My mother is Cambodian and my father is Caribbean (Martinique, French Island). My mother immigrated from Cambodia when she was around 13 years old, anticipating the Khmers Rouge invasion. My Father came to the French Metropole to find a job when he started being an adult.
I used to live with my mother as my parents separated when I was around 8 years old. I have much more knowledge of Khmer culture than Martinique culture. However, I lived as a French roots’ person. That’s weird, right?
Living as a French-roots person
Don’t be surprised. My mother was great at cooking Boeuf Bourgignon and Poulet Basquaise. Since my earliest days, I’ve been sensitive to old French music-songs:
She was listening to a French common radio with old songs from 60' to 90' with some of the biggest French singers (Aznavour, Piaf, Delpech, E. Mitchell, etc.) and also great players from America and all over the world (J. Brown, A. Franklin, Queens, The Beatles, etc.) She taught me a lot. I’m telling this as most immigrated parents tend to listen to music from their own country.
Khmer-songs were not really part of my Mom’s routine, at this time. She had all her childhood in France and has been impacted by all cultural occidental aspects. Regarding my father, I didn’t grow up with him, even if I was visiting him once a week. I had limited knowledge of what Martinique is when I was a kid and I wasn’t interested at all in my roots’ history.
Feeling different when you’re on a family gathering
I love my family and people around me. But you never really feel like a part of the atmosphere. The music around you, the food you’re going to eat, the language people are speaking, is absolutely not what you are used to. Language has been always a barrier as I can only speak French and English. What a pity, right? “Her mother never taught her to speak Khmer? What about her father? He never taught her how to speak Creole?”
Physically speaking, it is actually great to be different. I like being this curly hair, yellow skin, and curvy shape girl. When I am with Cambodian people, I love when they comment on my hair. When I am with Caribbean people, I love when they notice my Asian eyes.
Growing up and defining yourself
I am defined just as a mixed person. I cannot be one side or another one. I grew up with French culture, with a Cambodian mother, and I look like a Caribbean person
I really looked like a Chinese girl when I was a kid: Whiteface, straight & black hair was my old me. And I don’t know why, but I totally changed later: I started having curly hair, curves, darker skin, etc. This is the new me (don’t ask me how I changed).
Physical change has consequences
When I was a teenager, I saw people like me on TV: Girls with my skin and my hair, with freckles and being mixed as well. They were all in Hip Hop video clips and on black series. This is where I started being interested in Afro-American culture. This is exactly where I started to love being a mixed person and a part of this community. And living in the “hood”, among multi-cultural people, helps to feel better with your physical attributes and your difference.
Searching for my roots
For a long time, Martinique was just a simple island. I didn’t really know its history and people. And I wasn’t interested to go back to my country (the first time, I was 3). When you have no one influencing you from your Dad’s side, it is just the logical sequence.
I always felt more Cambodian than Caribbean. That is probably due to my Mom’s presence! But physically speaking, I felt more Caribbean because of my hair and skin.
Growing up, I started being more interested in Martinique. One day, my father showed me a picture of a rock, during his trip in Martinique. He told me “this is what we got from slavery, this is a symbol of history” And I was here, like “ damn, this country isn’t just about sand and palm trees. It is much more than that”
It’s amazing to be a mixed-race person when you’re meeting new people around you: It raises interest from them and they start questioning your roots, your family and also give you compliments. (“Wow, that is great, it such a nice mix!” Well, thank you).
People trust you
Let’s admit it. People are going to judge you based on your physique and your colors, whether you are white, yellow or black. Some of them build (stupid) correlations based on your color and your behavior. Like “He’s black, isn’t he supposed to know how to dance?”
But when you’re mixed, people tend to be in a non-judgment way. They feel more comfortable at joking about races, immigration and all of that stuff. And it comes from both sides. Black people have no problem talking about white’s behaviors and white people have no problem talking about black’s behaviors. With me.
Also, when you’re with people from the street, people from the hoods, you’re more likely to be accepted than a simple white guy from Neuilly-Sur-Seine (It’s an Upper-class neighborhood near Paris). Let’s admit it. And when you’re walking around Neuilly-Sur Seine, it is fine, because “she looks civilized, with her tote bag and a book in her hands. Plus, she’s mixed. It’s OK. ”