As someone who is half-Khmer, it’s always been a looming fact in my household that my father survived the Cambodian genocide as a child in the late-1970s. Half of his immediate family perished, alongside two million other Khmers. Like many other children, I grew up with the label of “second-generation refugee,” a label put on me by the Cambodian community that described my status as an American-born child of a first-generation refugee.
I was an American-born child of a man who was forced to leave his whole life behind and quite literally run for the Thai border with barely anything but the clothes on his back and some family members. I was an American-born grandchild of a couple whose faces my father no longer remembers and whose basic information has since been lost to time and tragedy. No one really knows how to spell Da and Yeay’s names anymore, and—from what I gather—no one really knows from whom the family surname actually came.