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Title: Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Kong, Ran, interviewee
Interview conducted by Lau, Barbara
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 180 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-12-06, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0269)
Author: Barbara Lau
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0269)
Author: Ran Kong
Description: 203 Mb
Description: 56 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 25, 2000, by Barbara Lau; recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by L. McLain.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000.
Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Kong, Ran, interviewee


Interview Participants

    RAN KONG, interviewee
    BARBARA LAU, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
BARBARA LAU:
Okay. Today is November— what did they say—
RAN KONG:
25th.
BARBARA LAU:
—25th, 2000. My name is Barbara Lau. And we're in Greensboro, North Carolina, at the Greensboro Buddhist Center. And I'm interviewing Ran Kong for the Listening For A Change Project of the Southern Oral History Program. Ran, why don't you just say, if you wouldn't mind, tell us your name and where you live. And then maybe you could talk a little bit about how you remember coming to Greensboro.
RAN KONG:
Okay. My name is Ran Kong. I live at 1211 Kinley Street, Greensboro, North Carolina. And my memories of coming to North Carolina— I was so young then. I was only four years old when I first came here. And so my memories of like exactly when we came, and you know, when we settled and— aren't exactly all that clear. But I do remember the very first house that we lived in. It was an apartment complex with a small kitchen and a small living room. And we were all cramped in, but it was really fun. So I just remember, I guess my family back then, not exactly one specific thing that we did, but just the fact that we lived there in that neighborhood in that particular house, who our neighbors were and who the people around us were.
BARBARA LAU:
Could you tell us where your family is from and who the members of your family are?
RAN KONG:
My family is from Cambodia. The members of my family, my dad, my mom, my grandmother who is very old, and an older sister and a younger brother.
BARBARA LAU:
And could you tell us what their names are?
RAN KONG:
Yes. My father's name is Kep Kong. My mom's name is Uch Real.

Page 2
My grandmother's name is Loch Krang. My sister's name is Yi Kong, and my brother's name Chamroeun Kong.
BARBARA LAU:
So you were four years old when you came here.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
What did your parents tell you then about why you had to come to the United States? Do you remember that?
RAN KONG:
We were young, so they didn't really say anything. Growing up, though, I always remembered my father mentioning it was this about Cambodia, it was that about Cambodia. Whatever it was, I knew that it was bad. It wasn't a good reason why we came. You know, it was like my first impression when I first heard about why we were here is that there was a war over there, which there was. But you know, there's a whole lot more to there just being a war over there. And so it wasn't until I was older, like maybe in my teens, that my father and my mother really started going into detail on what happened over in Cambodia, and you know, all of their experiences, and why they made the decision to come here to America.
BARBARA LAU:
When you were little, when you were first here, do you remember your parents being kind of nervous or afraid being in a different place?
RAN KONG:
I don't know. I don't think as a kid you ever really observe that. But I remember, though, that my father was the one in our family who ran everything. He was the one who always seemed to be talking and you know, taking care of things. He got a job as soon as he got here. And it seemed like to me and to my family, he was always the stable one that took care of everything, that made everything all right. So, you know, I guess as a child

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you place complete trust on your parents. And you know, I never really questioned what he did for us when we were little, just that he did everything.
BARBARA LAU:
Did he speak English when he came here?
RAN KONG:
Very little. I do remember whenever he talked, it was broken English, like halting and stuff. But I guess he communicated well enough, because you know, we did just fine. But I think that he also got help from people in the community who knew how to speak English and Khmer.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, you mentioned that there were other Cambodians here.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
So did you live near other Cambodians when you first moved here?
RAN KONG:
Yes. In our apartment complex, it's like there was just like two rooms or two houses, and it was like A and B. And we lived on one side, and there was a Cambodian family who had gotten to America earlier than us who lived on the other side. And down the street from us was a Cambodian family whose kids we later babysat for. And I think there were also some other Asians in the neighborhood, not just us.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you remember whether people were sort of nice to you or welcoming to you, Cambodians and non-Cambodians?
RAN KONG:
I think in general they were. It's kind of weird, though, because my earliest memories of when I lived in that apartment complex were not of American— I mean, not of Cambodians, really. They just sort of came and went. But I guess, Americans, I remember more about my experiences with Americans, particularly with my sponsors Mark

Page 4
and Stephanie Foster. And I just always remembered that they would come over and visit and bring things, or they'd come and take me and my sister, and my cousins family who later came, over to their house to spend the day with them or to you know, take us trick or treating on Halloween, and take us over to their house for Christmas. And so I think my earliest memories are of those happy times with them.
BARBARA LAU:
So they taught you a little bit about what was American as opposed to what was Cambodian.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Was that a problem in your family? Did your parents have any problems, say, with you going to their house for Christmas when you were little?
RAN KONG:
No. I don't think they had, you know, a problem with that. I think it was nice that here we were, and was this nice American couple who is trying to help us adjust to what goes on around here. You know, sort of like, Christmas, you know, what is that? And just the fact that they came over and invited us to have dinner with them. And you know, we got to see the tree, and they had presents for us and stuff. I think that was just very nice, coming from what you know, they had just come from over in the refugee camps to this, you know, it was sort of like a nice little introduction to America.
BARBARA LAU:
Was there any pressure, do you think, on you to become more American when you were a really little kid?
RAN KONG:
I guess at that age, you don't really know who you are. I would say my name is Ran and, you know, but I think I've told you before that my impression of Cambodia was that it was on Mars. And so I don't really— you know, it's kind of silly how,

Page 5
you know, when I think back to how when I was little, I used to think that my country was on a whole other planet. That's how different I knew that I was. Just the fact that I don't look like anybody here, and I know that I'm not from here. But then again, who am I really, and why am I really here? And so it's just kind of funny how when you don't know you don't feel pressured to be anything at all. And when you're small, I guess nothing really matters except, having fun, and being happy. So there's not really any pressure to be really Cambodian or to be really American. But early on, I do remember my parents always saying, you're not—we're Cambodian, we're Cambodian. We're not American. Remember that.
BARBARA LAU:
So did they, for example, want you to learn English, or did you— because you were younger than school age then.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you stay home for a little while and that kind of thing, or did you go right to school?
RAN KONG:
I think I went right to school. I think— yes, except for my brother who was about two years old at that time. I was five when school started, so they put me into kindergarten. But you know, my father was like, well, we're living in America, obviously, we have to learn English. So he never really said, go to school, but don't try to learn, or anything like that. It was always, go to school, learn what you can— keep talking?
BARBARA LAU:
Yes.
RAN KONG:
Go to school, learn what you can, because we're here. And I guess my father is a person who values education very much. And so to him it was always, no

Page 6
matter what kind of an education you got or where you got it from, the more knowledge you have, the better. And so there was never really any pressure from my parents' part to say, don't learn English in school or whatever, because when we came home, we had to speak in Khmer anyways.
BARBARA LAU:
So nobody spoke English in your house. Is that in part because of your grandmother?
RAN KONG:
Yes. And also in part because my mom didn't know English then. And my father's grasp on English wasn't a lot either. He wasn't, at that point, very fluent in it. But now, we speak English in the house to our parents. And they'll understand, and they'll respond in Khmer, and then tell us, to shut up, speak in Khmer.
BARBARA LAU:
Can you talk a little bit about the role of your grandmother in your life when you were a young girl?
RAN KONG:
When we were young, both of my parents had to work. And so in the household it was really convenient that my grandmother was there, that she could take care of all of us, sort of like our babysitter. But obviously, in our culture, grandparents are a very important part of the household. And so she was like our second mom in a way. I think personally, with me, my relationship with her is even deeper because you know, I sleep with her, and when I was small, I didn't really follow my parents. Like wherever my grandmother went, I had to be there. And so out of the three of us, I think it was my grandmother and me spent the most time together. But she was the one in our household who, you know, before my parents made a decision, it was kind of like, well, is it going to be good for her? You know, is it going to

Page 7
benefit my grandmother? Is it going to benefit the kids? And then, okay, then it's good for the family. So the decision to move, will it be good for my grandmother? Will it be good for the kids? And then, okay, we move.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, when you first started going to school, did you feel really different than the other kids? And how did teachers and other people that were around you, did they help that, make it worse, or what was that experience like?
RAN KONG:
I think it helped a lot that I went to a school that had other Cambodians in it. My elementary school was Caesar Cone Elementary School. And I think that at that point that was the only elementary school in Greensboro that was offering English as a second language. And so I wasn't the only Asian there. And my sister and my cousin also went there, and a couple of other Cambodian kids who I knew from the community. So in a sense, I didn't feel totally different, but at the same time, we were going to ESL classes with our teachers. And you know, so I knew that we weren't exactly, you know, like other American kids who were just staying in the classroom, you know, the whole day. We had to go to a special class and learn English.
BARBARA LAU:
You said before that even with the kids in your neighborhood you realized that you looked different. Did kids tease you?
RAN KONG:
Well, yeah. You know, I think the most common phrase that I heard thrown at me when I was little was "Chink." So I don' t know, I don't look very Chinese to me, but I guess you know, what kids pick up from their parents or what kids pick up from the media, that's all they can use against you.
BARBARA LAU:
Were there people in your school that kind of tried to counteract

