“Back in Laos, My grandparents and parents were business owners,” says Soua Cha of Citi Tire. “As a child, I saw the money my family earned from their business and I told myself that one day I’d have to find something for myself, too.” But like so many of the thousands of Hmong families whose lives were uprooted after Laos fell to Communism, his family would begin all over again when they resettled in the United States. He recalls arriving in America at the age of fifteen and struggling as a high school student. “There were many Hmong students in my classes then. Although we were in high school, we were given only preschool materials – that was our level. Everyone around me wanted to be a phaj ej – which meant ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer,’ but I quietly wondered to myself then how unrealistic those dreams were, especially if we were still learning preschool work as teenagers. I have always been a realistic person, and those were not realistic options for me.”
It was a time of great struggle for newly arrived refugees, and for a young Soua, trying to find out a career path was his most challenging obstacle. The future was so unclear. English was difficult to grasp. I was sixteen and stressed.” Overwhelmed, he decided to take a walk one day. While crossing a freeway overpass he stopped to observe the morning traffic below. “As the sun came up, I noticed how many cars there were, so many of them, all coming toward me as I stood on that bridge. The flow of cars seemed endless. At that moment, I told myself: If I found a way to work with cars, business would never end. I knew then that I wanted to become a mechanic.” Graduating high school, Soua attended Fresno City College and obtained his mechanic certificate. He began working for Patterson Tire soon after. “I was always on time, six days a week. I never took a day off, not even when my wife went into labor. I carried out every task without complaint and without being jealous that I was doing much more than other employees. I did everything the boss and the customers wanted me to do. Nine years went by, but I had finally saved enough money and trained myself to be my own boss.” Citi Tire opened in 1989, becoming one of the most successful Hmong-owned mechanic and tire shop in Fresno.
“Money is power,” Soua Cha says. “That’s what my father always told me. You may not be so smart in school, but if you have money, you can make a smart person work for you. Nowadays I teach my children to save their money instead of spending it on unnecessary things. It’s about saving enough money to make your dreams come true. That’s success. Without money, you can’t do anything.” Throughout the years, Soua Cha has donated to schools and countless community events. “When I give to people, I don’t expect a returned favor. My only expectation is that they pay the favor forward in order to help others. The same goes with our community businesses. There is so much we can learn and do if our businessmen come together to find ways to help one another. The work we do would never end, I think, and our businesses would only grow.”
Photography: Tudor Stanley
4818 E. Belmont
Fresno, CA 93703
Phone (559) 255-7328