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franklin county times

Local immigrants call U.S. home

By Staff
PROUD OF AMERICA Joel Santillan stands behind the cash register at La Pinata Mexican Restaurant in Meridian. Santillan, manager of the restaurant, is originally from Jalisco, Mexico; he plans to celebrate the Fourth of July with his family at Bonita Lakes. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
July 2, 2002
For Tommy and Dee Pham, the Fourth of July is a time to reflect on their decision to move from South Vietnam in the 1970s and the pride they have in their adopted home.
They and other immigrants fled poverty-stricken or war-torn countries all with a goal of making a new life in America. The Phams own a seafood shop on Highway 19 North in Meridian.
The Phams are among hundreds of immigrants in Meridian, Lauderdale County and East Mississippi. Some shared their story about the price they paid to seek freedom and a new life in the United States.
Dee Pham's story began in 1975.
It was right after Saigon fell to communist North Vietnam. Dee, then 10, and her family were literally running for their lives on a daily basis trying to avoid military skirmishes and stay alive.
Tommy Pham hadn't met his wife yet. At the time, Tommy, 15, also lived in South Vietnam. He first fled the communists by heading for Malaysia; eventually he made it to New York
Another immigrant, Joel Santillan, came to the United States four years ago after leaving poverty-stricken Jalisco, Mexico. Today, he manages La Pinata Mexican Restaurant in Meridian.
Santillan became a U.S. citizen and plans to raise his family here. Santillan and his family also plan to picnic and watch the fireworks on Thursday at Bonita Lakes.
The Phams agreed, saying they enjoy Meridian after being here two years. Tommy and Dee met in New Orleans 12 years ago while attending a concert; Tommy worked in New Orleans, Dee lived in Kansas City.
Years later, after they had married, they moved to Meridian and opened Seafood Haven. Thursday, the Phams and their two children plan to celebrate the Fourth with friends in Biloxi.