Meuy Saechao never knew she could be a success story. An immigrant from Thailand, Meuy wanted to provide for her family. She was married with her first child before she was old enough to drive, and never got the opportunity to graduate high school. To make ends meet, Meuy worked in fast food for nine years before she decided she had had enough. “In our culture, we’re taught to take care of our family, so when I thought about my career in fast food, where I had paychecks that would bounce and bills that weren’t paid, I knew that wouldn’t work,” Meuy said.
Luckily for Meuy, she had a willing accomplice to her success. Her second husband, Aichoi, turned out to be her biggest supporter. One day, after a particularly tough week working at her job in fast food, Aichoi said, “If there is something you want to do to go forward with your life, let’s do it. Go back to school. See how long it will take you to get your certificate.”
Meuy decided that since she was so good at caring for others, a career in the medical profession was something she wanted to pursue. Meuy started school at the Institute of Technology in Redding to become a medical assistant. With eight children, Meuy and Aichoi decided that to focus on both school and the family, she would have to quit her job in fast food. They agreed that he would make up the difference in income by seeking outside jobs on the weekends.
The Saechaos, like any close family, do everything together. So when Aichoi would find side jobs laying sod on the weekends, it became a family affair. Meuy and her oldest children would go to the job sites with Aichoi and help him with the landscaping. When Meuy needed to study, her husband would cover for her while she would sneak into the garage to study medical terminology in the car, and when Meuy needed a computer to do some of her independent study homework, it was Aichoi who brought home an ancient one for her to complete her assignments. Graduating from Institute of Technology was not easy for Meuy and her family, but they met the challenge together.
When Meuy’s mother suffered a stroke midway into her time at school, the family unity that had brought them so far was tested. Meuy’s mother was admitted to UC Davis in Sacramento, and Meuy was determined to spend as much time as she could with her, even if it meant driving nearly six hours back and forth every day to see her. Every day after school, the Saechaos would pack up the entire family and drive to Sacramento to spend time with Meuy’s mother. They would make the trip every night and every weekend for four months. “I had previously lost my dad to a brain aneurysm, so I wanted to spend every moment with my mother that I could. We didn’t know how much time she had left. The way I looked at it, my family and career were all connected, so I had to do both. By 10 or 11 at night, I’d be back at home in Redding, and I’d have to study,” said Meuy.
Even though it was challenging, and at times very frustrating, the family stuck together, supporting Meuy in whatever way they could. That support eventually paid off. Aichoi and the entire family were there for her graduation. And it was impossible for Aichoi to hold back the tears of happiness as he proudly watched his wife accept her diploma.
Meuy now works as a medical assistant in Dr. Raileen Lagoc’s pediatric office, and she’s never been more satisfied with her career. “I love coming to work. I wake up in the morning, and I’m happy! I want to come to work!” Meuy said.
Meuy obviously had lots of help from family, not only from the Saechaos, but also the one at Institute of Technology. “They made a big difference in my life. All of the faculty – they were very supportive, anything you need, even when you have personal problems, they were there. And at school, you need that. What can you say, what words describe them? They are a part of my life now, and I’ll never forget them,” said Meuy.
The family is in a much better place now as well; long gone is their two-bedroom apartment, where they struggled to fit a family of 10. “Now we live in a nice house with our own yard. We even have a playhouse in the back for the kids. It’s changed everything a lot. A lot of people who don’t know where we came from, it might not mean something to them, but it means a lot to us,” said Meuy.
When Meuy was asked if she considers herself an example of the “American Dream,” she laughs, and says, “I haven’t thought of it like that, but it is – it definitely is.”