Hi, my name is Pech Carson. I am a graduate student at Florida International University, Miami, and I am a Project Hope Nurse working on Pacific Partnership 2012 in Cambodia.
In 1979, my sister, my mother and I went to a Cambodian refugee camp to meet my step father. It was just after the Vietnamese arrived in Cambodia, and we, along with thousands of others were homeless. I was only 11-years old, and after about six weeks, we moved to the United States.
Despite my age, I was placed in the third grade. I was the oldest person in my class. My head was still shaved from Cambodian refugee camp. I thought I was ugly, and the other children thought I was strange. I spent that whole first year barely speaking to anyone. Then one day the teacher asked for a volunteer to read aloud. I raised my hand and read a whole page. It was the first time most of the class had ever heard my voice. The whole class applauded and things began to get better.
“Then one day the teacher asked for a volunteer to read aloud. I raised my hand and read a whole page. It was the first time most of the class had ever heard my voice. The whole class applauded and things began to get better.”
I worked hard and never stopped going to school. I eventually earned my Bachelors of Science in Nursing and now I am a couple weeks away from completing my Masters.
I embarked PP12 just as it was about to leave Vietnam. I remember the first time I saw the ship, it was night and it was lit up in white lights, it seemed to have a glow about it – it seemed otherworldly.
The ship was so big – but more than that, to me it represented my notion of the American Dream; the idea of freedom. The ship was a testament to the idea that anyone, no matter where they are from, can accomplish anything they choose. It seemed so surreal – not only the huge white ship, but what it symbolized – it was almost as if it had come to represent my life and my journey back to Cambodia.
The first couple of days were a whirlwind of activity as I kept busy with meetings and worked in sick call. In the evenings, I would go up to the flight deck and watch the ocean pass by. The night before we arrived, I thought about my life and rediscovered memories that I hadn’t thought about in many years. I started to think about the loss of my younger brother and grandmother. I started to think about freedom; and that night, I started to cry.
The next morning, I could see the ocean, and I could see a thin strip of land. I stared out the window and thought to myself, “This must be Cambodia,” this is my country; where it all began.
I’m nervous about what I’ll find. I haven’t been here for so many years, and I wonder how I will be received. I wonder what it will be like when I speak Khmer (the native language) for the first time – I don’t remember everything from when I was a child.
This afternoon will make the 33-years since I was last here. My mother has flown in from the America to join me, and we are planning meeting family members who we haven’t seen since we moved. Everyone is very excited to meet each other.
I don’t dwell in the past, but I think it is important know where I came from. I am a Cambodian – even though I’m an American as well. I have a Cambodian friend back in Florida who thinks I am very brave for doing what I am doing. My friend says that she is not ready to come back. But to me, for some reason, I feel compelled to return. I want to connect – and maybe – to feel comfortable here again.