La Crescent, MN (WXOW) — Chong Cher Lee is proof that the beginning of your story doesn’t indicate how it will end.
Lee doesn’t have regrets. He also thinks in life, he’s been lucky but not everyone would agree with that.
“You know now when you reflect back I just think I’m so glad and so happy that I’m still alive today. That I had opportunity to come to America,” said Lee.
In 1965 Hmong soldiers helped fight a secret war in his home country of Laos. The goal was to stop the threat of communism from spreading deeper into Southeast Asia. Lee’s father was a part of that.
“My father…during the war, he worked with the CIA,” said Lee.
In the secret war, tens of thousands died, both in the fight and trying to escape. Lee was one of the lucky ones. Here he is at the age of 5 standing next to his father. It’s the last time he ever saw him. When Lee finally got out of Laos he was 14 years old.
“For me it was very scary. There’s a group of about 30 people. We have to pay people to get a boat across the Mekong River. You can see communist police walking outside. Then we try to grab our bag very quickly rush to the boat then you get in the boat and they take you across the river to Thailand,” said Lee.
For Lee making it to Thailand was just the beginning. His family was forced to live in a refugee camp for one year before coming to the United States but to Lee, it was definitely worth the wait.
“You decide your future in America you decide,” said Lee.
Lee opened Hmong’s Golden Eggrolls in downtown La Crosse 19 years ago.
“The hardest part is to turn your dream into something real that you can count on, that you can touch it and you can feel it and you can be proud of it,” said Lee.
Lee is also an integral part of why the Hmong Cultural Center is a prominent resource and lifeline for Hmong residents in the community.
“I feel like now I’m becoming somebody. I feel like I’m becoming a person of value. The thing that I do is have an impact on the community. And maybe I am a good role model,” said Lee.
Not maybe. Lee is a good role model. Just ask any of the Hmong living in the La Crosse area who admire Lee for his accomplishments.
Wisconsin has the third-largest Hmong population, after California and Minnesota. The largest Hmong populations in the state are in La Crosse, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Wausau.