Profiles in Principles: Hope and U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv
Three years after the end of World War II, a boy was born to the daughter of a governor and her husband – a police chief – in a small village of the ancient land. This baby was the youngest of their children. It was the Year of the Boar, 2490. And the moon was full.
The astrologer informed the happy parents that the boy’s Boar was carrying a crystal ball in his mouth. Legend had it that the ball would allow the Boar to walk on water, climb over mountains, and travel to the farthest and highest places, as long as he kept the ball in his mouth at all times. Otherwise, there could be great hardships. But because his mother’s milk was dear, the boy would grow up to be a man of golden bones.
That boy was me!
Sichan Siv – “Golden Bones”
And so begins his story as told in his book “Golden Bones” – An extraordinary journey from hell in Cambodia to a new life in America. His story is layered with the human complexities of joy and despair, but mostly “Hope and Freedom” and the very special love of a mother.
Mae (Sichan’s mother) pleaded with him, in May of 1975, to flee the country before it was too late. As he planned and initiated his escape from the ”killing fields” of the evil and hopeless Khmer Rouge regime, his mother’s love and her words were his greatest comfort…”No matter what happens, never give up hope.” You must read his story and put yourself in his place as he realizes that he has made it across the Cambodian border into Thailand. This sweet victory, in February of 1976, is quickly met with interrogations, threats, beatings with a broom, and the theft, by Thai guards, of his grandfather’s necklace, mother’s wedding ring, and the $60 his sister had given him. He was left with his mother’s scarf, a yellow square rice bag, and his hope.
As an inbound passenger on a Boeing 747 on June 4, 1976, Sichan casts his gaze on the Manhattan skyline and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Hope meets triumph! Welcome to America, Sichan.
On June 4, 2012 and under a full moon in San Antonio, Texas, my wife and I were honored to help celebrate Sichan’s 36th year in America. Framed and hanging in a hallway to the right as you enter his home, guests are drawn to his mother’s checkered scarf and the yellow rice bag…forever reminding him and all who look – “No matter what happens, never give up hope.”
Now, think about your story filled with all of
the complexities of human emotions.
The ups and the downs of parenting and the constant draining of your energy can be relentless. Yet, your love and your hope for your children is Powerful. It is never ending and remains always in the hearts of your children. Hope is a guiding principle that leads them to triumph, even when they feel despair because of a particular situation.
Sichan is an American hero, but so are you - mothers and fathers. You give your children what they need the most, when they need it. It isn’t easy. It’s a difficult journey. Think about your ordinary and your extraordinary triumphs. Hope was part of every step to them. It will be part of every step to your child’s victories, as well. Hope is an immutable building block to our children’s character development and, consequently, to their well-being and success. Be hopeful. It is always the right gift to give, it will always be appreciated, and it is always part of a healthy and happy family.
Happy birthday, America – land of the free and hopeful!
Dr. B: Good afternoon Ambassador, and thank you for sharing your time and story with us. It is our honor.
Ambassador: It is my pleasure and my privilege.
Dr. B: As you know, all of our “Profiles in Principles” are for our purpose related to parenting and creating healthy families. You are our first “Profile” and I have focused on what I think is the most appropriate principle that highlights your life…Hope.
Your mother had a saying for you, “No matter what happens, never give up hope.” What did that mean to you when growing up in Cambodia, and what has it come to mean to you as an American?
Ambassador: I grew up in the French educational system which had so many tests and exams. I once failed an exam and was very disappointed with myself. That’s when my mother instilled in me her wisdom of never give up hope, no matter what happens. Hope kept me alive under the Khmer Rouge, helped me escape the forced labor camps through the jungle, brought me to America, and guided me from an apple orchard in Connecticut all the way to the White House.
