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Immigrant Heritage Month Story: Houng Dhar

Posted 06/14/21 by Mely Arribas-Douglas

Immigrant Heritage Month gives people across the United States an opportunity to annually explore our country's heritage and celebrate the shared diversity that forms the unique story of America.

The letter below is a part of a series that brings to life stories from our immigrant, refugee, and diverse community members who call Toledo and Lucas County, home. We celebrate their contributions, especially this Immigrant Heritage Month; an annual celebration of our nation’s shared immigrant heritage and cultural diversity.

Immigrant Heritage Month stories are a project of Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, a local initiative housed in the Toledo Lucas County Public Library; in partnership with the Board of Lucas County Commissioners and LISC Toledo; to advance an inclusive and global community.

We are glad to share stories showing the way our diverse local communities enrich our daily lives.

It's time to #CelebrateImmigrants!


My name is Houng Dhar. As immigrants, my husband and I are the proud owners of “Asian Grocery” for the last eighteen (18) years. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Toledo-Lucas County’s June Immigrant Heritage Month story. What a wonderful way to express our deepest sincere gratitude to everybody continuing to support local small businesses, such as ours.

My family and I immigrated from Cambodia in 1988 to Starkville, Mississippi. I did not speak any English and was immediately enrolled in the public High school as a freshman. I was seventeen (17) years old at the time and my first ever chance to attend any kind of school. You may be wondering by now and asking why? Well, if you have watched the movies The Killing Fields and, just recently released, First They Killed My Father, you would probably understand the reason why. The Cambodian genocide was the systematic persecution and killing of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Communist Party general secretary Pol Pot, who radically pushed Cambodia towards communism. It resulted in the deaths of 1.5 to 2 million people from 1975 to 1979, nearly a quarter of Cambodia's 1975 population (c. 7.8 million). Overnight, we lost everything (our house, belongings and valuables, etc.) my parents had worked hard for, and we left for safer grounds with just our clothes on. We survived the next horrifying thirteen (13) years living in several refugee camps until the final one at the Kao I Dang camp in Thailand before immigrating to America.

There is a popular Cambodian proverb: “cultivate a heart of love that knows no anger.” Thanks to the love and care of my parents, my four (4) siblings and I learnt the value of hard work and perseverance in our new home. I graduated high school in 1992 and went on to attend Mississippi State University, where I met my future husband. I completed my Registered Nursing program in 1995 at Mississippi University for Women.

Toledo, Ohio became our new home in 1999. There was a stark change moving from the South, Mississippi to the Midwest Glass City a.k.a. Toledo. With no prior business experience, we decided to put our entire savings to pursue entrepreneurship and went on to acquire Asian Grocery in 2003. Now eighteen (18) years later, we look back and appreciate how we all managed to cater to all our dear customers.

For everything we had to face in this journey of life, my family has embraced the humility of giving back. Our children have made us proud by their leadership of giving back to the community with their time and effort. Our daughter Sunita has volunteered numerous weekends to help teach inner city and impoverished communities. Our daughter Supriya is the president of the Food Recovery Network chapter at the University of Toledo Medical Center. In addition, my husband and I, along with our children, continue to lead donation efforts in our respective motherlands of India and Cambodia. I would like to end by quoting, “Most people give generously not because they are rich but because they know exactly how it feels to have nothing.” Thank you for the opportunity.


About the Immigrant Heritage Month Storyteller Series

This project was led by Betsy Rose Ujvagi, Welcome TLC steering committee member and our very first Immigrant Heritage Month story teller.

About Immigrant Heritage Month

Immigrant Heritage Month (IHM) is a nationwide celebration of immigration held each June. IHM is powered by FWD.us and is part of an ongoing effort to empower immigrants and allies to share stories and drive action that demonstrate how immigration is good for our communities, economy, and country. IHM also provides new avenues for individuals and organizations to support immigrants in their communities and workplaces during June and throughout the year. For more information, visit iamanimmigrant.com.

About Welcome Toledo-Lucas County

Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC), launched in 2014, is a cross-sector network of community partners advancing an inclusive and global Toledo-Lucas County. Housed at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, and in partnership with the Lucas County Board of Commissioners and LISC Toledo, Welcome TLC is governed by a steering committee of government, community, and business leaders, including immigrants, refugees, and people of diverse cultures.

In April 2019, Lucas County, led by the leadership of Welcome TLC, achieved the national designation as a Certified Welcoming community, becoming the second county in the country and second community in the state to receive the designation.