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Profiles : SENG CHIDHALAY: PUBLISHER : Enriching the Lives of Fellow Laotians

Santa Ana is a long way from Khong Island, but Seng Chidhalay, editor and publisher of the first Laotian newspaper in Southern California, can’t imagine living anywhere else.

From a cramped office overlooking noisy 17th Street, Chidhalay and three employees publish Laos Sampanth, which means Laos Union, a twice monthly newspaper that distributes 6,000 copies to displaced Laotians worldwide, from Australia, France and Canada to just down the street.

Like many of Orange County’s 10,000 Laotians, instability in his native land brought Chidhalay here, although he and his wife, Somchit, came by way of Paris.

Now, a smartly dressed Chidhalay, 40, beams when he talks of his son who is in the gifted-student program at Santa Ana’s Willard Intermediate School, and of his 4-year-old daughter who was born here. The family is buying its first house, near Rancho Santiago College, and Chidhalay feels comfortable in an area where so many other immigrants are searching for their dreams.

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“I would say it’s a city with a mixed culture, and it has its bad side and its good side, but let’s forget about its bad side,” he said. “All the nationalities are living here, Cambodians, Laos, Vietnamese, Mexicans--all the people. I would say it’s a real ethnic city.”

Chidhalay graduated from law school in Laos in 1975, “but at that time my country was unstable, so I decided to go to France and study.”

Five years later, he decided to bring his family to America. He picked Santa Ana because he had friends living here. The couple and their infant son entered the country on tourist visas, and Chidhalay said they lived here illegally until the 1986 immigration amnesty law allowed them to become legal residents.

Starting a newspaper is always a risky venture. So Chidhalay also works as an entertainment promoter, booking Laotian pop singers to local concerts. But making money, he said, is not his top priority.

“Most of the Lao cannot read English well, so it’s better for them to learn about activities in the Lao community through a newspaper such as ours,” he said. “We want our community to know what the Lao are doing in other countries.”


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