Family photograph, circa 1973

Family photograph, circa 1973
Family photograph, circa 1973

This family photograph of my mother and her siblings is one of only two objects saved by my family from Cambodia before the Killing Fields, when nearly two million Cambodians, a third of the country, died from famine, exhaustion, and genocide. Before being sent to labor camps, they buried this photo and left their home and the entirety of their worldly belongings to face an uncertain future. 
I was born in the aftermath of the Killing Fields in a refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodian border and was resettled when I was an infant, along with the entirety of my maternal family to Stockton, CA in the 1980’s. My parents, young new Americans, greeted their new lives with ardor and never spoke of the past.
In 2010, I returned to my grandmother’s home in Stockton, CA to interview her for the first time in my life about her life before the war and her experiences during the Killing Fields. There was so much that was revealed to me that afternoon. I learned, for example, how my grandmother bartered tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry for a chicken to keep an aunt, who was dying of starvation, alive. And I learned about the photograph, how it was buried before the Killing Fields, then retrieved decades later. Having lost the entirety of their worldly belongings, it was a tangible bridge to a severed past. It became, for me, a window into their former lives, buried in a blanket of trauma and migration, and a past that for so long had been withheld from me. 

Place(s): Cambodia,California,
Year: 1984

– Pete Pin

Relationship:  Im/migrant who arrived as a child Im/migrant who arrived as a child