By Kent Larsen
Laotian Mormon Learns You Can't Return From Going Home
VIENTIANE, LAOS -- A Laotian man who converted to Mormonism after
immigrating to the U.S. has discovered the peril of returning to Laos. Neng
Chao Lor returned to his homeland, Laos, following the death of his first
wife and now is having difficulty in returning to the U.S.
Lor was born in the war-torn Laotian province of Xieng Khoang on the
Vietnamese border. Drafted into the French army at age 18, he served as a
cook for seven years before returning home and starting his own farm. He
then married 16-year-old Mao Vang after paying an $800 dowry.
The CIA next made him a soldier in 1961, and in 1975 when the country fell
to the communist Pathet Lao, Lor and his wife and nine children hid in the
jungle, surviving there for four years by eating leaves, roots and the meat
of banana and palm trees. They escaped across the Mekong River in February
1979, and within a year the family was in Provo, Utah, guests of a Mormon
missionary who sponsored them, taught Lor to drive, got him a job and
converted him to Mormonism. He eventually moved to Sacramento, working for
the same furniture company until 1986, when an injury forced him to retire.
But in 1996, Lor's beloved wife of 43 years, Mao Vang, died from cancer.
Despondent, Lor asked his four oldest sons for $500 each and returned to
Laos in search of his wife's spirit, which, according to traditional Laotian
belief, would have returned to her birthplace. There he had a nervous
breakdown, and sympathetic relatives in Laos found him a new wife, 30 years
his junior, to care for him.
But now Lor can't return to the U.S. with his new family. His new wife, True
Yang, helped him get a Lao passport, not realizing that it would cost them
the chance to go to the U.S. His only chance to return seems to be coming
back alone, and petitioning then for his new family to be allowed to
immigrate, a more than five year long process.
So Lor, now 74, stays and tells his five young stepchildren stories of his
car and other wonders of life in the U.S. He calls his daughter in
Sacramento frequently, sobbing and begging her to bring him back. And he
tells his stepchildren all about America, "He tells us about America every
day, " says 17-year-old Mai, a stepdaughter. "This morning he told us the
U.S. has better schools, better living conditions . . . everything is
better in the U.S."
Chasing dream back to Laos can be letdown
Sacramento CA Bee 31Dec00 P2
By Stephen Magagnini: Bee Staff Writer