After the Vietnam War ended, an eight-year-old Pao Xiong chose to immigrate from Laos to the United States.
“It was a courageous decision to take that jump by myself,” Xiong said. “The older community members were telling me, ‘Don’t go. You don’t know what’s over there.’”
Xiong said he had faith that in 1976 he was making the right decision. Today, as a part-time operator with a work-life balance that gives him time for family, he reaffirms that decision.
“Operating a bus wasn’t my first career choice. I used to be an electrical engineer and traveled a lot,” Xiong said. “But after many years, my wife and I decided that family needs to come first.”
In fact, it was his uncle who works for transit who told him about the opportunity. For Xiong, transit is literally family: he has two uncles and four first cousins here. However, it took him until 2008 to find not only family, but work-life balance with transit.
When he arrived in the states, his first stop was an Amish community in Morgantown, Ind. “It felt familiar because I came from a place with no electricity, but it was also difficult,” Xiong said. “I was the only Hmong person there.”
After two years, he moved to St. Paul, where he lived with an uncle and was happy to join a supportive Hmong community. “We’d look out for each other and push each other to excel,” Xiong said. “Not being a native-English speaker presents lots of hurdles.”
He remembers the difficulties he had when he first used transit, as a rider on the old Route 8 – and problems non-native speakers can have understanding the schedules and the service. That’s a perspective he continues to bring to his job today.
“In my journey, I’ve been through a lot, and I know others have, too.” Xiong said. “So, I make sure to help my riders anyway I can.”
Operator at a Glance
Name: Pao Xiong
Country of Origin: Laos
Hired: March 2008
Routes: 850, 760, 766 (Maple Grove Transit)
Hobbies: Shredding Van Halen and other 80s rock tunes on the electric guitar
Family: Wife and eight kids, ages 8-25
Lives: Brooklyn Park
Best Advice: If you point a finger at someone else, remember you’re pointing three back at yourself! So, ask yourself what you can do to improve yourself first.
If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, come help us run our growing transit system! Learn more about what it takes to become a bus operator at metrotransit.org/drive.