Lorena Rivas Weighs in on Remarkable “Donut King” Story

Lorena Rivas Weighs in on Remarkable “Donut King” Story

Donut King

Few neighborhoods in the United States, let alone Tulsa do a better job of promoting diversity and inclusion like Kendall Whittier.

The iconic Tulsa neighborhood is home to an eclectic mix of businesses which include galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, an independent movie theater, and a law firm among others. In fact, Kendall Whittier was one of just three nationwide winners of the 2020 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) by Main Street America® 

So, when Circle Cinema Community Outreach Director David Kimball was tasked with setting up a panel of community members who have been affected by immigration law after airing the independent film “The Donut King,” Kimball did not have to look far for one panelist.

Notable Tulsa immigration lawyer Lorena Rivas and her two law firms — Rivas & Associates and The Lawyers of Kendall Whittier — are less than a 5-minute walk from the Circle Cinema.

“It was a no-brainer inviting her to be on the panel,” Kimball said. “I knew about her law firms, but I didn’t really know a whole lot about what her practice focused on. When I read a little more about her on her website, I knew she would be great.”

Rivas was flanked by fellow panelists and Tulsans Jason Ting and Stanislaus “Stan” Mudjialim. Both Rivas and Ting are business owners and the children of immigrants.

Mudjialim was born in Indonesia and moved the U.S. at 12 when he was adopted by his aunt and uncle. He will attend the University of Tulsa in the fall and study Computer Information Systems. “Stan” additionally assists his parents in operating Kim’s Donut at the Spectrum Shopping Center in Tulsa on the weekends.    

The three panelists were joined by moderator Gitzel Puente, a City of Tulsa employee in the communications department who previously worked for NBC local affiliate KJRH.

The discussion lasted in approximately 30 minutes after the film aired in which Rivas, Ting and Mudjialim shared their views on the film and adapting to American culture as an immigrant. 

“I think more than anything this film reinforces the fact that immigrants come over here with this spirit of survival – this innate ability to fight because they typically don’t have anything to go back to,” Rivas said.

“The Donut King” Exemplifies the American Dream

Directed by Alice Gu, “The Donut King” tells the story of a Cambodian refugee who escaped genocide and overcame poverty to build a life for himself—and hundreds of other immigrant families—by baking America’s favorite pastry and building an unlikely multimillion-dollar empire of donut shops.

The documentary highlights the rise of Ted Ngoy, who arrived at a U.S. refugee camp in 1975 but went on to own his first donut shop two years later in Southern California. By 1979, Ngoy owned 29 donuts shops, was worth $20 million by 1985 and received an award for “Achieving the American Dream” by former President George H.W. Bush. 

The film noted that due to Ngoy’s influence, the LA area averaged 1 donut shop per every 7,000 residents, while the U.S. average was 1 per every 30,000.

Not everything involving Ngoy’s donut dynasty was positive. Sadly, the film conveys how Ngoy – known as “Uncle Ted” throughout the Southern California Cambodian community – became a victim of his own success.

He accumulated massive gambling debts, eventually losing his fortune and family before bouncing back within his community thanks to the younger generation of Cambodian donut shop owners who were told not to “forget Uncle Ted.” 

Ngoy’s rise to fame and subsequent fall was not lost on Rivas or the other panelists.

“I think his story shows how it is easy to lose yourself to an extent,” Rivas said. “You have to adapt to new standards, but you still have to maintain your roots and culture. It’s a balancing act.”

The film was the final installment of PBS’s Indie Lens Pop-Up Series of five films which ran from January through May.

“It was real good season” Kimball said, “especially considering we were in the middle of a pandemic. I am looking forward to us being able to host films like these in our facility and continuing to engage in various events within our Kendall Whittier community.” 

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