Small Asian Woman

Delta Winds cover 2011Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Small Asian Woman

Kelley Pheng

December 15th, 2007: I walked through the front door of what was to be known as my former home from that day on. I remember it being cold and dark inside, except for the light coming through the cracks of my parents' bedroom door. As I headed up the stairs, I could only wonder what my mom was going to say about me finally moving out; I was expecting either a lot of crying and begging or an earful of her words of wisdom. However, when I entered the room, no such thing happened. I walked in to find my mom in the corner, sitting quietly on her recliner with a bottle of wine at her side; her eyes were red--bloodshot almost--and her skin tone was just as red as the wine that she had been drinking. This was the only moment that I could remember my mother seeming so small, weak, and fragile. My only memories of her before then were always of a very strong woman.

Despite standing only 4 feet 10 inches, my mom was extremely intimidating; she had a very strong presence. She was very emotional, passionate, and hard-headed; she was a perfectionist. These traits made her a very strict mother. Growing up, my siblings and I would often find ourselves in trouble over every little thing--how we dressed, how we ate, and which hobbies we had. Each time we were in trouble, she would lecture us, and many of these lectures included references to her life experiences. The fact that my mom would talk about herself irritated me, especially since she would always use the phrase "when I was your age." It was a combination of the phrase and a story about her life that made me feel like she was trying to compare herself to me; this only made me feel inferior towards her. Whenever I wanted to play sports or video games, she would say, "You need to focus on your education. You don't have time for other things like sports and hobbies. When I was your age, I was fortunate enough to even attend school because most kids lived on the streets!" She also liked to scold us about food. "You're not done eating till you've eaten every grain of rice. You should feel lucky you get to eat so much. When I was your age, I had to hunt for food in the jungle!" Because I would be told these things almost every day, I would often ignore her; I felt as though she was trying to control my life. Though she would only preach to me for a few minutes, there were times when I had to sit through a lecture that was over an hour long.

When my mom made me sit and listen to her for long periods of time, I disregarded her then, too, but for some reason, I had a feeling that these stories were the most important of all, that maybe she wasn't exaggerating just to make me feel bad about myself. Unlike the other times when I would get in trouble, during these sessions, she would actually cry, to the point where she wouldn't talk to me again until the next day. She told me that when communists took over Cambodia after the Viet Nam War, they killed her biological parents and older sister when she was about eleven years old. The grandparents and thirteen aunts and uncles I had grown up with were her adoptive family. My mom also lost many children; my oldest sister passed away shortly after being born because she was malnourished. Before I was born, my mom had two abortions because she and my father were poor. It was only recently that I realized how fortunate my younger sister and I were because my mom chose to give birth to us. When I asked her why she decided to keep us, she said, "I wanted to give you a chance at life."

I considered my mom to be a nuisance because I felt like she was constantly bothering me, but as I grew older, I realized that maybe she was always telling the same stories because I apparently had not learned the lesson she was trying to teach. Now, when I look back to every lecture, I try to comprehend what she was communicating to me, and I try to understand why her life is so vital to how I should live my own life. When my mom would nag us about our education, it was because she was never able to get a college degree. When she came to America, she was busy working several jobs to support her family while my dad was obtaining his degree. My mom knew that without education, we would end up suffering like her, barely making enough to get by. I also realized that she often scolded us over food because she spent many years surviving in the jungles of Southeast Asia--she pretty much ate dirt and was constantly starving. When my mom would talk about all of the family she lost, she wanted us to always remember the importance of family and to keep family connections alive because there would always come a day when they would no longer be there.

It is exactly for this reason that she almost lost her mind when I moved out. My mom spent many years alone after losing her family. And she only wanted me and my siblings to cherish the fact that we still had each other.

When I look back to that day in December, I can only think of everything that my mom has experienced in her lifetime. What years of war and struggle could not do to her, I did to her: I made her feel like giving up. She walked through miles of battlefields and jungles, treading carefully around mines, so that one day I might walk freely on the paved streets and sidewalks of America. Now, I have made it my mission to retell her stories to my little cousins, my little sister, and the students I teach; when I lecture them, I even find myself using her phrase--"when I was your age. . . ." I have come to understand that my mom was only hard on me because she wanted me to never take anything in my life for granted. She also wanted me to become a strong-willed person with strong family values; she wanted me to be like her, and I do want to be like her. Sometime in the future when I do have children, I want her stories to be passed on to them. I also want to raise my family the way she raised us. Even though I used to tell myself that I don't want to be anything like her, I now only wish that I can be at least half the person that she is today.