A story of both overcoming and embracing difference.

“For you.”
I had one foot out the door, and my girlfriend’s grandmother had her arm outstretched. In her palm was a glinting can of my favorite lemon lime elixir, not to be confused with Sprite or Sierra Mist or any of the like. I was unsure of what to say, as I usually was when interacting with her. My last trip to Minnesota had ended in an oddly similar fashion, but this time was somehow different.

The trip had been unplanned, and without prior notice, the itinerary for the week was lacking. At least it seemed that way from where I was standing. My girlfriend’s uncle was to be married that weekend, and a groom’s dinner was being hosted at the very place I planned to stay. My scramble to help set up the event was rewarded by being able to attend the wedding.

Absentmindedly slipping on my Sambas to complete the overly casual outfit I had snagged the night before, I soon found myself sitting front row among my girlfriend’s family, VIP. I sat back and awaited the ceremony. The implications of this event didn’t occur to me until much later.

Last minute H&M-ing with a strangely blurred shirt

Glancing around the small town winery that the reception was housed in, I saw a swarm of unfamiliar faces that I intended to mostly keep that way. After prodding at the food on my plate with scientific accuracy, I finally gave up on the idea of an apetite. By then it was speech time, and for an out of town, out of place observer like myself, the best time.

The floor was taken by my girlfriend’s mother, and she began calling up her siblings and parents. She introduced the group, comprised almost entirely of people born in Cambodia, a place that had been ravaged by a regime that sought to destroy the construct of family itself in years prior. I had only a trace of exposure to this haunting past because of a book of memoirs, and am fortunate to have never experienced such things firsthand.

In a spirit of resilience, here the entire family stood in celebration of marriage, a stark contrast to perhaps anything older members of the family could have imagined years ago. It was at this moment that I realized that what I was witnessing wasn’t merely a wedding, but rather, the very essence of the American Dream.

Thousands of miles from the place they were born, this group had gathered, and found a place of belonging and comfort, to the point of even naming some of their children after it. A place to call home.

An almost impossibly quaint MN town.

With each visit to this family, I feel attuned to something new.

The first time? I learned that I really like Raising Cane’s. Maybe not the most significant thing put pretty significant, given my limited palatte.

The map to the treasure

This time around, it was accepting that I have a personal role to become aware of and connect with another culture. And I’ll admit I’m not always the first to dive in, particularly when offered more daring dishes such as balut, but I’m certainly trying.

Pictured: Me “blending”
When I first encountered my girlfriend’s grandmother a few months before, I was mortified by the idea of a conversation. We usually had the courtesy to both laugh at my lack of comprehension at least.
But now, I paused to revel at how far our communication had come. I’m not sure if someone told her that 7-Up was my favorite or if she somehow just knew, but here she stood smiling, holding a small can that transcended our simple words.