I went to Cambodia for three weeks to visit my family and I have to say that going back as an adult has been a fascinating experience. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with my extended family, meeting all these faces and hearing all these stories, watching my parents get to be fully present and seeing them radiate as individuals with a history before me.
I think it’s easy to forget, being born American, how different the entire world is and it was definitely important for me to not only explore a different place, but to also get back to my family’s origin.
I only got to go to Battambang, my mom’s hometown, and Phnom Penh, my dad’s stomping grounds, but I think that getting to spend time with my parents in a place that they knew so much more about than me was so fulfilling and important. Here was the world that they knew before they moved to America, before they met, before they fell in love, before they became parents, that they had both shared and that had shaped them in profound ways.
I love my parents deeply and dearly and I think I found more and more of myself in them, in their culture, in the history of our country, and certainly in the geography of it. Cambodia always looks tiny on maps and here it was taking us six to eight hours to go from area to area.
I landed in Phnom Penh and then we headed to Battambang to visit my mom’s side of the family. During the first day that we had gotten there, my mom got a bit sick, a mixture of jet lag and lack of restful sleep, so we decided to take the day to hang out and recover at the house. While I was laying down in the living room and watching YouTube on the TV, a documentary came on that shifted the perspective yet again on what my parents both went through to be where they are today. The documentary was titled Return to K.I.D. a documentary film directed by Vanna Seang and uploaded by the channel Roar Footage. In many ways, this documentary is a masterpiece in storytelling and is a phenomenal representation of the experiences for the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
It’s actually incredible that my parents both survived this and managed to find ways to heal, to cope, and to grow and it’s reinvigorated my desire to create and to always find room for kindness, empathy, and compassion for others.
I feel like that girl that went out of the country and can’t stop talking about how life-changing the experience was, but it did change me and I want to be able to come back and remind myself how important that time was. I’m incredibly privileged to have been able to go and I feel so much joy that I got to immerse myself and speak the first language I ever learned for those three weeks.
I definitely cried on the plane as it flew away, looking down on all that Cambodia once was, seeing simultaneously its past, present, and future and thinking that there are millions of lives down there and abroad that connect everyone that survived despite those years.