First Generation Teen Has A Foot In Two Worlds

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“Is our home not good enough?” “Why do you want to move out and leave us behind?”

These are questions my parents pelted me with, when they found out I secretly applied to colleges out of state.

My parents always assumed I’d live with them until I get married, not move out at 18 to explore the world on my own.

They’re refugees from the Khmer Rouge and immigrated from Cambodia 20 years ago. I was born and raised in San Francisco, very different than the rural village my parents grew up in.

My whole life, my mom and dad have owned and operated a donut shop in the Richmond District. From 5 AM to midnight, they trade off working the counter and rolling the dough. After a whole night’s work making all the chocolate, glazed, and sugar raised, they barely had time to raise me.

Holidays have always been one of the few times we get to really to be together. Last month, during Lunar New Year, I sat at a table with my sister, aunt, mom and dad. We were filling each other’s empty soup bowls. Eating hot pot, steamed chicken, noodles, and gooey sugary desserts. And we were talking — well mostly my dad and my aunt were. They were telling stories about family life back in Cambodia.

That same day, my family and I burned incense to honor our ancestors. And I couldn’t help but also think about what it means to honor my parents. My college decision is always there weighing in the back of my mind.

My mom and dad don’t sleep a lot. Their backs always ache. And sometimes when I see them, they’re walking like zombies. They’ve worked so hard to make a make a better life for my sister and me, and part of me worries that if I go away to school it’s like I’m abandoning all of that.

Mine is the story of someone who is first generation. With one foot in two worlds, I’m trying to honor where I come from, and also where I want to go.

With a Perspective, I’m Amber Ly.


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