In a hotel room sometime after the after-party was over, I had the pleasure of getting lost in the soul of someone who I’ve been longing to know more about. It takes a lot for an individual to intrigue me, especially when I have virtually zero context about the person, but when my interests are piqued, it is a life mission of mine to learn more about them. Without knowing much of anything about this individual, I learned about his life before America, specifically how access to media and political expression was limited where he grew up.
Today, he is the most politically charged person I know; a quality lacking in quite a few people who were actually born in this country. In part, his passion for sharing his voice publicly is a way for him to practice a right and a privilege he otherwise might have not had where he came from. From learning this, I am so much more appreciative and have a better understanding on why it is so important to him to be vocal about his political beliefs.
The more he talked about his motherland, the more I began to think about my own. While the politics of my heritage country is a worthy topic of its own, there have been two burning questions that have plagued my mind since visiting Cambodia: how does Buddhism affect the vitality of arts and culture of Cambodia’s society, and how has visiting Cambodia changed me for the better?
Immediately after returning home from my trip, my parents kept asking me the latter as if there was some expectation for me to be different afterwards. As the stubborn child that I am, their questioning has long been met with resistance with me never fully giving an answer, not because I didn’t have an answer to the question, but because I haven’t been mature enough to admit that this trip has had a larger impact on me. I haven’t been ready enough to take on the responsibility that comes with being that different person after visiting a country so different than the one I’ve grown up in.
How has visiting Cambodia changed me for the better?
The thing that I’ve noticed about Asian immigrant families is this: there’s a strong desire to keep the whole family (and I mean both immediate and non-immediate) together, to bring everybody here to America. I’ve had countless, awkward pressure to marry relatives or own a business for the sake of creating work visas and marriage licenses that could potentially guarantee others a spot as an American. I’m not one to judge those who’ve taken this route to ensure the vitality of their family, in fact, there are a few people I love and know who’ve done exactly this and I admire such tenacity to take on a role like that.
No, visiting Cambodia hasn’t entirely sparked an interest in me to go this route, but it has gotten me to think more about how I’ll continue to preserve the Cambodian culture as our generation becomes further removed from a genocide that terribly struck the country not too long ago. Three particular things that immediately come to mind: my love and ability to cook a lot of traditional food, my recent endeavors in my curly hair journey and my particular curiosities on why curly hair isn’t an Asian beauty standard, and the story of my mother who has been marked by the Khmer Rouge and domestic violence, among many other trials and tribulations.
What I long felt was a heavy burden in carrying on traditions, I’m now meeting as an opportunity. Why? Because I recognize that I’m in a very unique position to be a voice for my community through my skills in writing, public speaking, entrepreneurship and my online platform. This year, I’ve seen an evolution in my platform as I create more original content and further explore philosophical topics. I’m challenging myself to take it further. Here’s how:
1. I’ll record traditional Cambodian recipes
When I was a child, my mother would always force me to stand and watch her as she cooked every meal. Now, I can only thank her for my ability to cook with my eyes and tongue alone. Although recipe resources do exist if one is creative and tenacious enough to look for it, however, without knowing the format, I do hope to compile instructions on how to cook the food I love so much in a way that is shareable and accessible. This initiative has been my sister’s dream for many years now.
2. I’ll encourage more women and men of all ages to embrace their naturally curly hair
I’ve subtly alluded to this a lot lately and without a concrete plan of how I’ll do this, I look forward to coaching more people to appreciate a quality of theirs that is not of typical beauty standards. Some ideas are in the making for this and I hope to launch some sort of creative campaign starting January 2018!
3. I’ll capture my mother’s story
Of the three things I’ve mentioned, this will be the most difficult task of all. For as long as I can remember, my mother has always wanted to have her story written and recorded to pass on to generations. The issue lies in having her recollect traumatic stories that may trigger unwanted stress and dark emotions. I’ve already begun writing some stories down and did have material I wanted to use for my You In Haiku series focusing on domestic violence, but I didn’t have the opportunity to wrap up the content in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month earlier this year.
Visiting Cambodia and seeing where my parents actually came from (Battambang) made it so clear to me that I never (that is no understatement) would have ever had the opportunity to get the education that I’ve afforded today. There’s just no access to such a thing where my parents grew up. I may have been a farmer or factory worker at best had I been born there. Today, I’m a woman who has the ability to enrich America while also honoring Cambodia by upholding the traditions I’m most interested and well-versed in.
The gentleman I spoke of earlier practices rights and privileges of a country he now lives in. I’ll be preserving traditions and stories of a country I don’t live in. In the end, we are celebrating and honoring cultures that deeply reflect the people we wish to be more of. How do you honor and celebrate the places you’ve traveled to?
*All photos were taken at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in June 2016. See my last Cambodia-based travel post here.