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IMAGINING AMERICA by Sharon Sloan Fiffer

IMAGINING AMERICA

Paul Thai's Journey from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to Freedom in the U.S.A.

By Sharon Sloan Fiffer

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1991
ISBN: 1-55778-326-8

 Having survived the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian refugee Paul Thai made his way to the US in 1981. Here, told choppily by free-lancer Fiffer (Chicago magazine, Inside Sports, etc.) is Thai's story from his family's escape into Thailand to his days with the Dallas Police Department. Sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, Thai, then 18, and his family left the Thai-Cambodian border refugee camps and flew directly from Bangkok to Dallas. Following the horrors of the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975 and the later fighting between the Vietnamese and the ``Cambodian Freedom Fighters,'' Thai's middle- class family arrived in Texas--a place where cowboys ``shoot you down in the street''--with all the attendant cultural confusion. Placed in the ``Little Asia'' section of East Dallas, Thai, who desperately wanted to go to school, was given a job as a school custodian. He quickly learned English and volunteered as a translator with local churches and relief agencies for other refugees. When the Dallas police founded the East Dallas Community and Refugees Affairs Office (a ``storefront'' police outpost), Thai was a natural choice as a police service officer (PSO). Though PSOs went unarmed, they were required to attend the full 17 weeks at the police academy. Still thinking he might become a teacher, Thai liked police work so much that he became a US citizen and went through the academy again, this time to become a full police officer. He became discouraged, however, at the hostility and discrimination he faced from training officers and members of the community, and quit during his field training to continue his education. As of January 1991, Thai was attending the Univ. of Texas and considering reapplying to the police academy. While not the most scintillating of stories, the insights Fiffer provides into cross-cultural difficulties and the horrific descriptions of the killing fields and the refugee camps lend this an undeniable urgency. (Photos--not seen.)