There are not a lot of Cambodians in Australia. When my parents arrived here, they were visibly marginalised. They looked like immigrants and they worked in factories their whole lives. For my parents to survive, they had to be the friendly Asian neighbour that never argued with anyone. In their view, surviving in this culture is not just about your hard work but the appearance of your hard work.
Our country went through genocide in the 70s so everything is about saving your culture, no matter the cost. If you have to enter an unhappy marriage or have kids, even if you don’t want to, everything is about preserving the culture and preserving your social currency. A lot of it is was just a ‘suck it up and move on’ mentality.
My parents knew that I was in an abusive relationship but they would tell me that we just need to find a compromise and work it out. They said it out of love because as an Asian woman, you’re perceived as the one who needs to carry the weight. You’ve got to keep the family together– there’s no time for anxiety or postnatal depression. You’ve just got to keep fighting. Being the woman in the relationship, I was told to bear the brunt and that ‘men are just like this.’
It took so long to leave but ten years later, we finally broke up. My mum was more upset than me. She cried almost every day. She wants the best for me but a part of her was ashamed because we were together for a long time and everyone in my family and elders in the community knew him. If we broke up, she thought I’d be considered ‘used goods’ and I’d be the hardest to marry off.
They don’t know that I’ve had an abortion. I just don’t know how to talk about it.
I know of several relatives that have had abortions and it was totally fine. I have cousins that are gynaecologists who work with people who need abortions so it’s pretty normal, but all of these things we can talk in terms of industry and jobs or about someone else, but not the reality in terms of our personal lives, so it never crossed my mind to tell my parents about the abortion.
If I told them that I had an abortion, I would have to admit that I’ve had sex and that I wasn’t ‘marriageable’. I come from a country where a lot of young girls are exploited for sex. Growing up, we watched a lot of documentaries about human trafficking so the conversations at home about sex were very politicised. It was about exploitation and the criminalisation of sex but in our personal lives, sex talk was often in coded language.
My ex didn’t want me to talk about it with anyone. He felt so ashamed. After the abortion, I was a wreck. I don’t feel bad that I had an abortion, but it’s the shame around not being able to tell anyone was the hardest part.
Story from: Anonymous | Words: Shona Yang | Cover Art: felicitytsee