Coming to America

By Annie Kim

My mom, Wendy Phoeng, was born in Cambodia on January 22 1959. She was raised in the household, selling fruits and rice to help the family. Her main job was cooking where she had started working in the kitchen at age 5. Cambodia was still a third world country. Our family lived in the Battambang providences (short tree). By the age of 12, my mom enrolled in Cambodian school. But in 1975, the Khmer Rouge (Combodian genicide) led by Pol Pot started and our family was forced to leave the town to work in rice fields for two years. After Vietnam had invaded Cambodia and fought along side the opposition groups of Pol Pot, some of the families were able to bribe communists to take them through the forest and escape to Thailand. My mom and family had been caught once trying to leave the country and were sentenced back to the rice fields. By the second time they tried to escape, they had already memorized the route through the forest and fled to a Red Cross refugee camp located near the Thai border.

Our family lived in Thailand for a year and a half. They heard about America through relatives. Grandpa had cousins from Gongzhou China who had lived in Jamaica. He wanted to go to America from the start. Grandpa said that America was a "strong" nation at the time. But there were no preparations for immigration. The family moved along with the refugee camps and waited to be sponsored. My mom eventually got sponsored and arrived by plane to Atlanta, Georgia as a refugee in 1981. Once she settled down, the government set up a credit system for her to pay for the airplane ticket. Since my mom didn't speak much English, she worked in a sewing factory at a $3.75 wage. The church provided her with food and clothing as long as she went there each week. My mom had no clue what they were saying, though, due to the language barrier. The government also provided welfare.

A couple years later, she moved to Los Angeles' Chinatown. She moved here because a friend from California told her there was a Chinatown in Los Angeles. Living in Chinatown was a lot more convenient for her. There was larger population of Asian-Americans in the town. The grocery stores were just a mile away; the foods were familiar to cook and eat; and, since there was only one elementary school in Chinatown, my mom was able to make friends with the other parents. Although, the dialects in languages are different, my mom was able to adjust because the sounds of some words were somewhat similar.

She says life in America was better for her health because there are less flies roaming around, better sanitation, and an abundant food supply. She likes that America has "Sok So-rey" meaning citizens can learn any occupation they put their minds to. There was no regret coming here because the genocide in Cambodia was too dangerous to live in. My mom hopes for her children to become successful and for a world with less war.

I've learned the about the hardships and the feeling of growing up during a time of war and genocide and the living conditions of a third world country. Hearing about all these different struggles has made me appreciate more the things I already have. I have also learned how similar Chinese dialects are from each other, the capabilities that kids have, and how strong the hope for a better life was for my family.


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