The Americanization of Satsay

From refugee camp to gridiron in one hectic decade

"A lady came over and interviewed us, and we said we wanted either a child or a young couple. She told us it was relatively easy to place children, but that large families were hard to place. Plus, the Singpradiths were low priority because they were Laotian, not Vietnamese. We had four kids of our own at the time, and I didn't know what to say. Then she pulled a photo out of the family, and it was difficult to say no after that."

As soon as Horst gave his okay, the social worker dropped a bombshell: The Singpradiths were at that moment on their way to the States.

With help from a neighbor, Horst hurriedly converted his garage into a makeshift two-bedroom apartment. Then he drove to Sky Harbor Airport to greet his new family.

"You cannot imagine what they were going through," Horst says. "They didn't know what a flush toilet was--so many things. We were passing a motor home on the way back from the airport and they couldn't believe it--a huge house on wheels! We were worried that the garage apartment was far too small for seven people, but they couldn't believe how big it was.

"They were bowing, scraping, being thankful. It was very sad in one respect: You don't think about the plight of the world until it hits home. We learned that when you help someone, you're the one who gets the real help. These people really have benefited our society."

Chan Singpradith pushed his children from the start, but he didn't have to push too hard.

"He made us watch a lot of TV, made us read, and it was scary, but fun," Satsay says. "When you come here as a young 'un, you have it a lot easier. At first, I was very quiet--I kept everything to myself, even though I was learning a lot. Then I started to expand."

Chan worked as a janitor for about six months, and the three oldest children--Penny, Ott, and Pasa--also found jobs.

"These people were amazing," says Barry Horst. "My sister teaches English as a second language, and they'd do their homework by translating things from English to French to Laotian and back again. They never, ever went on the welfare rolls, though they easily could have. They got work, and worked and worked and worked."

After the Singpradiths stayed with the Horsts for about a year, they rented their own place. Chan found a new job as an interpreter at Catholic Family Social Services. Then he was hired by the Tempe computer plant.

In October 1985, the Singpradiths bought their first home, at 35th Avenue and Thunderbird. The family--five children and two parents--all still live together. (The oldest son married and stayed in Thailand.)

The Singpradith clan's own re-education plan is on course.
"We still speak Laotian in the house, as well as English," Chan says, "and we still eat our food--Laotian and American foods. I don't want them to forget our culture, our heritage. We have family meetings every few months, the entire family. It's like a small community, and I'm the president of that community. We talk about why we are here, and about how we can support each other. I tell them we are in this country to try to be good people."

A religious man, Chan hasn't insisted his children practice Buddhism.
"Every religion teaches people to try to be good people," he says. "God means the same thing in every religion. Whatever my kids want to be, they can be, as long as they're good people."

SATSAY DOESN'T RECALL the first time he picked up a football.
"We used to play in the playground, and I was the smallest, but I didn't quit, even when it got rough," he says. Satsay is surprised by questions about racial prejudice against him. He claims the only prejudice he has suffered is from those who used to say he was too small to play football.

Undaunted by that, he tried out as a sophomore for Greenway's junior varsity quarterback slot. But his coaches moved him to defensive back. "I was too nervous," he says.

Last year, however, Satsay made the varsity as second-string quarterback. Early in the season, the coach sent him into a game after the outcome already had been decided.

"I was so nervous, I fumbled about five straight snaps," Satsay says. "I kept looking at the coach, expecting to get pulled out, but he didn't do it."

During the next game, Greenway's starting quarterback was injured, and the job was Satsay's by default.

"I had butterflies big-time," he says. "My heart was pumping, and I called my plays superfast--I can't believe the guys understood me. My hands were shaking. Mike Salmon, our best player--now he's at USC--he comes over to me and said, `Sat-Man, you got to do it. Have fun.' That was very cool. I started to get into the flow of the game, and it got simple."

Satsay did well enough to keep the job after Greenway's other quarterback healed. The team made the state play-offs and finished with an 8-3 record. This year, the school won six of its first eight games and is ranked in the Top Ten of Class 4-A.

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