What do you call yourself?

I was asked by a fellow Vietnamese person after the show of whether I consider myself more in touch with my Khmer than Vietnamese, or vice-versa?

I said “Neither.” I don’t consider myself one or the other, even though the last 2 years, I’ve been more associated with the Cambodian community through my volunteering and having close friendships with some of my Khmer friends. Having those two identities are a challenge when you consider the history between the two countries which has been conflicted for centuries, and how that has transferred over to people that I’ve known through my family circles for years to which, in some ways, affected how those folks saw me as (specifically with my parents’ generation), and then you throw my queerness on top of it, which kept that distance fairly wide.

What made me step back into the Cambodian community was my friend Lyk Yoeun who, as a queer Cambodian woman, made it possible that I can be in that space without having to suppress my intersectionalities, and Savi Charmwho helped me to navigate moments when I’ve been triggered as I was reaffirming myself in that space.

She asked, “Has the Vietnamese community here been the same way as well?” I took a moment, and I said “Not necessarily” I was fortunate that I had Lyk and Savi to be the ones who actually reintroduced me back. However, my friend Vân who is Vietnamese , has been a person that I trusted in the Vietnamese space to navigate my said intersectionalities. The Vietnamese community in Chicago seems very distant and not as accessible as I would like it to be. If it was more accessible and inclusive to my identities, then I would certainly consider being around the community more, but I would never call myself “more” or “less” of this identity.

“So what do you call yourself as?” Queer Southeast Asian-American or Queer Viet-Khmer American. There’s no need for me to pit both identities against each other, or have a preference for one or the other. If I put down or lessen my identity, then I wouldn’t be loving myself. It’s just a matter of whether there are spaces that are down for what I bring to the table. Other than that, I’m existing and living my identities everyday on my own, and I know that I carry that history with care and love.

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