HOUSTON — In a convention of Texas oil men, Connecticut heiresses, and Wall Street moguls, Samnang Siv Wilson can safely say she's the only Republican delegate who carried her son out of Cambodia on her back.
Ms. Wilson, from Boxford, Mass., is the lone delegate among 2,210 who comes from the genocide-torn country.
But while she is an anomaly, Wilson also represents a wing of the GOP that the party is actively cultivating. In a break from the historic trend of immigrants gravitating to the Democratic Party, the GOP wants to draw Asian-Americans into its ranks as a new and growing party base on the East and West Coasts.
"I have been learning about American politics and I'm very attracted to the Republican Party," Wilson said in an interview Tuesday on the convention floor. "I escaped from Cambodia in the darkness to come to Thailand and to the United States. From Day 1, I had a job. I never had to take welfare."
For Wilson, the convention marks the 12th anniversary of her escape from a Cambodian agricultural labor camp.
With her four-year-old son strapped to her back, Wilson rode the roof of a train to the Thai border.
After four months in a Thai refugee camp, she learned that her only surviving brother, Sichan Siv, had made it to the United States. He had become active in Republican politics and landed a White House job as deputy assistant to the president.
Before becoming interested in politics herself, Wilson worked on refugee causes, making an annual visit to Southeast Asia to visit refugee camps. In 1989 she returned to Cambodia, a sad occasion for her.
"But you can't live in the past. You have to live for today," says Wilson, who's thinking about running for office.