Page 8
that, or did you feel like some of the teachers felt like you were really different too?
RAN KONG:
Well, I don't think I really knew what that word meant back then. You know, it wasn't really until fifth grade when one of my friends actually called me that name again, that I really understood that it was derogatory, and I knew that it wasn't nice to call somebody that. You can sort of like sense that and pick that up. But I didn't really know what that meant, until fifth grade. So, you know, kindergarten, first, second grade, whoever, you know, like whatever. Nothing really matters. You know, we're all on the playground, we all play together. It doesn't really matter.
BARBARA LAU:
So what happened in fifth grade? Can you describe that experience?
RAN KONG:
Well, I'm going to leave out the person's name. Actually, I still remember him to this day, and my fifth grade teacher, I loved her, actually, Mrs. Knight. And I was sort of teacher's pet. And so everybody in the class was like, she's teacher's pet, you know, like don't mess with her, type of thing. And so I was outside and my teacher had said, go out and take the erasers from the chalkboard, and bang them against the wall of the building and get all the chalk out and stuff. And so of course, I always volunteered to do this. And so I went outside and I was just banging away, chalk dust flying everywhere. And the guy comes out. He was actually one of my friends. And he was like, Chink, hey Chink, what's up? You know, just, Chink, Ran is a Chink. And that just really upset me that, like this guy who I considered one of my friends was calling me this name. And I actually hadn't heard it in a while. I developed this like image of myself that I'm teacher's pet so nobody should mess with me.

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And so of course, like it upset me to the point that I burst out crying. And I went inside, back into the classroom. And the teacher was like, what's wrong, Ran? And I was like, this person's name, was calling me Chink. And the bell rang, and we all got into a line, leaving the school building. And it's funny because Mrs. Knight grabs, one of those little pads from her desk and goes, you know, person's name, you don't go around— you know, that's not very nice. You shouldn't say that to Ran. And this is what you're going to have to do. So she wrote down on her pad, I will not call Ran a Chink anymore. You have to write this down 500 times and turn it in to me tomorrow. So that was his form of punishment for calling me that. But I guess it was just kind of funny, because later on he did come up and apologize. And I guess I've seen him in high school, and I think later on he dropped out. But he still remembered me, and I still remembered him. And I think we both remembered that incident very well.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think you and he learned from that incident?
RAN KONG:
I think I learned that, it's really horrible, but when somebody makes a comment like that to you, it does hurt no matter how much you try to bar yourself against saying that it doesn't hurt and even in fifth grade, I don't think I really knew like the full extent. I just knew that it was bad and I didn't want to be called that. And so I guess I learned too that sometimes like— I guess like after he was punished, I guess I felt like a little bit happier that he was punished, but at the same time, it wasn't like completely, he deserved it, you know. I don't know. I think I wish that it had never happened at all, like that incident had never happened at all, because it's just something that I remember

Page 10
very clearly from fifth grade. And to him, I don't know. I hope he learned a lot more than just to never mess with a teacher's pet, I guess. So, I don't know.
BARBARA LAU:
You were talking a little bit about how you weren't the only Cambodian kid. Can you describe in some of your classrooms, say in elementary school, what kind of kids went to your school?
RAN KONG:
At Cone Elementary, our ESL classes were all— I think all of the English as a Second Language students, so not just Cambodian kids, but I also think like Laotian kids and Vietnamese kids were also there. I think we had a Vietnamese teacher as one of our English as a Second Language teachers. And the other teacher, she was Hawaiian-American. But it was funny, because I think that the ESL classes were like the best classes out of the whole entire day at school. We all looked forward to it, I guess, because in there we were all equally as, I don't know, I don't want to say like dumb, but just, you know, enough that speaking English, you know, together. So it was kind of funny, because I remember Mrs. Outlaw trying to teach us not to ever say ain't, and you know, just the fact that like, wow, 20 kids looking at this crazy lady saying, take ain't and throw it out the window. Take ain't and throw it out the window and— cause she was trying to emphasize to us to never say ain't. And so my sister was actually in that class with me. So just the fact that, you know, gosh what is this teacher doing? She's saying take ain't and throw it out the window. Take ain't and throw it out the window. I guess it never really hit home until, you got older. But you know, it was fun.
BARBARA LAU:
But even in the rest of the school, what other kind of kids were at

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the rest of the school in your classes?
RAN KONG:
My class was mixed. We had, African-American kids, you know, White American kids, and then I had one Chinese friend who was in my second grade class. But otherwise, I think that was about it.
BARBARA LAU:
But in general the kids were sort of nice to you, or was this a real big change, to have a lot of, you know, kids that didn't speak English at the school. Hold on. Okay. Try that. [Adjusting the microphone]
RAN KONG:
I don't know, actually, kindergarten, first and second grade, I don't really remember much. I was at Cone for those first three years. But then third, fourth grade I was at another school. And at this school, it was different because in our third grade classes there were two other Cambodian students. And the whole attitude was different. At this point, like, it was still a mixture. The school was still pretty diverse like in terms of there being White, Blacks and Asians. But we'd sort of like developed this image that, you know, we're really good students. And so it wasn't like negative attention, but at the same time, it was like, they're different. I think we all got along very well third grade.
BARBARA LAU:
So just because they were Cambodian doesn't mean they were kids that you got along with? Is that what you were trying to say?
RAN KONG:
No. I think, you were just asking me in terms of, you know, how did the other kids treat you. I think it was like the other Cambodian girls who had been there had— I guess what I'm trying to say is that they had developed, they were cool. You know, they had developed this image that they were really smart. They were more Americanized

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than I was. And so when I came in, they were like, oh, this other Cambodian girl, she's our friend too. And so I was accepted. But it was always in a way—there was always like this competition, sort of to see who's smarter and stuff. I remember that with our multiplication tests.
BARBARA LAU:
Where else did you see Cambodian kids, I mean, outside of school?
RAN KONG:
Outside of school I'd see them in the community at the temple, basically, is where I'd see them.
BARBARA LAU:
So tell me what it was like when you were a kid and you were at the temple here at the Greensboro Buddhist Center?
RAN KONG:
It was fun. I just remember, jumping across the tables that the monk had built, just running around playing hide and seek, or playing whatever games that the kids thought up around here. And so whenever there was a ceremony we'd come and I'd stick with my grandmother for five minutes and then run and play. And then she'd come and call me back. And then I'd have to go back and sulk because I couldn't play with the other kids.
BARBARA LAU:
So being with other Cambodians and community kinds of celebrations, that's something you would look forward to?
RAN KONG:
Definitely.
BARBARA LAU:
Tell me why.
RAN KONG:
I don't know. It was just fun. Like just as a kid, all you want to do is

Page 13
play, play, play, play, play. So you know, we play at school, but at school, you know, there's a certain time, you can only go out to the playground and play for like 45 minutes each day and then you'd have to come back in and work some more. But here at the temple, it was just like whatever, you could just do whatever, get together with a group of kids and play hide and seek for hours until your parents call you to go home or whatever. And I guess just like that freedom of having like no constraints like at school, that was what really made it like fun here at the temple on the weekends. And plus, you stay at home, there's nothing to do.
BARBARA LAU:
So you didn't play as much with the neighborhood kids, you played more with other Cambodian kids at the temple?
RAN KONG:
Yes. In my neighborhood, let's see, as far as I remember, every neighborhood that I've lived in has always had a Cambodian. After we moved from that apartment into our second house, right, our backyards were connected to another Cambodian family's backyard. It was actually Romato's family. And Romato and I grew up— you know, sort of grew up together. We were about the same age. And so I always remember going over, you know, going across the fence to her house and playing with her on her swing set, or she would come across to by backyard and play. And also I think my mom babysat for Cambodian kids. And so I was always busy, helping her, entertaining them. So I never really got a chance to go out into like the neighborhood and play with other kids.
BARBARA LAU:
So your exposure to other kids was sort of limited?
RAN KONG:
Yes, just basically school. That was my exposure to other kids.
BARBARA LAU:
And were there things that your parents or your grandmother said

