her professors told her. And yet another where I shared the story of Edgar Harrell, the last surviving Marine of the USS Indianapolis. I had just viewed his experience on Memorial Day on Wall Builders where it was noted that in the US today our educational system from first grade to K-12 in Advance Placement history consisted of a single page devoted to World War II and that was almost entirely devoted to coverage of Japanese internment camps. I was relaying Edgar’s emotional story to a very successful, educated young women. She was moved by his story and said ‘what is this Indianapolis’? This response startled me. The lack of knowledge of history today is destructive to our future generations. Though Socialism may appear on paper as harmless and even glorious and beneficial to some, that could not be further from the truth. As I read in a recent post on Next-door.com (neighborhood social media website) “so what’s wrong with wanting free stuff!” which points out having knowledge is critical to enjoying freedom and having liberty. There is no free anything. Someone is paying somewhere. And when it comes to liberty it may be in lives lost as in the USS Indianapolis episode. Yes, there are many different types/levels of socialism and I will address these options but just know it is a slippery slope.

I have personally had several encounters with socialism and communism and other repressive forms of government during my work. I will include my story at the end. While talking to a colleague one day, he related his story of being one of the boat people escaping from Vietnam.  His story was so important and compelling I knew at that time that I needed to present it to a larger American audience.That was years ago. I never pursued it until now. We are becoming less American and more like the places where many people wanted to escape from. Few Americans are aware of these experiences and how common and universal they are. Most immigrants, legal or not, appear more appreciative of American values than many Americans who have the great opportunity to have been born here. You will hear this sentiment time and time again throughout these interviews. Ask yourself, ‘why is it that our enemies see us as Americans and we Americans see each other as the enemy?  America, the place where thousands of peoples from more than 160 countries are trying to enter!

While speaking with my aforementioned colleague, I mentioned I was interviewing people from socialist/communist countries, learning about why they came to America and how they felt about their experiences there compared to the US. Her immediate response was: “well I certainly hope you are interviewing someone from Sweden or Norway”. I have made every effort to interview someone from Nordic Countries and unveil the progressive “halo’ of Sweden and other Norwegian Countries being the answer to our government and societal woes. My purpose does not include comparatives such as geographical size, demographics, gross and net GDPs, but when space allows, I will elaborate. When shared, my interviewee from India agreed that Finland is a paradise, but then he said but it is mostly Finns and the size of California. It doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of people from more than 160 countries trying to invade its border.

My qualifications for writing this expose are none. I am not a sociologist, psychologist, political science major or historian. My degrees are in biology, marine science and environmental engineering. I am, however an avid reader of history, stay current with civic events and consider myself a patriot. My favorite authors growing up and remain today are William Manchester, Barbara Tuchman, Ayn Rand, James Clavell, Alan Moorhead, Winston Churchill, George Orwell, Richard Feynman, Michael Crichton, Carl Sagan, Thomas Sowell, and enjoyed the thinking of Gene Roddenberry. As stated, when I saw friends and family never talking to each other again because of opposing political views, I felt a need to communicate that something is very wrong and suggest a way forward.

In the past, I avidly tried to avoid using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  I recall my niece telling me “It’s just social engineering”, and think how little did she realize how correct her observation was. I have long thought many are being socially engineered to a single mindset and not one of your own choosing. I know I will not get friends back but I am attempting dialogue.

My method for interviews varies based on the situation. In some instances, it was more comfortable for the story teller to just talk especially if some translation was necessary. At other times I conducted a more formal interview. Whatever method used my input or clarifications are italicized. Otherwise, all the stores are exactly from the those being interviewed, other than some reorganization for flow. I did not take on ‘cleaning anything up’ to make it more palatable to some or politically correct to others. That is not my intent nor my right. These are their stories.


Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

Interview with conducted Vanchhat Toch

Mr. Toch served with the former Cambodian Army (known as ‘Freedom Fighters’) who fought against the Communist party attempting take over of Cambodia

Vanchhat was born in Cambodia in 1941. He has 4 brothers and 2 sisters and practiced Buddhism.

From 1970-1975, I was in the Cambodian Military and fighting with the Freedom Fighters against the Communist Party of our government. I lived in the Battambang region of Cambodia. I was 30 years old when I escaped with my family to a camp along the Thai border. I do not remember the name of the camp. There were many camps which were established by the United Nations.

During these years Cambodia was an agrarian society of peasants living off the land. We farmed and raised our own food. There was no market economy. We raised primarily rice and when the Communist entered into the region in 1970, they formed labor camps where our children from ages 5 and up were taken to work and grow rice. The money went to China.

Money was borrowed from China by Cambodian leaders. All our children were taken from our homes. Mony, Vanchhat’s second son was taken when he was 5 years old and worked there until about 9 years old. They stayed in the camps .

and ate primarily rice daily. Vanchhat’s family of 2 boys and two girls were separated during this time.

The King of Cambodia, Pram Norodom, a despot wanted power and was influenced by Communist China. Cambodians who left Cambodia and went to US were considered a traitors; many were killed.  Many were sent to the famous prison of Tuol Slong.  Others left early to go to France for study and were killed when they returned. All persons with educations or professional jobs were considered ‘intelligencia’ and were imprisoned or killed. Even the simple act of wearing eyeglasses was considered a sign of studiousness and was enough to justify the execution of the transgressor.

The times were very confusing.  The ethnic Vietnamese were also Buddhist and they were executed along with the Cambodians. However, it was the Communist Chinese and Vietnamese who entered Cambodia and attacked local citizens. Vanchhat said it was very confusing as to who they were fighting.

