Phone Virachak is 37 years old and is a naturalized citizen who emigrated from Laos to the United States in1985. She came with her husband to America and their two children were born here. They came to the United States to escape the wars that have plagued Laos for centuries. Phone works as a housekeeper in a nursing home and her husband is a car salesman. She has made many friends in her new country and is affectionately called "Joy? by her friends. She earned this nickname because of her happy disposition and her bright humor. She has faced many challenges in her new life in the United States. Through correspondence, she is still in touch with her parents and thirteen brothers and sisters in Laos, but she is sure she will never see them again. Phone loves America, but says that she still loves her home country and its customs.
Long before the French claimed Laos as a colony, other powers had struggled for control of the country. By 1300, the Lao had founded several principalities. In 1353, King Fa Ngoun of Luang Prabang, managed to unite the principalities along the Mekong River into the new kingdom of Lan Xang and introduced Theravada Buddhism as the state religion.
In 1893, August Pavie, a French explorer and statesman, gained the confidence of the Laotian rulers and persuaded them to accept French rule. In August 1945, Prince Petsarath, the Laotian premier, declared the independence of Laos. This action revived the rivalry for power and once again, the country was encompassed in war. The fight was mainly between Lao nationalists and communists. With the aid of foreign powers, mainly the Soviet Union and Vietnam, the communists took control in 1975. In the mid-eighties the government began to reverse course, ensuring a free market and property rights. By the nineties nationalism appeared to be replacing Marxism. The political structure, however, remains unchanged and the people still have no power in the government (P.