Sunday, June 28, 2009

SEASSI: Week Two

When I go to Cambodia, I will find this book.

It has been an extremely exciting week, because we are now able to put together words and sentences in Khmer, read some, and we are starting to work on our independent study projects. Whenever I slowly work my way through words I get a thrill of excitement (maybe this is what I felt like in kindergarten when I was learning how to read and write English). Each collection of symbols and characters are a little puzzle I get to decipher. Sometimes when I figure it out it's a word I already know and it's a wonderfully comfortable feeling. Sometimes it's a word I don't know, and I learn. Sometimes, I'm completely off in what I figure out, and I learn even more.

When we first started, the Director of the SEASSI program said it would be an emotional experience. The first chapter of our textbook said this would be an emotional experience. It said Heritage students are carrying "emotional baggage" that non-native speakers are not. I didn't quite believe it then, but perhaps it's true. We watched a movie about the Buddhist Peace March in Cambodia, and seeing the aftermath of the war was hard to handle. I noticed the only people with tears in their eyes were the Khmers or the Khmer-Americans in the room.

We also watched New Year Baby, a documentary about a Khmer-American woman's rediscovery and reconciliation with her family and her family's past. (Once again, probably to be expected, the ones most affected by the movie were the Khmer-Americans in the room.) There were several very awkward moments... points where I would not have wanted to video tape my parents or points that seemed contrived or over-directed. There is critique of how the movie was directed (click on the "aman_1117.pdf" link), suggesting that when Socheata was caught in between being a daughter and being a director, she directed more than she let things unravel as they would naturally unravel. More important than the objectivity of the piece, however (which you could say is arguable in any documentary - especially one where the director is one of the main characters) I think it tells a very important story. It ends with a message of healing, heroism and love, rather than suffering, silence and anger.

The director has a very interesting project in progress right now, similar to StoryCorps, but called Khmer Legacies. Its mission is to begin the difficult dialogue between Khmer-American children and their parents and to document those stories. It is something I've wanted to do with my parents for years. Since I was a child my dad always told me, "One day, you are going to tell my story, but only when you're older."

I feel like that day is coming soon.

Cambodian Dinner and Dance Party at sunset.

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