As the oldest child of immigrants, there comes a great deal of responsibility. When I was a kid, I was pretty oblivious to the realities of my life.
Thinking back, I remembered church missionaries would visit us in our small apartment. I didn’t know who these strangers were, but they were incredibly kind and giving and would gift me and my baby sister, Jessica, secondhand clothing. I remembered living off of food stamps. My parents, maternal grandma, uncles and aunts would always make sure there was food on the table. They were very resourceful at finding ways to survive. I remembered walking to and from the store carrying heavy groceries with my mom, because we didn’t have a car. As a family, we would always eat dinner together on the ground, on top of a traditional Cambodian bamboo mat called a "Ka-dehl". My grandma raised me and Jessica while my parents worked hard, often taking on multiple jobs to support our family. Now that I’m an adult, one thing I miss most was living so close together that we could always see each other within walking distance or in only a short 10-min drive away. All of the struggles and hardships we persevered have only made us more appreciative of the lives we live now. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My family and I lived differently. And, it wasn’t something I was aware of until I was exposed to how other people lived their lives through making friends with others outside of my neighborhood. At one point, we were homeless and temporarily moved in with family friends. When my parents were able to purchase their first home, Jasmine came into this beautiful world, and I happily accepted more responsibilities as her older sister and felt like I took on a new role as a 2nd mom. I would often encourage her to play advanced Jumpstart educational computer games. At only 5 years old, she was excelling at a 5th grade level. I was so proud to be her sister, and I wanted her to grow up to be smart and successful.
Fast forward to my adult years, I have continued to stay committed to advancing in my career and education. Purchasing my first home at 26 years old has been one of my biggest life accomplishments. My motivator has always been my family. I wanted to make sure I could take care of my parents, two younger sisters, and any other relatives who needed me. I often feel this heavy burden to take care of others before taking care of myself. Family is an important and significant part of the Asian culture. And, being the eldest, I often feel the pressures to succeed.
Last month, my youngest sister, Jasmine, moved out on her own after living with me, my partner and dog for 3 years. The middle sister moved out a few years ago. This is the first time I have felt a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders knowing that my two younger sisters are now in stable relationships and a good place in their lives. I feel like I can finally breathe.
When Jasmine first moved in, it was rocky for us. She was completing her competitive master’s program and learning the new world of education having freshly left her corporate job. At the same time, I was in my master’s program and worked 40-60 hours per week at my corporate job. Life was extremely stressful for both of us having to juggle multiple demanding priorities, but we had each other to lean on to get through these difficult times.
What I appreciated the most were being able to vent to each other and doing things together whenever we wanted to like shopping, gardening, and cooking. We didn’t start becoming close until I started obsessing over BTS. Jasmine has always been a BTS Army. So, we started sharing this common interest together whenever BTS would come out with a new music video, concert, movie, or YouTube video. There was endless amount of content which meant we always had excuses to hang out and share these moments together.
During the first half of this year, COVID happened so we had the wonderful opportunity of working from home and spending more time together. I was excited about that. We would grab lunch together, catch up on our days on the living room couch or get some fresh air by walking around the neighborhood with my dog. After realizing the extra time we had on our hands, we decided to start this passion project to give back to our Khmer & BiPoC community. Things were off to a great start, and we were absolutely thrilled with the direction of where it was heading. A few weeks later, she shared the news with me that she and her partner would be apartment hunting but wouldn't be moving until end of 2020. I felt relieved knowing that we still had some time to hang out. But, of course, she and her partner found the perfect place within weeks, and I learned that she would be moving out very soon. It all happened so fast that we didn't really have much time to think about it. I remembered feeling a moment of sadness but also being extremely happy for her. We both knew that this project would continue to connect us both regardless of our living situation.
A month into this newfound freedom, I still miss having Jasmine around from time to time. We still talk to each other every day through this passion project. I will always cherish the quality moments we had together. Over the past few years, our sister bond has greatly deepened, and we have become so much closer as a result. She is my go to person, someone who I know I can depend on, my forever best friend. That is what I value the most. Although it still feels bittersweet, it was necessary for her to move on and live her life. It was also necessary for me to let go and finally live my life for the first time.
What a strange feeling to not have to think about anyone else but myself. This is something I'll need to get used to over time and learn to finally focus on my own life and happiness.
What’s next for me? We shall see. :)