Page 14
to you when you were little that were important for you to learn because you were Cambodian, or lessons you think they wanted to teach you when you were little?
RAN KONG:
I guess like just the usual. Like for my grandmother and from my mom, like the lessons that they taught me were different from my father. From my grandmother, it was always more how to be a good girl. When you come to the temple with me or when you go to somebody's house with me, it's always important to be respectful, you know, to the older people, to the people who own the house, respectful to the monks. So just always from like my grandmother's side, respect, respect, respect. How to behave properly. She's like, it's not good to be a noisy, playful, kid who runs all over everywhere, which I still did anyways. And from my mom, it was sort of the same type of lessons. You should get up early, and you should help me do this, do that. But from my dad it was on a more serious note, like always be good in school. Why aren't you doing good in school? Why aren't you studying harder? I remember making a bad grade in third grade, and he was just furious, absolutely furious. And you know, I sort of cried and my grandmother held me. But so I remembered, you know, from early on an important lesson from my father was that you take education very seriously. It's always, do as good as you can in school. Like it's not something that you take lightly at all.
BARBARA LAU:
Did they tell you anything about how to relate to other people who weren't like you?
RAN KONG:
Not particularly. Always just that, you know, be good in school. You

Page 15
know, make the teachers like you because, they're the ones in authority, so if anything happens they can side with you. And don't mess around at school. Don't get into fights. Don't get into arguments. I never really so I guess like that from that point of view, I never really had any problems at school. That whole fifth grade incident, my parents never knew about it. I just I just never told them. And so basically, my father was so strict about school, I knew that if I ever got, into an argument or into a fight with one of the other kids, I would be the one that would get into trouble, no matter if it wasn't my fault or not. And so I just avoided it. So they never really had to tell me like how to interact with other kids besides, don't start anything with them.
BARBARA LAU:
How old were you when you got to be really proficient in English?
RAN KONG:
After second grade they said that I didn't need English as a Second Language classes anymore, so they sent me to third grade at another school that didn't have that program. So by that time I'd picked up the language easily enough to like speak it fluently.
BARBARA LAU:
So having proficiency in English, did that change your relationships in your family as you got older?
RAN KONG:
Yes. I guess like as I got older and I spoke it more fluently, and combined with like my personality, like I talk to much, and I'm not as shy as the other members of my family were in terms of like my sister and my cousin. Even though they were older than me, I would always be the one that my father would say, okay, translate for me, okay, speak for me. And so as I got older I took on more of the responsibilities of translating

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and interpreting, taking people to, taking my family members to the doctor. So I picked that up more and more as I got older.
BARBARA LAU:
Tell me what kind of jobs you did as the translator. Was it just in speaking, or did you also read things, or what kind of things did you do for your family in that role?
RAN KONG:
At first it was just speaking. At first it was just, well, my mom goes to the doctor and I translate. Like I remember it was third grade, my cousin who was pregnant, you know, this was her first kid. She went into labor, and later on, my sponsors and everyone else told me it was me, the one that like translated in the hospital. I wasn't in the delivery room, but you know, just like the preliminaries, they said it was me. And they were, you did a good job. But I don't remember that incident at all. But my father didn't trust me, when I was younger, to sort of read letters or anything yet. So at first it was just speaking to my sponsors or speaking to whoever— whichever American had called him, was on the phone. Or you know, talking— like translating between my teacher, telling my dad what my teacher was saying about my progress in school and stuff, which is not a bad thing. And, just—at first just speaking. But then later on when I could, you know, also read better, my parents stopped going to our neighbor, our Cambodian neighbor who could read and speak English. They stopped going to him, and, coming to me for like little matters, just like, you know, what is this saying, what is that saying. And I think my first big job was when we bought the house that we live in now, just sort of, helping out with my parents and with my dad's friend, who was the one that we had

Page 17
been going to for, you know, questions concerning like what does this letter say, and stuff like— so just like helping with that process.
BARBARA LAU:
How old were you when that was?
RAN KONG:
That was after fourth grade.
BARBARA LAU:
So you would have been 10?
RAN KONG:
Yes. 9 or 10.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you write letters or write checks or pay bills or do any of that kind of stuff for your parents?
RAN KONG:
That didn't come until later on, until probably middle school.
BARBARA LAU:
So tell me what you were doing then, as you got to be 12 or 13, what kind of jobs did you have then as a translator?
RAN KONG:
You know, more of the going to the hospital thing. I got better at that. And I actually liked it after a while. It was really fun poking around in the doctor's office, seeing what he had. And at 12 and 13, paying for the bills. Like my mom, in Cambodian culture, the wife is the one who takes care of like the bills and handles the money. The husband is the one that works. So my mom was the one who picked up the responsibility. I think when we first came it was my father and her, but then after a while my dad was just like, okay you can handle it now. You know, Ran can help you and Yi can help you. And so she would get the bills. And she'd be like, okay, what day do we pay this, so that it won't be late? And I'd be like, okay, well we can pay these two bills first, and we can pay these two bills later on in the week. And so just helping her with that and you know, writing out the checks and mailing them off.

Page 18
But you know, my dad was the one who had done that, but later on he was like, okay, she can do it. So you know, my mom and I just did that. And so even now my father doesn't worry about how much money we have in which account or whatever. He just works and puts it there. And my mom is the one that like checks, and she gets the statement from the bank and she calculates. She goes through the checks and like, okay, this is right, this is right, this is right. She always jokingly says, it's just to safeguard against my father, taking money out of the bank and doing something bad with it. Obviously she's joking around. But it's just really important that I do my job because he does his.
BARBARA LAU:
So part of doing that was also teaching you about what your role was supposed to be—
RAN KONG:
Well, now that you put it that way, well, I don't know. I don't think it was ever meant as that way.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you still do translation stuff for your dad? What kind of stuff did you do?
RAN KONG:
Well, I guess like the things got bigger over the years. Pretty soon it was like I could go with my dad and my mom to like buy the car without having another Cambodian translator present. And so it progressed to that point. And you know, also helping out with my cousin's side of the family, determining, you know, this is the car, this is how much it is, this is what the monthly payments are, this is the interest rate, warranties, or buying life insurance or health insurance, sort of like explaining to them what's going on, what these things really are and stuff like that. So I mean, it's all things we need to know

Page 19
anyways.
BARBARA LAU:
So as you got older you also interacted with a lot more people outside the Cambodian community?
RAN KONG:
As I got older I also translated for some people outside of the community, and not just within my family. Just like my mom's friend, you know, whenever she needed somebody to go to the doctor, I'd be like, I'll go, miss school, lots of fun.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, what did you think about the Americans that you came into contact with at that point when you were 12 and 13 and sort of, you know, acting as the translator for your family or for other Cambodians?
RAN KONG:
The Americans that I came into contact with, like the doctors and stuff? I don't know, it was good for me to deal with these people, because I was like, wow, I really want to be like them when I grow up. For the longest time I wanted to be a doctor, when I got older. And so in a way they were like my role models. And like my experiences with them were always good, just in terms of, these people, they're really nice. They're the ones that help get us better. They're the ones that always cure us. And so it was always good. Sometimes they'd come in and they were like, who are you? You know, like what are you doing here? You're kind of young to be in here. Can I ask these questions in front of you? But always before I left, they were always like, I am so glad you were here, because you made things go a lot smoother. So in a way it was, it was good to know that— it felt good to know that I was helping not only like the doctor, but like my family as well.
BARBARA LAU:
But that was pretty different than maybe some of your other

Page 20
friends, not necessarily your Cambodian friends, but other kids in school. They had kind of different jobs in their family, didn't they?
RAN KONG:
In a way, as I got older, sometimes I would get frustrated because I'm reading this letter, and I'm like, well what the hell is a premium rate? What is a premium? I mean, what is that? And then you call up the people, the customer line, right? And so customer service, and you know. So you're like, What is the premium rate? And sometimes they talk to you as if you should know this. And they're, like, well let me speak to your parents. My parents can't speak English. Well, I need to speak to another adult. Well, there's no other adult that can understand this, and so you need to say it to me. And then sometimes they get exasperated with you because you're speaking, and then you're like, okay wait a minute, I need to tell that to my parents. And then you'd stop for five minutes and tell your parents. And then you come back and you're like okay, I have another question. And so basically, I guess that's the worst part about having this type of responsibility, is that you know, dealing with people who just don't understand, like who were just never really exposed to like oh, this could be happening. There's a kid in the family that has to actually understand this, and, do you know what I'm saying?
BARBARA LAU:
I want to adjust the mike again.
RAN KONG:
Okay.
BARBARA LAU:
But you should still speak to me.
RAN KONG:
Okay.
BARBARA LAU:
Try that again. Just talk a little bit.

