Tracing my family’s legacy of love and resilience

By Alexis Friedman 

My grandmother had a resilient and bright soul that never dimmed despite her hardships. This timeline provides a brief glimpse into her life.

Click on the image to see Ma Tao Khaen’s timeline in high-resolution. (Image created by Alexis Friedman)

In Laos, my grandmother was responsible for raising her children and tending to their farm, while my grandfather assisted the military during the Vietnam war. When they saw the chance for a better life in America, they fled Laos. My grandfather left their home first, taking with him all their sons. After my grandmother finished selling their items and livestock, she joined him with their daughters. This was to ensure they were not detected by the communist government and had a safe travel path to the refugee camp.

Once they crossed the Mekong River, they went to the Banthong Refugee Camp near Chiang Kong. Shortly after arriving at the camp, they were sponsored through the International Rescue Committee (IRC) under the care of Mr. Boonkham Boonthong. Mr. Boonthong was a family friend who made it to America among the first wave of Southeast Asian immigrants and continued to help others like him by sponsoring other Lao families to America. His generosity was a pivotal point for my family’s refugee journey.

Jan. 11, 1981, was the beginning of my family’s new life in America. My grandparents were inseparable and continued to work hard in America to provide their children a better life.

They upheld the values of education and culture through their children and grandchildren. My grandmother encouraged us to sacrifice, study hard, and earn a good job. My grandmother taught me to embrace my heritage and the value of family. She handmade custom cultural clothing, taught me how to speak our Khmu tribal language and shared her stories of her life in Laos.

Although her journey and life in America were never easy, her resilience inspires me to strive for a better life path that she paved the way for. I will be forever grateful to have had her in my life.

She is and will always be, along with my grandfather, the foundation of my family’s success.



Alexis is SEARAC’s Fall 2022 Development Intern. She can be reached at