Rotchana Sussman's story of going from being a human trafficking survivor to owning an award-winning restaurant is truly inspiring and remarkable. She was lured and lied to about opportunities in the United States, and in April 1994 she left her two young children in her mother's care, and left Thailand with the hope that this new opportunity will benefit her and her family. When she arrived in the United States, she was held captive, hidden in residential duplexes in El Monte, California, to work as a slave in a makeshift garment factory at the hands of sweatshop owners. It required her to have a tremendous amount of courage, resilience, and determination to survive. On August 2nd, 1995, through the efforts of multiple agencies and organizations who worked together to find, monitor, and plan a raid, Rotchana and 71 other Thai nationals were rescued.
This case reached world-wide attention as the first recognized case of modern-day slavery in the United States. An award-winning playwright, the late Henry Ong, was inspired by Rotchana's survival and activism and created "Fabric" -- a play about Rotchana's life as a human trafficked sweatshop slave to raise awareness about the issues of human trafficking that still exist. The play highlighted the courage and determination it took for Rotchana to stand up against abuse and exploitation, and how she ignored those who told her to "sit down and shut up."
Rotchana took it upon herself to learn English, learn the laws of this country, spoke out loudly and never gave up until laws were changed in the United States. Her activism influenced three U.S. laws and regulations to be written and amended. Her bravery to fight against what was wrong also made the difference in creating a path forward for the other 71 fellow human trafficked survivors to have the opportunity to American citizenship. The play is a testament to showcase her grit, strength, and her impact on our society and others.
Chancee and Rotchana were invited to the White House during Pope Francis' visit (September 23, 2015)
Rotchana giving a speech at the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case (2015, Credit: Thai CDC)
Rotchana has immense gratitude for Chancee Martorell, Founder and Executive Director of Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC), who was there at the day of the raid, who dedicates her work to social activism, human rights, and improvements to the standard of living and quality of life for the Thai community. Rotchana is grateful for Chancee's mentorship since she's been in the United States, and says, "Chancee is like a second mother to me. I've become who I am today because of her."
It's impressive that Rotchana has long forgiven the sweatshop owners who exploited her in the past and she hopes that they have changed and become better people. This shows a remarkable capacity for compassion and forgiveness, and it's a powerful example of how even in the face of great adversity, it's possible to find strength and hope for the future. Rotchana's story of courage is an inspiration to others who may be facing their own challenges and seeking to build a better future. Her story is also a testament to the power in the resilience of the human spirit, determination, and forgiveness, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Rotchana's dream since becoming a free woman is to give back to the community, and to help anyone who needs help. She also uses her platform to advocate for fair wage, better treatment of workers, and safe working conditions. Her activism in these areas is admirable, as she works to create positive change and ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect. She also encourages all her "kids" to learn to fight for their dreams, to have the courage to do the right things to help people and the community.
Rotchana is married to her loving husband, Steve, who is a Professor of Population and Public Health Sciences at USC. Steve is wonderfully supportive of Rotchana's goals and he champions Rotchana's passion to inspire. With his support, Rotchana has been limitless in inspiring everyone around her to better themselves and to be happy. She continuously cooks and donate food to temples, help those who are sick with nutritious food and healing practices, and contributes endless time, funds, and effort to those who need her.
Other than her fervor in advocating for social change, and helping the community, Rotchana's passion and love for food is strong! Rotchana believes the right foods balance your health and well-being. Her love of eating good, wholesome and nutritious foods, and her desire to encourage good health and nutrition have fueled her passion for creating *magic* in the kitchen. By honing her skills through experimenting with new techniques, practice, and self-study, Rotchana was able to develop her culinary expertise. As she always say, "Happy people makes the best foods!"
With her strong business sense, her culinary mastery, and with the support and encouragement from her friends and family, in May 2020, she launched White Springs Café in Downtown Arcadia. Since White Springs Café opened its doors, the restaurant has won multiple awards. Opening her own restaurant business while continuing to carry through her passion to help the community is a wonderful achievement, and it's incredible to see how she uses her skills and expertise to benefit others.
Although it was never her goal to own an award-winning restaurant, Rotchana is humbled by everyone's support and recognition of her passion for sharing good food. Her family, friends, and all who know her have witnessed her focus on her goals, remain resilient in the face of adversity, continue to work hard, and put in 100% of her heart in everything she does.
Rotchana's story is truly inspiring, and it's amazing to see how she has turned her experiences into a positive force for change. Her heart, perseverance, and gumption through her journey from being a human trafficking survivor, to being a positive force for everyone around her, to having an award-winning restaurant, is a testament to Rotchana's spirit. She enjoys making a living cooking delicious good-for-you foods while continuing to contribute positivity and goodness to the community at every opportunity. We welcome everyone to come to White Springs Café to see who Rotchana is, see her live her dream, and taste the foods to discover what her restaurant and her team is all about!