Dr. B: Your father died when you were young and you lost the remainder of your family to the Khmer Rouge. Such a tragic loss can produce anger and a loss of hope, yet, I know you to be a person of great hope and one who embraces family, community, and all of the high principles that produce health and has made America exceptional. Would you please share some about how you have chosen to think about such losses and how your parents and family life influenced your character?
Ambassador: There is a concept of “karma” in Buddhist societies. It is the result of your actions in previous lives. Bad karma comes from bad actions. Good karma comes from good deeds. I am not sure if the Khmer Rouge killing fields of the mid-seventies resulting in some 2 million deaths, nearly one third of Cambodia’s population, came from bad karma. I did not want to spend my time feeling sorry about the past and worrying about the future. I focused only on staying alive, and finding my freedom. I learned from everyone around me. An army sergeant, a fisherman, and a truck driver told me to “stay on the road” to stay alive. A Buddhist monk told me to follow the sun and the moon to find freedom. After I arrived in America, I tried to keep busy doing everything that came my way to the best of my ability. I learned from my host family, my wife Martha, my friends, my co-workers. Recently, a fourth grader in Virginia asked me to describe my life in one word. I struggled for a moment and said “unique;” then three seconds later I corrected it and said “hopeful.” So I learned from a young girl how to define my life in one word. And her name was Hope. To me, the golden elements in life have been faith, family, friends, and freedom.
Dr. B: You are a very proud United States citizen and have lived in the U.S. for almost four decades… longer than you lived in your country of origin, Cambodia. You also enjoy a wonderful reputation of high-level service within our Government, including becoming a U.S. Ambassador. This, perhaps, places you in a unique position to comment on any changes you have observed within family systems, guiding principles, and the state of our Nation. What are your thoughts about this core part of our society?
Ambassador: Family is the most important fabric of our society and parents play the key role in bringing up their children. Teachers are next. A happy home is a breeding ground for good citizens. We are a strong nation because we came from many to become one, e pluribus unum; because we are a nation of refugees and immigrants and rule of law, hence legal immigration brings new blood, ideas and creativity. Our citizens enjoy all kinds of freedom in the world’s oldest democracy. We are the envy of the entire planet. We have all the rights imaginable. As good free citizens, we should not forget our obligations to obey the law, to be responsible and responsive, to vote. We should remember our duty to honor our country and that freedom is not free.
Dr. B: What other ideas of principle would you like to leave with the parents and family members who will read this article?
Ambassador: Cambodians call somebody who is very blessed and very lucky a person of golden bones. We are all people with golden bones because we are very blessed and very lucky to be Americans, living in the greatest nation on earth, where we have the right to dream and the opportunity to turn our dreams into reality. We should count our blessings every day and should not take anything for granted. And when we do well, we should do good, just like my mother who taught me to care and to share, just like President George H.W. Bush who said that any definition of a successful life must include serving others.
Dr. B: Again, Ambassador, we want to thank you for sharing your time and comments with us. Congratulations on 36 years in America. We wish you and your wife, Martha the very best!
Ambassador: Thank you for inviting me to share some thoughts on my important 36th Independence Day and my third cycle. Life in Asia is divided into cycles of 12 years each. The most important anniversary is the end of each cycle: 12th, 24th, 36th, 48th, 60th, 72nd, 84th, 96th, etc.
I never forget my first Fourth of July in New England in 1976 which was the Bicentennial: A girl dressed as the Statue of Liberty in a wagon pulled by a golden retriever, the veterans, firefighters, police officers, high school marching bands, and the stars and stripes everywhere. I said to myself, “This is a beautiful country. It is going to be my country!”
Happy Fourth to you and your family!
May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America!
Dr. B: Happy Independence Day to all! Until next time: Claim Yourpower and expand Your dreams.
Go to http://www.sichansiv.com to read more about U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv and to get your copy of “Golden Bones.”
This article was written by Gary M. Barnard, Ph.D. and posted on his blog site: www.thepower-parent.com, July 3, 2012. It is the first in a series entitled: “Profiles in Principles.”