Some Southeast Asians Americans have managed to keep their families intact, but this has been a daunting task. Others arrived with only a few members, while still others came alone. Family disintegration occurred as a result of the tragic loss of family members during the war and in the aftermath of the political turmoil in homeland countries. In extreme cases, the disintegration of family life occurred when the communist Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia strove to destroy family loyalties, pitting children and parents against one another by starving them in hard labor camps. They also forced children, siblings, and parents to unwittingly testify against one another for stealing food, which sealed their execution. Even for those who did not experience these atrocities, the burden of survival, and the accompanying guilt and fear, can affect the ability of individuals to form close relations with their family members or to raise their children.
Families Split Apart
Many close and extended family members who survived were separated from one another. The destruction of their homes or villages led to displaced populations who were forced to relocate to areas where they could find employment and escape the bombings. Others were imprisoned during and after the war and, as a result, lost touch with their loved ones. It was not uncommon for relatives to be listed as missing with their whereabouts unknown. When fleeing from their homelands, families were separated. Some had to make difficult choices about who would leave and who would remain behind. In the refugee camps, they sometimes separated in order to be resettled. Once accepted into a country for permanent settlement, it has been difficult for some to rejoin family members who were resettled to another country.
When Southeast Asians came to the United States, families sometimes made decisions to split up in order to provide each member with the best opportunities, such as for better employment or educational prospects. As later groups arrived, they often chose to join relatives or friends who could help them resettle, which sometimes separated them from immediate family members. Years without contact or communication can put a strain on relationships between couples and family members and create feelings of loss, resentment, and anger. Many have been able to overcome these emotional struggles and rebuild their extended family network in the U.S., forming even closer bonds because of their shared experiences of survival. Some maintain close contact with relatives in their homelands and with those who migrated to other parts of the world.