It took me a long time to tell my refugee immigrant tale. When I finally spoke them aloud to friends I trusted, they were often surprised, even shocked that I, an American was also a refugee immigrant. How can those two realities co-exist? How does a refugee immigrant become American? I understood their reaction because our Cambodian refugee immigrant tales were rarely ever told.
I remember years ago, in my early 20s, being completely shut down by my parents and older relatives when asked anything related to their experiences during the Khmer Rouge years. Although frustrated, I too understood their thinking. It's safer, maybe even easier to keep the door closed to past traumas. I also know that no matter how hard we try to escape the ghosts of our past, they manage to haunt us anyway. Opening that door and confronting those ghosts require bravery.
With time, my parents learned to develop enough bravery to begin telling their tales. They no longer hide and hold secret the pain and struggles that come with war and its aftermath. I see in them the connection, healing and strength that comes with laying bear the pain of loss, separation, and survival. Although difficult at times, the tale itself becomes bitter medicine if we learn to transmute the memories into nourishing fuel that feeds and sustains us.
May we learn to ask difficult questions and cultivate an open heart when others cannot find the words to answer them.