|On a tour of the White House with Leth Oun in 2019
I’m happy to announce that A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service, which is by Leth Oun with me as coauthor, is under contract to be published by Temple University Press in 2023. Born in Cambodia in 1966, Leth was nine when his father, an officer in the Cambodian army, was executed by the invading Khmer Rouge. Leth was enslaved for almost four years in the Killing Fields, where he almost starved to death, lost many loved ones to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, and at one point was tortured. After the Killing Fields, he spent one year homeless and then three years in refugee camps before he immigrated to America at the age of seventeen, penniless and speaking very little English. He worked numerous minimum wage jobs and persevered to earn a college degree and ultimately become an officer in the Secret Service, where he has served since 2002 and has fulfilled countless assignments under four presidential administrations, including handling a dog trained to detect explosives. His life story is one of being a witness to one of the worst genocides in history, of tragedy, survival, and recovery, and of finding success in America. It also is a story of his love for two countries, for his family, for his dogs, and for his life as a U.S. Secret Service officer.
I met Leth when he stepped into my office on a sleepy summer afternoon in 2011 when I was the editor of Widener University’s alumni magazine. That meeting eventually led to our close friendship and this book, which has proved to be the hardest yet most fulfilling writing project I’ve taken on, an experience that has changed me for the better. Leth wrote a short first draft and through several years of numerous interviews, additional writing, and revisions, which were assisted by Dr. Barbara Ryan, professor emerita of sociology who taught Leth at Widener, we expanded and completed the book. His story for me is not just his American dream, but a dream of America as a place that embraces immigrants of all races and religions and welcomes them into our family, a story that fulfils what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes. Serving as coauthor for Leth—who introduced me to his fellow Secret Service officers as “my brother” when he took my family on a tour of the White House—is an honor that has been more rewarding than I could have ever have imagined when I answered his knock on my office door.