Berkeley Lab

API Heritage Story: Sandy Roth

To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, members of the API ERG are sharing their personal heritage stories.

Sandy Roth, Interim Senior Human Resources Division Partner, is Chinese-Vietnamese-Cambodian-American. She shares the story of her mother whose family faced famine in China and genocide in Cambodia before immigrating to the U.S., and of her experiences growing up in a multi-cultural household. Watch the video.

We invite other API members to contribute to our growing heritage video collection.


My name is Sandy Roth, I am the interim senior HR division partner supporting EGSB and MBIB from the Biosciences Area. I joined the API ERG because I wanted to support building awareness and also community building here at the Lab. And also, now that we’re remote I want to be part of the community that I can identify with and work with very closely to support that cause.

My heritage story is that my mom was born in China, but due to a famine she moved to Cambodia at a very young age with my grandfather to work and send money back home to China. She never went back for two decades. She ended up having a family in Cambodia with her then husband. Unfortunately, due to the Khmer Rouge they experienced genocide, and she lost her husband and her father (my grandfather), as well as many other family members and friends, due to the senseless genocide. While she tried to escape with my three young brothers whose ages ranged from three to five.

She had to live underground in Thailand, and then somehow managed to escape as refugees to the United States, where they resided in San Francisco for several years, and then when they finally got their feet on the ground they moved over to Oakland. And so, that’s how my mom came over to the United States and tried to learn the culture here and learned English as a fifth language. She knows how to speak several Chinese dialects as well as Khmer, which is a Cambodian language, and then now English.

My dad came from Vietnam, but he was also Chinese, so he spoke numerous languages as well. So growing up, I was in a household of Chinese culture, Vietnamese culture, and Cambodian culture. I was a bit confused because I would jumble the words together from several different Chinese dialects as well as Vietnamese and Cambodian so that was a great part of growing up, the different foods and culture that was all so amazing to have three different cultures in that household and to have that sense of identity. My husband is also Cambodian and he also has a Vietnamese background so we’re trying to instill that sense of identity in our children as well.