10 Jan 2020

Episode 7: Sucking on Chicken Feet - Conversations With My Immigrant Parents

From Conversations With My Immigrant Parents, 12:00 am on 10 January 2020
  • Content warning: This episode discusses war and violence, in some cases graphically.
Mom Meng outside with her food truck in Lower Hutt, Wellington.

Mom Meng outside with her food truck in Lower Hutt, Wellington. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

Sucking on Chicken Feet

Mom Meng came to Aotearoa in 1979 as a refugee from Cambodia.  After spending two years in Thailand in a refugee camp, she arrived in New Zealand with her husband and their son Ty who was only a toddler at the time.  The family was sponsored to come to New Zealand, where they eventually settled in Lower Hutt.

(L-R) Mom Meng, her granddaughter Emrie, and her son Ty in Lower Hutt, Wellington.

(L-R) Mom Meng, her granddaughter Emrie, and her son Ty in Lower Hutt, Wellington. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

This episode of the podcast features three generations of the Meng family with Mom in conversation with her son Ty and his daughter Emrie.  Mom’s English is limited so Ty does some translating for her in the episode.

“I come to New Zealand, so I will only speak my culture, but my children forgot my culture.  That’s why I speak all the time, not speak English,” explains Mom.

Ty adds, “Mum’s quite fresh.  I don’t speak it fully, so I can understand bits and pieces.  I jump in from English and I jump in from Chinese to Thai, to Cambodian.  I'm quite multilingoed.  In one sentence I will cover four different languages.”

The three discuss their family’s experiences growing up in this country as former refugees and how the trauma of their family’s history in Cambodia during Pol Pot’s regime has continued to affect all of their lives.

Mom and her husband worked long hours to provide for their family and were unable to be present at home for a lot of Ty’s childhood - this resulted in Ty neglecting his own schoolwork and family as he strove to find a sense of community elsewhere – “with the cool cats, unfortunately.”

(L-R) Emrie Meng looking at photo albums with her grandmother Mom Meng in Lower Hutt, Wellington.

(L-R) Emrie Meng looking at photo albums with her grandmother Mom Meng in Lower Hutt, Wellington. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

Ty’s lack of stability also impacted Emrie’s relationship with him as a child.  Ty had Emrie and her twin sister Chyanne when he was only a teenager.

“Because of the upbringing you had growing up here, with Granddad who had just fought in the war, it probably wasn’t the best kind of transition, like he probably should have been given a little bit more support.  I think that affected your relationship with him growing up in New Zealand, eh?” Emrie asks her dad.

Ty replies, “Yeah. Mum and Dad escaped the Cambodian genocide, so it was a massive thing to get out of - the days of the Killing Fields, and all that.”

“[Granddad’s] head’s still there… He remembered seeing his friends’ bodies floating down the river.  How do you go from living that and then coming here and being a taxi driver?  How do you… that wasn’t easy for him either,” says Emrie.

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

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(L-R) Podcast hosts Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

(L-R) Podcast hosts Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu. Photo: Saraid de Silva / Julie Zhu

Conversations With My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer.  Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a first generation South Asian New Zealander.

Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.

| Twitter: @saraiddesilva@juliezhuu | Instagram: @convoswithmy | Facebook: whereareyoufromreally |

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