Diplomat, Author Siv Shares Powerful Story
HOUSTON, April 22, 2014 — Ambassador Sichan Siv just wanted to survive. Many times “at the end of his rope,” as he described, the only thing that kept him alive was the echo of his mother’s voice. His 2008 book Golden Bones, an international best-seller, captures the incredible story of Siv—now the highest-ranking Cambodian American to serve in the United States Government—from his escape from life under the Khmer Rouge to his rise as a successful diplomat.
In 1975, all of Cambodia was in peril. As the Khmer Rouge closed in on Siv and his family, his mother handed him her wedding ring, a bag of rice, and a scarf, and urged him to flee. “No matter what happens, never give up hope,” were the last words he would ever hear from her. Words that would be the source of his strength to lift him through the hellish experience of working in a slave labor camp until his daring escape into Thailand, where he taught English in a refugee camp. His excruciating plight has brought readers to tears.
Amid the enormous anguish was hope. A new chapter of Siv’s remarkable life began once he arrived on American soil and was hired as a cab driver in New York City. He then went on to graduate from Columbia University. Through a recommendation by Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, now Chair of Asia Society Texas Center’s Diplomatic Advisory Board, Siv served as a deputy assistant to former President George H.W. Bush. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2001 as an Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. In these diplomatic roles, Siv was able to return to Cambodia in 1992 and again in 2004, which he counts among his greatest joys. Siv also spoke fondly of his wife, Martha Lee Pattillo of Pampa, Texas, whom he met as a result of his work with the United Nations. Living in San Antonio, Texas, sporting a cowboy hat and boots regularly, and getting to visit Cambodia, Siv said, is what the American dream is about. “There’s a saying in Oklahoma that behind every Cambodian there’s a great Texan,” he said in a reference to Pattillo, whose hometown is 30 miles from Texas-Oklahoma state line. Both Asia Society Texas Center Executive Director Bonna Kol and Chairman Charles Foster welcomed Ambassador Siv to the Texas Center, which marked a special occasion for Cambodian Americans in the Houston community.
Siv held the distinct honor of making a June 2005 address for the 60th anniversary of the U.N. in San Francisco, following a tradition established by Presidents Truman in 1945, Eisenhower 1955, Johnson 1965, and Clinton 1995.