“I don’t need to teach my kids how to speak Lao. We live in America, and that language isn’t useful here in this country” were the careless words I said to my parents when they expressed how it’s important to keep our language and culture alive by passing it down to our children. How I regret my words and how I wish I can turn back the hands of time with the new attitude and change of heart I have today. I took my parents’ teachings for granted when they were alive with me. When they died a large part of me died with them. They were my anchor and foundation of who I truly am. I am a daughter of Lao refugee parents who sacrificed so much to give their children a better opportunity in a whole new home. I come from deeply humble roots and beginnings, and the only way I can be a grateful daughter is to fully embrace all their wonderful teachings.
With the tragic deaths of my beloved parents, my world as I knew that existed turned completely upside down. I was lost and confused without my Lao parents. I didn’t have a Lao home that always permeated with the intoxicating smell of spices and seasonings to come home to anymore. Gone were my parents’ loving arms waiting with fresh bamboo soup and sticky rice on their deck underneath the giant tree in the front yard. Gone was Pa’s tastiest chicken laab made from his raised chickens and Mae’s garden picked herbs and vegetables. Gone was Mae’s famous homemade sausages and hot steamed sticky rice that would gently and deliciously wake us up in the morning. Gone were their fresh caught fishes and sun dried beef jerkies that tasted so amazing with jeo mak len (tomatoe sauce) or jeo padaek that Mae was so known and loved for. Gone were the sweet smiles and warm words always making sure we had lots of food and have even more to pack home. Gone was my Lao world, my heart and soul.
The end of their lives marked the beginning of my new life and journey to pass on my parents’ cultural upbringing to my children and even to myself. I couldn’t bear to lose all their wonderful culture and traditions that helped define and shape me into who I was to die with them. Keeping their teachings alive meant my continual love, honor and respect for them. Their lives may have been taken away from us, but that doesn’t mean our Lao culture and cuisine should be taken away with them as well. Their passing was my rite of passage into becoming a woman of deep passion for the Lao culture, cuisine and heritage for it fuels my heart and grounds my soul that connects me to my late beloved parents.
Today, I sense the love and presence of Mae and Pa in so many aspects of my life. I feel Mae next to me helping me garden and enjoying our lovely flowers, fruits and vegetables together over hot tea. I taste their delicious cooking in my own Lao cooking. I feel their joy and peace when all my siblings are gathered together to enjoy each other’s company. I hear their comforting words when I speak Lao to my family and friends. I can see how beautiful they are whenever I look in the mirror wearing Mae’s well-loved sinhs. I sense my beloved parent’s pride and joy Lao’d and proud when I look at my husband and children’s sweet faces and continue to cherish all the richness of our beautiful Lao culture.
Mae and Pa’s tragic deaths in 2005 isn’t in vain, but it was also a rebirth of my own search and passion for my own cultural identity. I will not lose all the beautiful aspects of my cultural upbringing to be lost and become ashes in the air. The need to preserve Mae and Pa’s teachings and traditions ignited my soul to share with my children about my humble roots. The more I shared about Lao cuisine and culture on FB, the more I was discovering and loving my true self and the more I wanted to share with the world about having pride in our cultural identity. What we eat and wear reveals a lot about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going. I want my children and their children to be proud of their heritage and how far we’ve come in life. Through our intricate textiles a thousand stories are woven about the tales of our ancestors.