Page 21
RAN KONG:
Hello, hello, hello.
BARBARA LAU:
A little bit more.
RAN KONG:
Excuse me. So do you hear the rain?
BARBARA LAU:
Yes, a little bit.
RAN KONG:
A little bit. It's very soothing. It makes me want to sleep.
BARBARA LAU:
Okay. Try that. Talk a little bit.
RAN KONG:
Hello Barbara.
BARBARA LAU:
That's good. Okay.
RAN KONG:
Okay.
BARBARA LAU:
Okay. So we were talking about being in sort of unique situations because you were translating, and sometimes you had to understand adult concepts it sounds like, and get people to try to explain that to you. So at this point you're in middle school, or you're getting into junior high school, you're starting to get into high school. What's school like, and what are the other kids like and are they nice to you? And what's all that about?
RAN KONG:
Well, let's see. In middle school, there were other Asians in the school. There were a couple of Laotians and a couple of Vietnamese, and also like two of my Cambodian friends from third grade. We were all like in this middle school. So middle school was actually really fun. It was good. At that point I was also dancing in the community, and so, I was pretty busy, what with school and just like studying and stuff. And at that point I had become a pretty good student, so I was making fairly good grades. And so, I was happy. So I think middle school

Page 22
was like just good. It was like easy going.
BARBARA LAU:
Can you elaborate on your dancing and what that meant to you?
RAN KONG:
Dancing. Well, the monk here at the community, he started a dance group. And I joined, I think towards sixth or seventh grade. And at first it was like, I just love the art of dancing, seeing it on tapes and stuff, I'm like, wow, I want to be able to do that. And so when the monk was like, okay, well, we're going to offer classes or whatever, I was like, hey, I want to join. I want to do this. And you know, I just want to learn. So basically at that point, it was just like something fun, something that I was like learning. At that point, I don't think the cultural importance of it had really hit, in a way. So it was just like, this is something fun I get to do. I get to go and perform and you know, at different places, and see different things. And I get to be with these other girls who are my age who are doing the same things I'm doing. And so basically it was more of like a fun hobby than anything else.
BARBARA LAU:
So at that point you weren't really sort of thinking, oh, this is sort of who I am, or this is about who I am. Was there any of that message in your dance instruction?
RAN KONG:
I think at that point it was just starting, everything was just starting to fall into place. My father, my parents are starting to tell me more a little bit about their experiences. And, the monk himself would always say, well, you know, I've started this because I know it's important for Cambodian kids to have this, to be able to like remember this. So I knew that it was important, but still, I hadn't really focused on why it was

Page 23
important for me yet. So I think that didn't really hit until like a little bit older.
BARBARA LAU:
High school?
RAN KONG:
Probably like eighth grade, ninth grade. But at the same time, I think in a way it was accumulating. I was slowly working my way towards I guess like full awareness. So at the same time, though, in middle school, my two Cambodian friends, it was nice that they were there, in a way I guess, like growing up, because it was always like, okay these—they're Cambodians, but they're different from me. They would have more freedoms from me. They can go to the mall with their American friends and shop or whatever. And they can go spend the weekend at each other's house. And they can even come and spend the weekend at my house. But for my parents, it was always like, well, I can never go over to their place. And so it was always like, they're Cambodian girls too, Dad, so why? And, he'd launch into this long lecture about you know, this is what's right, and this is what's wrong. So what they're doing is wrong? No, it's not wrong, but we'd just really like for you not to do it. And at school, I guess just like in terms of like our friends, always the fact that they were always more American than me. Like so they always like I guess like fit in more. But at the same time, I don't know, it was just weird, because seeing us then and seeing us now, it really makes sense, how our different upbringing, how differences in our parents' views have changed, you know— have sort of led us onto the different paths that we now live. We're all in college at different places, but I'm still here with the Cambodian community, which is what my parents always stressed and always wanted. And whereas they,

Page 24
whose parents didn't really stress you know, the importance, are just fine isolated from the Cambodian community, which I could never deal with.
BARBARA LAU:
They're more Americanized.
RAN KONG:
They're more Americanized, definitely.
BARBARA LAU:
Did your parents ever think about leaving North Carolina when you were younger?
RAN KONG:
My mom told me that she has a really good friend who lives in California. And her friend is always like, oh, come on, move out here. We can start a business here together. It was a really good time to start Cambodian stores, whatever, because there's so many Cambodians living there. But my dad—I think he took a trip to like Philadelphia or New York or some big city where there was a lot of Cambodians. And he came back and he absolutely hated it. He was just like, I don't want my kids growing up in that kind of environment. So the question of leaving North Carolina has never really, entered my parents'mind. They really like it here. They really like the fact that it's a small community and there's not many people. And it's not a really big city where kids can get into a lot of trouble. And I think he's made a good judgment to stay here in North Carolina.
BARBARA LAU:
What other things do you think your parents like about North Carolina that helped them stay here, outside the Cambodian community?
RAN KONG:
Outside of the Cambodian community? The fact that there are jobs, you know, that you can get a job. And I don't know, I think also it helped that like our sponsors were here. They used to live in Greensboro, but they're now in Mississippi. The

Page 25
fact that our sponsors were here, and they maintained contact with us for a long time. But I don't think that if there was no Cambodian community my parents would have opted to stay here at all.
BARBARA LAU:
They would have left if there was no—
RAN KONG:
They would have left, definitely. So you know, it's kind of like hard to answer. I guess like besides like the accessibility to like a job or whatever, there really wouldn't be any like attraction you know, of North Carolina, for them.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
BARBARA LAU:
It's hard to say exactly what your parents think, but do you know if they've experienced a lot of discrimination here or acceptance, or have they found that it's easy to be here or not easy?
RAN KONG:
I guess, you know, of course like discrimination. Sometimes when you don't understand, I think it's a lot easier, like for my mom, her grasp of the language isn't as fluent, but my father can understand English very well. And so I've heard of like incidents that he's experienced at work in terms of just like you know, discrimination. But you just can't escape it. I don't think anywhere that you go you could escape it. But you know, you meet good people and you meet stupid people, obviously. Like he was just telling me he works at Gilford Mills, and he works in shipping. And one of the truck drivers who came in saw him like unloading whatever was in the truck, like rolls or cloth or whatever, goes, I have a dog at home. Like, do you eat dogs?

Page 26
And you know, he was just like, wow, I've gotten jokes about, you know, do you wok a dog? You know, like, walk, w-a-l-k versus w-o-k. And I'm just like you don't really understand it. Well, I didn't really understand then until somebody explained to me later. But you know, to my dad, he understood just the way that the body language of the person speaks more for itself than the words. And so you know, the fact that this guy was making this remark to him—that's why I say it's easier that you understand, I mean that it's easier that you don't understand, because if you don't understand, you're just, what the hell is this guy talking about, like a dog, you know? If you don't eat dogs, why do you think we eat dogs, you know? So my dad was just like, oh, well, whatever, you know. I'll go on my way. But he's the type of person that's, I want to avoid conflicts, simply because— if it was a Cambodian person, he would have had no trouble like responding, to that type of derogatory comment. But in the workplace, and knowing that he is a minority, that he is not American, and knowing that there's always bias, he's like, if I go up before my employer, well, who you do you think my employer is going to take the side of? what am I compared to a native-born American? So because of that he says he doesn't want to respond. He says, it's no use to respond. So that's always to us, that's what we're taught. That's why when we go to school, we're told not to get into conflicts with other students, because in the end when it all boils down to it, we're not Americans, we don't look like Americans. So whatever happens, always remember that. You know, always, in a way, you're not welcome here. Do you know?

Page 27
BARBARA LAU:
So there is some sense from which you felt that, that you're not welcome here?
RAN KONG:
It's like you understand that, but you understand things only when bad things happen to you, in a sense, which is really ironic in a way. But you do, you just, you know, you just understand things like when bad things happen to you, like when you're having fun, at school playing with' all of your friends or whatever, you don't— just like the fifth grade incident, like it was really exciting being with my friends, I felt like I was fitting in. I ran for class president in the fifth grade. I lost, but just the fact that I feel like a part of the school. I feel like these other kids. You don't distinguish and say that you're different until something like that happened. Like out of the whole school, that kind of comment was made to nobody but me, you know? So in a way, like when things like that happen, it's then that you understand, oh, you're different.
BARBARA LAU:
So as you got a little bit older, and I know that you went to a pretty special high school here in Greensboro. Maybe you could tell us the name, but also tell us a little bit about that experience in high school.
RAN KONG:
I went to Smith High School, which is probably the most diverse high school in Greensboro. And it also has one of the worst reputations in terms of academics. But let's see. High school was pretty fun. But at the same time, I'm Cambodian, you know, like I've always known. I've always known that. And you know, I like being Cambodian. But in high school, I saw Cambodians who didn't like to be Cambodians. And that was something that made me like being Cambodian even more. Just the fact that here's this

Page 28
person who's not being truly true to themselves, that's just lying to themselves. It's kind of like, well why do you want to do that, why? It's not really good to do that. And so I guess it was good that there was that diversity in terms of not only like other Asians there, but also in terms of there being other Cambodians there who weren't exactly like me. And it's your choice, whoever you want to be. It's all good with me. But just the fact that like you know, like their attitudes, it's just different.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, when you say that, when you say they didn't like being Cambodian, how did you know that? Did they do things?
RAN KONG:
Well, I mean they would say that they're not Cambodian. And they would dress and act differently, and not associate with us.
BARBARA LAU:
What would they say they were?
RAN KONG:
Blacks, or Vietnamese, or just plain American. I'm American. I was born here. Sure you were—
BARBARA LAU:
Were there a lot of other kids that were like you, who were proud of being Cambodian?
RAN KONG:
Definitely. I think the majority of us were just like, we're Cambodians, hello. We know where we're from. Like Vandy and I are close friends, and we went through high school together. And so we were always the ones that were together. We were always the ones that were like, okay, International Day, Cambodia is going to dance. So we'd get up there, organize all the kids and do a dance. And it'd be good. But at the same time, there would be people who'd be like, well, why are you so adamant about doing this? It's really not all that important. But at the same time, they

