via CAAI News Media
By Guy Busby
January 30, 2010
FOLEY, Ala. -- Sichan Siv escaped Cambodia in 1976, walking for days through the jungle, starving, wounded, the only one of 16 members of his family to survive the genocide that became known as "the killing fields."
He returned to Cambodia 16 years later, leading a diplomatic mission as the representative of President George H.W. Bush. He later became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.
Former U.N. Ambassador Sichan Siv addresses South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce
On Friday, while he was in Foley to address the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, Siv attributed his success -- and survival -- to his mother.
"The most important words that she instilled in me was 'never lose hope. No matter what happens, never give up hope,'" he said.
When the Khmer Rouge communist rebels took over Cambodia and began targeting intellectuals, which included college graduates such as Siv, his mother gave him a scarf and a bag of rice and told him to flee.
He rode a bicycle across Cambodia for three weeks, almost reaching the border of Thailand before being captured. A man saved Siv's life by convincing his captors that he was a truck driver.
Siv, however, had thrown away his glasses, a sign of being an intellectual. "I told the Khmer Rouge I was a truck driver, but without glasses, I couldn't see the road," Siv said.
He escaped after jumping off a logging truck. That time he reached Thailand.
After spending several months in a refugee camp, he was allowed to enter the United States.
"On June 4, 1976, I arrived in Warringford, Conn., with $2 in my pocket, my mother's scarf and an empty rice bag," he said. "I was exhausted. I was tired. I was sick, but I was full of hope."
Siv picked apples, worked in an ice cream shop and drove a New York taxi until he received a scholarship to Columbia University.
After working in the 1988 Bush campaign, Siv was named deputy assistant to the president.
When Siv returned to Cambodia, he went to his father's village. The people there told him he had "golden bones," the Cambodian term for someone who is very blessed.
Siv made the term the title of his autobiography. He said, however, that "Golden Bones," refers not just to his own life, but his adopted country.
"We are all people of golden bones because we very lucky, very blessed to be in America," he said.
Siv, now lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, Martha. Alabama, however also has a connection to his life. His brother was stationed in Huntsville in 1973 for military training and wrote Siv about the area.
Siv said he concluded his book with a line his brother wrote while in Alabama. "This is a beautiful country."