Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive News and Updates

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Interview With Ambassador Sichan Siv

Photo Courtesy of Victoria Lovelady, Senior Editor

On the morning of March 12, 2009 Ambassador Sichan Siv sat down to an interview with Head Oral Historian Kelly Crager and Vietnamese American Heritage Archivist Ann Mallett. Ambassador Siv, graciously agreed to be the first person to be interviewed for the Vietnam Archive’s Vietnamese American Heritage Oral History Project, and to be the keynote speaker during the banquet on the evening of March 14th at the 2009 Vietnam Center Conference: Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand and the Vietnam War. Crager and Mallett conducted the interview in order to record Ambassador Siv’s phenomenal story in his own words and to hear in his voice the expression, emotion, and feeling of his words that is not fully conveyed by the written word alone.
The questions Crager asked Ambassador Siv document the Ambassador’s incredible life journey of faith, hope, love, and perseverance over great adversity and loss. Throughout his life Ambassador Siv has always helped others no matter how desperate his own circumstances were. As a young man in Cambodia he worked for CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) to help refugees during the Vietnam War. After surviving the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge and losing his entire family (his mother, brother and sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law, and their children were all killed by the Khmer Rouge) he escaped to Thailand where he helped his fellow prison inmates and fellow refugees living in a Thai refugee camp by teaching English (before being placed in a refugee camp he was imprisoned for illegal entry into Thailand because he no longer had any ID or documentation). Once the Ambassador immigrated to the U.S. in 1976 he continued his humanitarian efforts and worked to help refugees from his position as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The Ambassador walked into the room for the interview carrying his distinctive red and black jacketed memoir, “Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey From Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America,” just published eight months prior (July 1, 2008). Immediately upon seeing Ambassador Siv one is stuck by how distinguished looking he is and the air he gives of being laid back, relaxed, and comfortable in any situation. He is tall, athletic, and looks younger than his actual age, one would not guess that he had just celebrated his 61st birthday less than two weeks prior to the interview. Siv walks with an agility and grace that belies that his legs were severely wounded by pungi sticks when he fell into a booby trap while fleeing Cambodia, and that he had been malnourished and starved for nearly a year in a Khmer Rouge slave labor camp. His eyes, smile, and jokes reveal a genuine kind and caring spirit. The Ambassador is an eloquent and gifted speaker, extremely intelligent and observant, and speaks many languages.
Crager began the interview of Ambassador Siv by asking the Ambassador about his beginnings, his childhood in Cambodia, and ended with accounts of his experiences as a U.S. Ambassadaor to the UN. Ambassador Siv was born on March 1, 1948 (year of the Boar 2490) in Phochentong (his father’s village) under a full moon. (Sichan means “beautiful moon.”)

Photo Courtesy of Victoria Lovelady, Senior Editor

Left to Right (Ambassador Sichan Siv, Ann Mallett, and Martha Pattillo Siv)

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