Page 29
don't care about it.
BARBARA LAU:
You mentioned International Day. What other ways do you think Smith High School helped you kind of figure out, you know, where you were and where you stood? What were the teachers like?
RAN KONG:
It's kind of hard in a school setting to really do that. In school, I went to classes, I just did what I needed to do in class or whatever. We didn't really ever talk about it. But I remember in history class, we'd talk about you know, the Indian civilization and all these other great civilizations. And I'm like, wow, well, I wish we could mention the Ankor Civilization, because you know, I can relate to that. I know a little bit about that. But you know, Cambodia is not really important, so, you know, skip. We didn't really hit on that much. And then just in terms of whenever we had an intro to all the religions, , and then you know, Buddhism comes up. And, I know about that. But then we'd spend ten minutes on it. So it was just kind of like this is the teacher's agenda, you know. Cambodia or Asian history is not on the agenda. It's all American history, which is understandable. We're here in America so that's what you're taught in high school.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think there were other kids who weren't Cambodian but weren't also Americans that felt the same way you did, that they didn't see themselves much?
RAN KONG:
Definitely. All the other Southeast Asian refugee students who were there, definitely. I guess like the Vietnamese people feel like they get a little bit more simply because of the Vietnam War and stuff. But then again, it's negative attention. Do you know

Page 30
what I mean? And then, when we talk about communism and Karl Marx and stuff, like brief mention of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge and stuff. So in a way it was all the attention, whenever we get the attention, that we got, is not good. So in a way, I can understand some people who were like, we just want to forget about it. We just don't want to remember it. Whatever they bring up, whatever they remember is not good, so why bring it up at all? So in that aspect, I understand.
BARBARA LAU:
Did you ever mention any of that to your teachers, about being interested in studying more about Asian history or Buddhism or anything like that, or did you just look for that information in other places?
RAN KONG:
I just looked for it in other places. Like whenever we had a paper due, out of all the list of the topics there were to do, I'd be like, I want to do it on the Khmer Rouge. So, I'd do it on the Khmer Rouge. Or pick a country and make a booklet of it or whatever, okay, I'd pick Cambodia. So in a way, I'd always try to combine what the teacher wanted me to do with what I wanted to learn, really, because I want to learn about my country, because I don't get the chance to in a classroom setting. So I'd always take whatever opportunities I could.
BARBARA LAU:
Did some of that learning happen at home? Did your parents try to teach you a little bit about your—
RAN KONG:
Definitely. My father would go on about all of what happened, like the politics and stuff, like with dates and stuff, how he remembered it, and, what happened, and his opinions and his views and stuff. So that was good for me. It sort of gave me a perspective. And it gave me the initiative to find out more. Because I was like, wow, this is

Page 31
really unclear for me and for him, so, you know, like look it up, see what really happened. How do Americans view what happened, you know? So you open up the text, the encyclopedia or whatever, and you read up on this brief little caption about the Khmer Rouge, and you're just like, wow, it leaves out a lot of stuff.
BARBARA LAU:
Were there other places that you learned a little bit more about where you came from?
RAN KONG:
Cambodian community. The old people would always talk about it. Somehow or another, conversations would just turn to that, or some incident or some remark would just pop up into somebody's head, and then they would mention it. And sometimes, it's funny how you can sit back now and you can find humor in like during all these times, just the fact that somebody was hiding in, you know, find out they were hiding in a pile of crap or whatever. And so then it was scary, but now it's kind of funny what you did. But definitely like hearing the old people talk about it.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, tell me what kind of stories they told you. Can you remember any of the things they told you?
RAN KONG:
From my parents it was always like you know, just like in a way it was always like different, like the experience. Like this is what happened in Kao-I-Dang [refugee camp]. This is where we lived, this is what your dad did. And when your sister was born, this is what happened. We were making our way to Thailand, you know, on foot, this is what happened. This is what I saw. This is what your grandmother said. And never actually really what happened with the Khmer Rouge besides like, they wanted to send me here. They told me that I had to marry between these two people, I had to pick somebody, so I picked your

Page 32
mom. You know, stories like that. And with the other Cambodians in the community, whenever they talked, it was always about a bad experience. Like what one of the Khmer Rouge people said to them, or how their families were separated and they didn't end up together again until this time, or again, what happened in Kao-I-Dang or when one of their kids was born.
BARBARA LAU:
So people do talk about that, they think it's important for young people here to know more about the history?
RAN KONG:
I think it's up to their parents. I think for some parents, they definitely want to put it behind them, and so they don't mention it as much. But there are other parents who are like, you know, I really want for my kids to know.
BARBARA LAU:
Now, when you were in high school, I think you also did a little bit more dancing.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And so maybe you could talk a little bit about what you did, what you learned. Why was that important in shaping who you are?
RAN KONG:
In high school? Let's see, the dancing, when we first started, like I said, it was just kind of, this is fun. This is something that not many other people can do, so it's something really special that I want to hold onto. But then I got older, and it was just like, wow, you know. And this type of dancing—
BARBARA LAU:
Can you say what kind of dancing it is, and describe it?
RAN KONG:
Cambodian classical dancing and Cambodian folk dancing. Not even so much as what each dance meant, like the meanings of each dance, but why it is that we

Page 33
danced it. Just like I said, like the monk, Phramaha Somsak was like, I want this for you all. It's not for me. I don't get anything out of dancing. He doesn't get anything out of the dance group. It's for the kids. He wants us to learn. I've heard him say that to us a couple of times, that you know, this is your culture, this is your history, you need to keep it alive. Just in terms of people in Cambodia, before the whole incident with the Khmer Rouge, never saw this type of dancing. It was only reserved for the king, and diplomats or whatever. So people like my family would have never been able to see this type of dancing, classical dancing, to be specific. And so now we not only get a chance to see it, we get a chance to learn it. And so take advantage of the opportunity. So that was what we did we took advantage of the opportunity. I guess in a way my father and the monk, true, whenever he introduced us, I listened, and I remember the monk saying specifically, these people are refugees from Cambodia. This is what happened. So we come to America, and we have nothing. I mean, I'm sure there are many Americans out there who are, they're a burden to society in a way because some of us live on welfare, some of us live on food stamps. And overall, I think some people have a really negative image of refugees, and immigrants in general, that they take the wealth out of society or whatever. We have to support them, in a way. And so you know, coming from all of that, the monk is like, this is— we carry nothing with us from Cambodia, in a sense. All that we have is ourselves and our culture. And what can we give back to America in a way? What can we show like Americans about us? Like try to teach that we're more than just refugees, or that we're more than just immigrants. That

Page 34
we have more than just the Khmer Rouge to make us important in this world. So we have this beautiful art form. And we want to share it with you. So, here it is, you know. And who's doing it? It's the young people. It's this generation. And they're going to pass it on to the next generation. And so in a way, it was important to me that he said those words. Now that I look back on it, I'm really glad that he said those things, because it's all true. We come here, and some people view us in a negative way. At the same time, you're like, well, why am I here? Is it true like what they say about me? Am I really not welcome here? What can I give back? What can I do to establish myself as an individual, as a group of people, not just some people that came from this little country on the map that nobody can even point out. This is what we have, and guess what, Americans don't have it. So you know, here it is. Enjoy it.
BARBARA LAU:
How did dancing make you feel about yourself?
RAN KONG:
It made me feel good. It's hard getting up before a group of people and doing something that's so different. Because sometimes you're doing a performance, and you see someone get up and leave. And you're like, oh, it must be boring, or they don't enjoy it. They're like, what is that going on up there? What are they doing? But then afterwards, you know, when people come up and tell you, that was really amazing what you did, and that was just really beautiful, it just makes you feel so good that you're making somebody else happy simply because of what you love to do yourself.
BARBARA LAU:
So you went through high school and you graduated from high school. And then you probably faced some choices about your future. Can you talk a little

