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One Way Conversation or No Conversation At All

Chandrea's picture

For most of my life I was brought up in a household where my father thought he could control us. I stayed pretty quiet when I was younger and followed my mother’s lead. My mom had plenty of opportunities to speak up and say something to him but I believe she stayed silent because she didn’t want to cause any problems. After a long day of work, the last thing she needed was an argument with my father. But as my siblings and I grew older, we also grew tired and angry of having to keep our mouths shut just to make him happy. I don’t even think that I kept my mouth shut because of my dad. I think I did it to make my mom happy.

Looking back at this experience, I see silence as being equal to obedience or even fear. Even if I were walking down the stairs to get out the door to run to the bus stop, my dad would yell at me in Khmer to “keep it down” and point his finger accusingly at me. His booming voice and index finger made me feel so small and helpless. It made me feel like I couldn’t ever do anything right, like I was a disappointment. He wanted me to walk around quietly and conduct myself in an unobtrusive manner, like all the other Asian women he had come across. Even if I were quieter walking down the steps, I knew that if I did what he said then I would be reinforcing his control on the rest of the family. His controlling ways were unbearable and unhealthy for my family and I had to find a way to stop him.

I stayed silent when I was younger because I didn’t know any better. When I got older I knew I could help my mom out of such a volatile situation and I used my voice, or lack of silence, to achieve this goal. Where do you go in a situation like this, when home isn’t the comfortable, safe place it’s supposed to be? I was conflicted. I knew that if I wanted change, it wasn’t going to come by easily. It was like I was walking back to my own personal hell after school each day.

My father does not live with us anymore and finally, my house is now starting to feel like home. I can talk to my mom and my siblings freely and openly. I don’t feel any tension and negative energy in my household anymore and I think choosing to speak up and stand up to my dad was the right thing to do. But why do I still feel so guilty. Am I now in a position of power to silence others? And if I am, am I silencing my father in a good way? I think this new feeling of empowerment will take some time for me to get used to. As Uninhibited explains, “The challenge then will be, to remember that empowerment is not based on keeping others down, and finding my voice should not be another way to reinforce patriarchal ideas in the family.” I know deep down that I did the right thing.

I think the reason that voice in my household seems like a one-way closed system is because in my house, there was no such thing as dialogue. There wasn’t room for a two-way conversation. It was my dad’s way or no way. For such a long time, there was no opportunity to have a real conversation. If I didn’t agree with my dad on something, there was no way I would be able to make him listen to me. As I got older, I realized that I didn’t have too much to lose by speaking up to him. I was less scared of him now that I was growing up. And I realized the sense of urgency of needing to enable my mom’s and siblings’ voices because I knew I wasn’t going to always have the opportunity to be their spokesperson every time my dad tried his hardest to silence us. I was going to go to college, and if I didn’t help them find their voices now, when were they ever going to do it? In some ways I’ve enabled their voices but in other ways I think I’ve limited them: I think they still understand that even now they still have to be careful about what they choose to say because it’s still a risky situation for us.

I thought the Kim and Markus article summed up my father’s views of quietness very accurately even though my dad isn’t a Chinese preschool teacher – that quietness was viewed as a means of control (189). This article also helps me understand my father a little better and his perspective. Could he help it that he saw an orderly house as a quiet one? He grew up only experiencing that in his classrooms and in his own household. I also wonder what role silence plays in molding identities. I’ve grown up understanding that this is part of my family’s culture. I think a woman being oppressed is a normal thing for my culture. By speaking up, I’m doing something that is almost unheard of. My use of voice has alienated me from the community that I’ve struggled so hard to identify with. Even after we forced my dad out, people in our communities seemed to ridicule our family and my father. My father was weak in their eyes for letting his wife and children speak out against him, and I was just another teenager with a big mouth.