Vanchat and Vanthang

 Vanchhat fought Pol Pot’s army in 1974.

“I was a member of the Freedom fighters and fought with Lon Nol. Communist Pol Pot lied to us, his people and no one believed Lon Nol as to what was to come. Marshal Lon Nol was Cambodia’s politician and general serving twice as Prime Minister. He also served as defense minister and provincial governor.”

Freedom Fighter General Lon Nol was exiled to US, and US helped him escape. His escape to the US was fortunate; he was slated for execution by the Khmer Rouge.

Vanchhat’s brother Vanthang was disappeared by the Khmer Rouge government in 1973. This was when Vanchhat knew he had to get out of Cambodia to get his family to safety. The Communist government lied to the people and told them when they were taking their guns. They told us we would be safe and there would be no more wars. This is when Vanchatt was in military and knew what was happening and draws parallels to what is happening in US today. Catholic churches and Buddhist Temples were destroyed. No religious practices were allowed. Schools were closed. All the children went to camps to prepare the fields to produce food for the Communist Chinese.

Pol Pot and the other leaders never worked or created anything ever in their lives, yet they felt they were born to be Kings.

“Cambodia wanted to destroy the Tuol Slong prison but we Cambodians fought to maintain it as a museum so people would never forget the Khmer Rouge and what had happened to them. I, Vanchhat, wanted to get my family out. My brother and a nephew had been executed. Others just ’disappeared’. I knew of the camps along the border with Thailand. The Communist Vietnamese did not want we Cambodians or ethnic Vietnamese to get out. Many were captured. I spilt my family up for survival in case one of us would be caught. My family walked for a full day and night, hiding in the jungle, avoiding the Khmer Rouge and mines placed by the Communist to get to the border. I had to separate the family to escape. I took Mony and his brother and sister while my wife and other brother and sister went into hiding. Mony, my younger son had no shoes, only slippers while in the Camp. My remaining family came later. The camps were almost like prisons themselves. If you tried to leave there was razor wire around the camp. It was known as the ‘Prison of No Walls’. Many would try to escape to get food for their families only to be executed.”

            According to Vanchhat, China was instrumental in the development of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian General Lon Nol attempts to fight them. He was not believed. General Lon Nol had demanded that all Communists Vietnamese leave Cambodia. These events marked the start of the Cambodian Civil War, pitting Lon Nol against the Khmer Rouge and North Vietnam.  After a protracted conflict, the Communist Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975.

            In 1973 Vanchhat’s son, Mony’s brother escaped to become a Marine in US and then returned to Cambodia to train Cambodians. He spoke French fluently and was a member of Cambodia’s version of US FBI. He had no family left and escaped to US and lives in Pomona, CA.

            On January 7 1979, the Vietnamese communists marched into Phnom Penh and replaced the Khmer Rouge with a more familiar brand of tyranny. It is estimated that between 2-3 million were either executed or died of disease and starvation from 1975-1979.

Tuol Slong Prision

Tuol Slong Genocide Museum

“I was 30 years old at the time of our escape from Cambodia. My family remained in the Thailand border camp for 3 years and 8 months before we were moved to the U.S. We stayed in many camps in Thailand before we reached the U.S. The camp is similar to the photographs included below. We could have gone to France but we wanted to go to the  USA.

Cambodian Border Camps 1979-1984


Cambodian border refugee camp

View inside Cambodian border refugee camp.

Refugee Camp. “A prison of no walls.”

date of interview: Feb 7, 2021.

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Neil Jordan

Excellent and informative interview. I was not aware that Communist China turned neighboring countries into vassal states, extracting in this case food. I liked the introduction, too.

William Hicks

Many of those escaping Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are hill people, Hmong and Montagnards. They were also similar to our current allies we had in Afghanistan in that they also were promised protection from the United States that came short of the full promise.

Steph Bond

The interview was detailed and informative and Kathleen provided background to help the reader gain a better understanding of the events Awesome, looking forward to more articles


I absolutely agreed with you “Kathy Roos”, even my own parents & her relatives pretty much experienced these kind of life in the Philippines, politics, war & corruption during world war two. My family and I are so fortunate that we are able to live here in USA. I just hope & pray that my adoptive country “USA” will not become a Socialist or Communist. Love the article thank you for sharing.

Mary Matera

This project is a worthwhile read for those of us who are appreciative of what we have, where we are and the opportunity and freedom to pursue our goals and dreams. Hopefully these personal histories are shared with others who may not have received this gift of learning how many of our fellow countrymen have overcome challenges to their very existence and stand as examples of how perseverence and spirit have created heroes.

Joy Swift

This is a fantastic article and interview! I look forward to reading more of these interviews from Kathleen Roos. Hopefully more people will read these interviews and realize how lucky we are to have been born and living in the USA!

Donna Matera

This article provides tremendous insight to the drive and motivation of these immigrants who put their lives at risk to escape their government. It definitely evokes a greater sense of appreciation for this great country we live in. I particularly like the non-political approach which allows for an open mind.This work speaks to Kathleen’s compassion and commitment to bringing immigration to a whole new light. I look forward to reading more interviews and gaining an even greater perspective!

Maggie Kennedy

This may be the beginning of one of the most important books of these terrifying times we live in. It is well written with great intelligence and a sincere desire to help the sleepers wake up to the reality of what is happening to our once great country. I implore everyone to share this article far and wide, especially with our younger generations. They have been lied to and manipulated from every side. I look forward to reading and sharing Ms. Roos’ book. A MUST read.