This is part of our #MyAsianIdentity series. Stay tuned to the Kollaboration SF blog for more articles about API identity for the next week!
Family is an important concept many Asian Americans value today. The concept of “family” is—of course—subjective and could feature immediate to extended members. Some would even consider friends as family.
My family household, for instance, consists of my parents, my two sisters and maternal grandmother.
Aside from my immediate family, I have a large extended family consisted of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews—full, half, everything-in-between (but in all honesty, we’re not that picky with honorifics and titles; everyone’s considered “full”)—and family friends.
Many Asians favored large family communities to ensure survival in their home countries, as such, when they immigrated to the states, they continued to implement this lifestyle.
This is important to many Asian American cultures because it’s the basis of keeping the cultural traditions alive.
It allows our family elders to connect with the upcoming generations, reminding the latter to be proud of who they are as an Asian American.
It’s a huge part of our identity.
So what happens when a family member dies? How does that affect our identity?
Again, this is subjective because everyone reacts differently to death but a common side-effect is a loss of identity.
Unfortunately, this “side-effect” varies in duration. It can last for days, weeks, months—even years.
For me, it’s been a year since my mother passed away.
Reflecting on the year, it’s been difficult. I’ve felt disconnected to my mother’s culture because she was the main person who enveloped me into my Cambodian heritage.
She and grandma used to put me in the traditional sampot chang kben wrap for Cambodian New Year or preach—literally—about Cambodian politics or constantly blast an eclectic array of songs from Preab Sovath, Sinn Sisamouth and Touch Sreynich in the car.
She was proud to be Cambodian but also proud to be Khmu (my father’s ethnicity)—my family and friends can attest to this; just watch her youtube videos and you’ll know see what I mean.
I admired how she retained her heritage but also had a passion to share my father’s heritage to others (I struggled balancing my identity as a mixed-Asian American.)
Without her, I had no desire to participate in Cambodian-related events or even eat the ethnic food.
It’s not because I detested my Cambodian heritage, it’s because it reminds me of her.
It’s no one’s fault this feeling of lost identity happens. It’s normal to feel this way because to associate yourself with something or someone reminding you of deceased family member is painful.
But it’s also important for you to continue to keep those associations because it ultimately helps you move on.
We’ve all heard of that famous quote: “Time only heals.” In this case, it’s quite true.
Time will only tell.
I’m slowly returning back to my Cambodian roots. My family—on both sides—continually remind little things like certain phrases—k’kut thom thom anyone?
My family is important to me and is part of my identity. They keep me rooted in my beliefs and constantly remind me to retain my Southeast Asian roots and for that, I’m grateful.
My story is just one of the many similar stories many other Asian Americans face in today’s society.
Family is the one of the driving force in the Asian American identity. The sense of community keeps us all together and gets us through tragedy, among other trials and tribulations.
In a sense, large families in Asian American cultures are important for the very same reason they were important in our homelands: for survival.
While certainly not life-threatening, it is still equally important we, as Asian Americans root ourselves in our heritage for the sake of our identity.
Tragedy is a natural occurrence in life but the bond of family in Asian American cultures keeps us going; it allows us to remember our past, enjoy our present and hope for a better future.
Vorani is one of the creative writers/bloggers at Kollaboration SF. A Central Valley native from Stockton, he is currently studying Broadcast & Electronic Communication at San Francisco State University. His hobbies include beer and wine-tasting, pop-culture, swimming and socializing. Vorani’s passion includes telling stories about the API community, especially in regards to misrepresented ethnic groups. He hopes these stories will influence the next generation to dream big and pursue their goals.