LaPlace man expels demons through writing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 21, 2012

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Few who meet LaPlace resident Soy Tir would guess the background of the quiet and jovial man that stands before them today. But anyone who reads his memoir, “Born in China, Made in America,” will marvel at the strength the man must possess just to be standing before them.

Although the title of the book begins with the words “born in China,” and Tir is of Chinese descent, he is actually a native of Cambodia and suffered through the reign of the Khmer Rouge, a reign of terror immortalized in the film “The Killing Fields.”

Tir said the title came from a personal habit of saying he is from China.

“When people asked, I just said I was from China because the past was too painful,” he said.

That pain is evident in the pages of the book, which begins with his family’s upheaval in the early days of the Khmer Rouge and continues the immense hardships they faced in trying to escape from the country and eventually concludes with Tir’s arrival and life in the U.S. The scenes depicted are unimaginable to most Americans as the young Tir and his family faces starvation, death and the horrors of war firsthand. The experiences would be enough to scar even the most hardened of souls, and those scars are one of the things that drove Tir to write the book.

“There were a few factors,” he said. “One was just to kind of dump it out of my system. The second was to tell the story. The last was to show people that they just don’t have it that bad.”

He added that he also wrote the book to answer some of the questions his two children had wondered about over the years. This motivation was perhaps heightened by the fact that much of his own family history was washed away by the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge.

“We’ve lost quite a lot of family history,” said Tir. “One of the envies I have in meeting people here is they have a family base.”

Tir, who has lived in the U.S. since 1981 and in the River Parishes since 2005, said composing the work took two-and-a-half years of his spare time and weekends, and unlike the writing of many non-fiction books which require copious amounts of research, his instead required intensive and often painful reflection.

“This is pure memory,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’ve learned about myself. I have a very visual memory. Sometimes that’s bad.”

Despite the difficulty of stirring up decades-old memories, Tir said one of the hardest chapters to write was the one involving the death of his father.

“I added that chapter,” he said. “I sat down on Father’s Day last year and wrote it. It was more for selfish reasons than anything else.”

But that chapter and the ones surrounding it, when the family is living in the U.S., also ground the book and end it on a relatable note.

“That’s why I wanted to end it that way,” he said. “For first generation immigrants, they do have to sacrifice a lot. When you’re first generation, you go through all this pain, and you want to trust people, but you’ve seen what people are capable of.”

But as he said, one of the reasons he wrote the book was to try to exorcise some of those demons.

“I thought writing this book would help me on that journey,” he said. “I sleep better through the night.”

And perhaps reading this book will help give the average American a new perspective as well.

“After I wrote the book and looked back on my life, despite all the terrible things I went through, I still feel lucky,” said Tir.

“Born in China, Made in America” is available through Amazon or by contacting Tir directly at