Page 35
bit about that time and how you made those decisions and how different people helped you make those decisions?
RAN KONG:
Well, I always knew I was going to college. First and foremost, I was like, I'm going to college. I guess like my parents made sure of that. And, I'll just go to a state school, whatever. But then one of my friends that I met through a vocational club at school, HOSA, she was like, you've got to come to see Salem College. She's like, it's the absolute best college in the world, you know. I'm going there right now. She was a freshman at that time at that college. And she really loved it. And I was like, well, let me consider—I'd gotten like one of their cards or whatever. And I was like let me go and check this place out. I got some more information, got their catalog, got their application, and I filled it out. And I went to check the campus. And it's a nice school. It's really small. And my parents really liked it simply because it was small, it was close to home, and it was all girls. And so, I filled out the application, got a scholarship. And I think that was what really made me go there.
BARBARA LAU:
That was a different choice than your older sister made. Can you talk a little bit about the differences? She's, what, four years older than you?
RAN KONG:
Yes, she's four years older than I am. After my sister graduated from high school, she got married. She was in an arranged marriage, and that's your culture, that's our society. And so she agreed to it, but at the same time her plans and my parents' plans were a little bit different But growing up, you don't ever think about yourself first, you sort of think about what your parents and your family needs first. And so, with that in mind,

Page 36
she was like, okay, I'll get married. And so she got married. But for me, it was always like, you know, this is what I want to do. And I guess the way that my parents look at us, they look at us differently. They know that for me this is what I wanted to do.
BARBARA LAU:
It's okay.
RAN KONG:
Excuse me. That was my stomach. They always knew that I had this plan, I wanted to get an education. And that was equally as important to them as it was to me. And even for my sister, even though she made the decision to get married, she did continue her education after she got married, so my parents supported her totally in that aspect. For her at that time, that was what made my parents happy, that she got married. And for me, when it was my time, what made my parents happy was that I went and furthered my education by going to college. They would have loved it if I'd stayed at home and gone to college, but at the same time, I think they understood that I needed a little bit more space and stuff.
BARBARA LAU:
Before you said that sometimes the doctors and some of the people that you met were role models. Did you have Cambodian role models also, if so, who would those be, do you think?
RAN KONG:
Cambodian role models. Not really. I have this respect for all of the elder people in the community. You're just instilled with that. But I think a Cambodian role model— well, the monk, he's not Cambodian. But growing up he was one of my main role models, just in terms of he's just like this good funny guy that I grew up with, and he's just

Page 37
so important. And what he says and what he does is so important for me and for my family and for the whole community. It's hard not to have him as a role model.
BARBARA LAU:
And so as you're going to college and you're now starting to, again, being in the company, living away from home, of even more non-Cambodians, how does that make you feel? Do you feel like you have to figure out who you are now because you're away from those people, or what kind of things happen to you?
RAN KONG:
I think, well, you have to know Salem. Salem is very small. And I am one of two Cambodians there. And the school itself is not very diverse. It's pretty diverse for a school like it's size. But at the same time you walk into Salem, and automatically, you're a minority. And just the fact that I'm around all of these other ladies who are Americans. And they can trace their family back to wherever. And they know exactly, where they're from. But, then they ask me, where are you from? Well, I'm from Cambodia. Oh, where's that at? Oh, it's this little country in Southeast Asia. Where's that at? Well, it's in Asia. So in a way it made me force myself to discover who it was I really am— who I really am. Because in order to answer other people, you have to know what the answer is yourself first. And so just in terms of little questions, like where is Cambodia, and stuff like that, you can give them a quick answer. But at the same time, I don't know—it's really hard to explain. Like I said, when bad things happen, that's when you understand. So like I told you the incident before, it didn't really hit home until then, you know?
BARBARA LAU:
Would you mind telling that story again, or is that too hard?
RAN KONG:
I can tell it again. Well, first of all, in the dorm that I lived in, one end

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of the hall was majority White, and my end of the hall was a little bit more diverse. My next-door neighbor was— one was part Honduras and the other one was African-American. And then in my room, I was Cambodian, my roommate is Ethiopian. And then across the hall there is an Indian, one of my Indian friends, and she had a White roommate. And then two doors down, there's other Americans. And then down the other end of the hall it was basically all White. And so I think too that it wasn't supposed to be that way, but just because we were all living at this end of the hall, we were all closer together, we'd all see each other more so we'd all hang out more, whereas that end of the hall, that was like the same kind of story. So it wasn't that we didn't get along, that we hated each other, but at the same time, it wasn't everybody knew each other very well. And so particularly on my end of the hall, I have an American friend. And she's a great person, but she's very different from me. I had one friend who was very open to everything that I said and I told her. And for my other friends who lived nearby, my Indian friend and my Ethiopian roommate, we had this commonality. What we had in common was that we were different. We knew we didn't come from here, our families were very different. We had a different religion. And so when we all got together sometimes our conversations would be like, oh, okay, this is what we think of America. Well, this is what America thinks of our country. And this is our religion. This is how other people view our religion. So it was always, I think conversations like that that really helped me like understand, and try to explain to others like what it was.

Page 39
But this one friend of mine— and we're still friends now, we see each other all the time— what the whole like gist of the conversation at first was we feel that some Cambodians or Indians or whatever nowadays feel that they have to become Americanized in order to assimilate totally into the culture. And we don't agree with that. You know, true, we all make our own choices of what we want to do with our lives, and who we want to be. But at the same time, it's really sad that you want to totally drop away everything. Because it all comes down to your looks. And as superficial as that sounds, people are not going to judge you by your personality or by who you are first and foremost. They're going to judge you by what they see first. And when they see that you're different, they're going to treat you automatically different. So the whole point was that we can't ever be American. Well, even those people who think that they're totally American, they're not totally American. They're always going to carry this part of themselves around that's going to say that they're not totally American. And there's more—I know there's more to being American than just looking like one or whatever. But at the same time, it's just different. And so all of a sudden, my friend who was there, she took it the wrong way. She took it to mean that Americans are bad, that we were saying that we're too good to be Americans, I think was the way that she took it, which is totally not what I'm saying. The whole point is, why do you want to be something that you're not? That was our whole point. Because then it leads to conflicts within the family, or it leads to conflicts within the community. All these kids who come and they try to assimilate and try to like totally forget who they are, all it leads to is problems for themselves, for their parents, you know, for

Page 40
their whole community. And it's just really sad. And she gets up and she's like, I don't know what's so different or, you know, what's so bad about me and about all those other girls down the hall. What it is that you have against us. What is it that's so bad, why do you like not like us? What makes me different from my Indian friend or my Ethiopian friend? And I just got so upset. And she started to leave, and I could see that she was really mad. And I was crying at this point. I went up to her and I was like, wait a minute, you don't understand. You don't know what you're saying. It's not the point that we don't like Americans or whatever. It's the point that you know, what if you went to another country? Say, what if you came to Cambodia? And you would take Christmas with you over there, simply because it's such an important part of you. You would take Christmas over there, right? But how would you feel if you know, your kids didn't like to celebrate it? Or how would you feel if all of a sudden Christmas was identified with Cambodian people. There were American kids saying we're celebrating Christmas, but we're Cambodians? It's not—I know I'm associating like Christmas with being American, but at the same time, culturally it's very important here. I know it's important for all Christians in general. But at the same time you wouldn't want that to happen, would you? How would you feel if that happened? Because that's what's happening now. We have Cambodian kids who are going around saying, we're Americans. And they're carrying with them things that are very Cambodian, and, I guess like diffusing it with American thoughts and ideals. And it's not totally Cambodian anymore. We feel like we're losing what's important to us, and what we want to keep, what's unique to us. Because we

Page 41
don't have much. We don't, we really don't, you know. This isn't even our real home. And so after that, I think she really understood. And I think that was really at that point, where it was very important for me that I remained Cambodian.
BARBARA LAU:
What are those things you think you need to keep in order to remain Cambodian?
RAN KONG:
My religion, first of all, even though Buddhism isn't just strictly Cambodian. There are certain, I guess certain traditions that's known only to Cambodian Buddhists. And just my history, all of it, not just the good parts of it, but also the bad parts of it, because that's what happened. Here in America, you have everything written down in the books. I mean, everything from the point that the pilgrims landed or whichever explorer it was that landed on this coast or that coast. I mean, it's all written down up to World War I, the Depression, the Vietnam War, the Cold War. Everything is just written down. So to me, why is history taught in American schools? Because it's so important, because it identifies where you came from, and just everything. And so to me, being able to be Cambodian is like having that history, keeping that history, because it's different. Not all of us have the same history. Every group of people have their own history. And it tells you a little bit of how their culture is, it explains why they are who they are. So my history explains why I am who I am, in a way, you know? And also, keeping the values and the ideas taught to me from my parents. Always in terms of something as simple as like respect is shown to your elders, not just to your parents or to your grandparents, but also to your elders, to the point where if you walk behind an elderly person, you don't walk

Page 42
up straight. I mean, you walk, and you sort of bend yourself down to show that you see they're there, you recognize them as being older than you, so you give them that proper form of respect. Just like all of these things that is not exactly taught in any other culture. Maybe there's other similar forms, but it's what distinguishes me as being Cambodian. It's like values and teachings that I keep, and I think that makes me very Cambodian. And it's teachings that I'm going to pass on to my kids, if I ever have them one day, and to my little nieces and nephews, you know?
BARBARA LAU:
Recently I know you've made a big transition, though. You've decided to become an American citizen. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to that decision and why, and what that process was like?
RAN KONG:
I became a Cambodian citizen because—
BARBARA LAU:
An American—
RAN KONG:
Just kidding. I became an American citizen because it's easier to travel. If you want to go out of the country and come back, it's easier to travel, it's easier to do so. And considering the possibility of study abroad or whatever, I just went ahead and decided that it would be good if I was a citizen. And also I've lived here for so long that I can't imagine ever going back to Cambodia and living there. That may be a possibility, but who knows, in the future. So becoming a Cambodian (sic) citizen was just like this is my official permission to remain here, so like security.
BARBARA LAU:
Was it a hard decision? Did other people in your family and your community have comments about it?

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RAN KONG:
Not really. Like actually a lot of people in my community were trying to get naturalized, like my father tried to get naturalized and stuff. But everybody was like, it's important that you become a citizen so that you get all the rights that other citizens have here just in terms of—they worry about Social Security benefits or whatever. So just in terms of those benefits, you do want to become a citizen.
BARBARA LAU:
Were there some people who didn't think it was a good idea? What did they say?
RAN KONG:
Well, I guess for parents, or for a woman, there wasn't really as much fear. But for the men, everybody was like, what if there's a war , when we're citizens, we'll get drafted, and we'll have to fight in the war too and stuff. And so, this big fear that if you're a guy, then it's to just to remain a non-citizen.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, do some people think that if you're a citizen, and American citizen, you're not a Cambodian?
RAN KONG:
I don't think so, because as sad as it seems honestly, after becoming naturalized I'm still the same person. I just have this official document that says I have the rights of every American citizen, and I have the protection of an American. So in a way it's kind of we're taking advantage of the system, but it's true. But at the same time I guess especially for my peers, who are my age and who get naturalized, in a way we go through the American educational system. We've lived here so long, we've adopted so many American -isms, like pro-democracy, pro-capitalism, all that— all of those ideals that America— like that you associate with America, you know, or that you associate with the western world. So in a way like it's just an admission to the fact that, hey,

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I'm a mixed individual. I really am. Like everyone, every kid who grows up here is mixed. I can say that my parents are totally Cambodian. But for me, I am first and foremost Cambodian. But then after that there's a lot of like American in me too. And I'm a United States citizen, officially I'm an American citizen, but I'm a Cambodian at heart.
BARBARA LAU:
How old are you?
RAN KONG:
I'm 20.
BARBARA LAU:
So you can't vote yet?
RAN KONG:
I can vote. I voted.
BARBARA LAU:
At 18, right?
RAN KONG:
Yes. But I got naturalized, and I actually voted in this election.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think American families and Cambodian families are different?
RAN KONG:
American families and Cambodian families? Well, there's differences and then there's similarities. I guess, like with every family, we're taught like the basics, the same things, I guess like all the ideals of like don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, don't kill, blah, blah, blah, all those things. So in that respect we're all the same. But American families, simply because of their culture, they're given a whole lot more freedom. My American friends are obviously different from me in terms of the kinds of privileges that they get. Dating is a good example. Dating is very common in American society, like every— the only difference is at what age. Families might differ in what age they want their kids to

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date or whatever. But Cambodians view it as an American thing. And whereas in Cambodian families, dating is a big no-no. You're taught from a young age, no, dating is not good. We don't do it. Yes, your American friends do it, but you don't do that kind of thing at all, so you know, just differences and similarities in that respect.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think is going to happen in your future, Ran? How do you envision your future?
RAN KONG:
Well, there's the idealistic one, and there's a realistic one, so I don't know. I guess for me, I'm very attached to my family. Even my friends have told me, Ran, you're too attached, maybe. But for me, I want to finish my education. And I want to get a job that I like and that will support my family in the future. And so that to me is priority right now, just in terms of education and then finding a job. But also I think in the future, I don't know, I can't see beyond being with my family, and just doing whatever I can to make them happy. But at the same time, I do see myself going back for Cambodia to spend some time there, meet some of my relatives who are there. I have a cousin who's there. And I talked to him for the first time ever a while back, a couple weeks ago. But just visiting there, just going back to see where my parents lived, and Angkor Wat and everything, but also going to see other places, I think, in my future. I really, really want to travel. I think just being able to see where Ethiopia is, for example —- I guess just see and learn and learn and learn.
BARBARA LAU:
What do you think your parents think about their futures or about your future?
RAN KONG:
I don't know. I guess for every parent they hope that their children

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will get married to someone good and settle down, have a family and work, and the usual cycle, I guess. But I don't see that for myself.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think that sometimes the fact, as you say, that you're Cambodian but you're also American but your parents are really Cambodian —are there conflicts there?
RAN KONG:
Oh, definitely, lots of conflicts. For example, just in terms of , my father is very traditional, and he's also very religious. And so some of the things that he ideals and that he subscribes to, I totally don't agree with. Just in terms of, for example, something that we always have conflicts with each other is about, is the role of women. Not that he puts women down and he says that women are inferior or subservient. I a have a younger brother, and he's never encouraged my brother to get more of an education than me. And I actually have friends who are from cultures where their parents do show so much more bias towards the son than the daughter. My father is not like that at all. But at the same time just in terms of responsibilities, the woman or females have more responsibility to be good, to like remain within the boundaries of the culture and to not date and stuff, whereas the boys can overstep those boundaries and not get into trouble.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
RAN KONG:
—in that respect, my father and I come into conflict, because I'm like, no, whoever oversteps the boundaries is equally as wrong, no matter what gender they are.

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And my father is like, well, not exactly. The son is a little bit all right, but the daughter is not all right at all. So in that terms, he shows bias for males. And I just don't agree with that. I think if you're wrong, you're wrong.
BARBARA LAU:
What about with your grandma?
RAN KONG:
My grandmother?
BARBARA LAU:
Do you guys find that because you're a little more American sometimes there's—
RAN KONG:
Yes. Well, just in terms of— my grandmother, she's so funny. She's like, well, after you finish college don't go anywhere. Stay at home and work. And you don't have to go to school anymore, because if I go to school I'll be away from home again. So she's in that fact—it's not even traditional or a traditional idea maybe, but just the fact that she wants all of her grandchildren to be near her, to stay with her. Whereas for me, I guess the lure of higher education, I guess, prompts me to consider other alternatives than just staying at home, and getting an education here. I'll maybe want to go to school far away, or find a job away from home, you know?
BARBARA LAU:
Do you consider North Carolina your home?
RAN KONG:
Yes. This is the only home I've ever known. I don't remember my first four years over in Thailand. I wasn't even born in Cambodian. I was born in Kao-I-Dang. I probably have one or two memories from there. But so far as I know, this is home for me.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think your parents think that?
RAN KONG:
No.

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BARBARA LAU:
What's home for hem?
RAN KONG:
Home for them was what they left behind, cause that was where they spent their childhood and the majority of their lives were spent over there, so they remember it very vividly. And for them, they were— I don't know if I can say happier over there, but it's different. It's different being here than being over in your own country where everybody is like you. And so for them I think that's always like their true home.
BARBARA LAU:
When you think about North Carolina, do you think of it as a specific place in the United States? What makes it what it is? How would you describe it?
RAN KONG:
North Carolina. I can't say it's the most exciting state to live in, but I think it's a very— I've never lived in another state, so I don't have a point of reference. But I guess it's a good state to live in. I don't know. I've never lived in another place.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, when you think about even other people, other Cambodian people you've met from other places, how does North Carolina compare to California or Washington or other places that Cambodians live?
RAN KONG:
Well, I think in the big states like California where there's a really big population of Cambodians, I think that it's harder. It's harder there, just in terms of North Carolina, definitely, the Cambodian population here is much, much smaller, and much more attached to the temple. And the community is very important. And so I think the kids are raised with more of that in mind, and so their outlook and their acceptance of the culture is more open. Whereas in California, I think it's gone to the point where there's no more focus on religion or on the community. And so you know, my perspective of kids who are raised there

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is that they're very much more assimilated.
BARBARA LAU:
Even though there's more Cambodians?
RAN KONG:
Even though there's more Cambodians. And there's also more problems over there, just in terms of gangs and stuff like that. I hear this from people who move from California, or you hear this from parents who live over there, who are just like, well, my kid is just out of control. And I don't think it's fair to say that's all Cambodian families, or all Cambodian kids who are over there. Maybe it's true for only a small proportion.
BARBARA LAU:
You've told me before that a lot of the girls that you go to school with are from small towns in North Carolina.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And most of them are white, right?
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
What impact do you think new communities of people— I mean, there's Cambodians, there's Vietnamese, there's Hmong. What impact do these new communities, do you think, have on North Carolina? How has that changed North Carolina? Do you have any sense of that?
RAN KONG:
What these new communities, like Asian, like Hmong and like Laotian and stuff like that, what impact they have on North Carolina? I don't know. I think like these communities have been here for a while now, and so people are now just getting used to them. But at the same time, I think there's still a lot of North Carolina that doesn't understand these communities.

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I was at a dinner the other night, and I was near a doctor. And he turns around, we were just talking— he was talking about how his patients were all Laotian, and there were so many of them. And he was like, they like to have so many kids. And you know, why is it that they have so many kids? And I was like, well, from the Laotian people that I know, they don't like to have many kids, okay. But Hmong people they value kids. And so kids are a good thing, it's a good thing to have a lot of kids. It's totally respectable in their community, whereas in American culture, lots of kids, more expenses, less kids, less expenses. And so I said to the doctor, I was like, are you talking specifically about Hmong people? And he was like, that's right, that's it —- I tell them, you know, family planning, birth control. And he was like, they get offended when I tell them that. And I was like, well, I can understand that they would because to them children is a good thing. It's good to have big families. It's good to have lots of children. The expenses with each additional child, that's something that they don't ever think about. It's always like here's a new addition to the family. You love the kid as soon as it's born. And so just from that alone, you can tell that people, they see, and then they already form opinions, and then they judge before they really understand. And so with these communities, I'm sure people already have like preformed notions of what they're like. And you have to strive to understand people first before you can really judge them.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, do you think the addition of these new communities has been a good thing for North Carolina? Are there good things that these communities bring? What do you think those might be?

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RAN KONG:
I think it's good. You drive down some streets in North Carolina now and you'll see Vietnamese restaurants. You know, hello America, welcome to Vietnamese food, you know. It's a taste of Vietnam here without having to go all the way to their country, and so just in terms of new things, new ideas. And I don't know, I like diversity. That's because I'm different, but some people may not like it. But I think diversity is a good thing. And I think if the American Government allows it, then people should try to accept it.
BARBARA LAU:
What ways do you think teachers in schools could help kids who are different feel more a part of things?
RAN KONG:
In a way, you hate to be pointed out, but at the same time, teachers in school— I don't know— I think that once you get into the classroom like you know you focus on the subject. But I think overall for the school, I think it's good to have days or events that are specifically for these people to perform or to talk. Like at Salem College, we had an international dinner just last week. And it was great, because some of these girls have never had food from Ethiopia. So when they had indetto (phonetic), we were just like, oh, she didn't like it. I see her plate is all going in the trash. And then others were like, oh, this is so good, what do you call it, and stuff. So just in terms of exposing them to who you really are, like this is what you eat, this is what you wear and stuff, in a way it gives definition to the word Ethiopian, or to the word Cambodian. It's not just because we live in America, it's not just a word to me now, it's who my friends are. It's, who my teachers are. I understand what it is to be American. It's not an empty identity. Do you know what I'm saying? Whereas I think when some girls who meet

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me, you're Cambodian, well, what is Cambodia specifically? What is behind the meaning of that word? Why is it significant? So when you do these things, it defines it for them. It defines Cambodian for them, it defines Ethiopian for them. When we get up and do a dance, that's Cambodian. So just in terms of making them understand that there's people. There's people, there's ideas, there's culture, there's so much. There's as much behind Cambodian as there is behind American, you know? So in that sense.
BARBARA LAU:
I know that in Greensboro and in North Carolina in general, there's more and more Cambodians moving here. Why do you think they're coming?
RAN KONG:
Like I said, maybe they're just not liking it out from where they're at.
BARBARA LAU:
But they could go anywhere. Why do you think they come here? What's good here for them?
RAN KONG:
Well, I think jobs. Also there's already some established Cambodian communities in North Carolina, like in Charlotte and Greensboro, Lexington. There's already some established communities here. So when you're moving, you try to find common people. So it's not too big here, but yet there's still some people here who are like me, who I can relate to. And I think some people too have a lot of relatives who live here.
BARBARA LAU:
You said before that you thought also that the cities were smaller here. Do you think that there's any attachment sort of to the landscape that people might like. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are qualities of North Carolina that Cambodian people might like?
RAN KONG:
The fact that you don't have to live in an apartment. Back in

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Cambodia, out of all the families that are here, I don't think you'd be able to find one that was— I lived in an apartment in Cambodia. You're very attached. Like you say, you're very attached to the land. Growing up, that was what the majority of these people did unless they lived in the city. My parents, my mom worked with the land. She grew rice and grew vegetables, and same for my father and for a lot of the Cambodians here. So when they come here, the good thing about North Carolina is that you can buy a house, you have land so that you can grow vegetables. And unlike the bigger cities that has like a Cambodian store on every single neighborhood or whatever, here you don't. Just now in the last like three years, there's been a Cambodian store. So in a way, if you want Cambodian vegetables to cook Cambodian dishes, you have to grow your own vegetables. So I think that's a big attraction for the people who come to North Carolina is that there's a little bit more space now, it's not so cramped, whereas in the big cities you're just like stuffed.
BARBARA LAU:
Let's see. Do you think people who do move here come to think of themselves as North Carolinians, or do they still just think of themselves as refugees in a new country? Do you know what I mean?
RAN KONG:
Yes. I think for my— I don't know. I really don't know how the other people would think about it. But just from my dad's point of view, first and foremost, this is America, this isn't Cambodia. So I guess in that respect, first and foremost, he's an immigrant, a refugee. He's borrowing somebody else's home to live in.
BARBARA LAU:
Do you think if people, if they had the opportunity, would go

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home to Cambodia?
RAN KONG:
Oh, definitely. I think for the older people, if they had the assurance that there would never, ever be an incident like the Khmer Rouge again, and if they could trust the government, then I think that they would definitely take all their money out of the accounts and go back and live in Cambodia. But they're like, heck, Cambodia— you just get to do a lot more, especially now that they have money, they can even do a lot more. Life would be a whole lot, you know, better.
BARBARA LAU:
Now, you've talked a little bit about the struggle you've had to sort of— well, I don't know if it's even a struggle, but your experience, sort of figuring out how you would identify yourself. And what about some of the other people you know that are your age, do you think they've had similar experiences to you, or do you think that they've had an easier time, a harder time? How do you think they would identify themselves? For example, you said you grew up with a young woman named Romato who lived behind you. Has she made similar choices than you, or has she made different ones?
RAN KONG:
We've all made, in a sense, different choices. But I think for her she's not a part of the Cambodian community. She used to be, but then she quit dancing and then she didn't hang out with Cambodian friends anymore. And her whole sense of fun was something else, was what her new friends liked to do, and it's not exactly what Cambodian culture thinks that you should like to. I guess in her decision to go along with that, she's made the choice of abandoning what Cambodians think is right. And for that, I think she gets judged in a negative way. But you know, just judging from her family, it's not totally her fault. These were the

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options that her parents gave her. They didn't expose her to this, and so in turn she turned to that. And so you can't really like blame her for making those decisions, you know? I think something really important that I've finally come to like understand is that you can't judge. You can't judge the decisions that a person makes simply because they've been different from your own, because everybody is brought up differently. It's easy for me to say, I want to be Cambodian, because all my life, that's what I've been bombarded with from my parents' side. It's important to be Cambodian. Whereas other kids who grow up a little bit apart from the community, whose parents are so engrossed with their work, and who only come to the Cambodian temple for one day out of the year, they don't know the importance of it. So you can't really judge them if they decide that they don't want to be. It's sad, but it's totally like the parents' influence.
BARBARA LAU:
And then on the other hand, you might be able to argue that their parents were trying to earn money and just support them in that kind of thing, or people who don't have two parents, or things like that.
RAN KONG:
True, but I think that you can find a balance, somewhere along the way. It's just like priority, what is—obviously, their biggest priority was financial. And to my parents, I think you know, we'd rather have a little less, but I guess be more within the community, and be more within the temple. Instead of working seven days, they'd rather work five days and have two days off to be a part of the temple ceremonies and stuff.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, do you think that some of the kids who've made some of those choices feel good about themselves, or are they having troubles, or are they just fine? I mean, maybe they're becoming more assimilated has been okay for them.

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RAN KONG:
I think they're just fine. I think after a while they've just gotten so used to who they are, that it would be harder for them to try to come back to the community. Or when they're in the community, they may not feel like they belong.
BARBARA LAU:
So just as a final question, and I know I've sort of asked you this, but maybe you could kind of just sum it up: How would you identify yourself if you were meeting me for the first time, and I didn't know you, what would you tell me about yourself?
RAN KONG:
Hey, my name is Ran Kong. I'm Cambodian. You know, I'm from Cambodia. It's a little country in Southeast Asia. And I've been here all my life, so there's—
BARBARA LAU:
So you're American too?
RAN KONG:
I'm Cambodian-American. It's a great mix.
END OF INTERVIEW