Other Voices, Other Memories: 2 More Tales

Times Staff Writer

Tony (Ty) Taing: From Cambodia, with Love

"Everybody in school is going," Cambodian-born Tony Taing had told his parents. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I guess I ought to try it."

Grace, patience and love were palpable in his voice when the Verdugo High senior spoke to his parents. The same qualities were apparent in their gaze as they watched their only surviving son.

Both Taing and an older daughter had survived mass exterminations under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. But another daughter and two sons had been murdered.

Parents' Reaction

The family sat in the living room of their small apartment on North Beaudry Street in Chinatown. Taing's father offered visitors refreshments and the son explained how his parents had reacted to the idea of a prom.

"They had difficulty to understand it as first," Taing said. "But I knew once I explained it to them they would let me go."

His parents, who speak little English, said " 'Since you are living here now just go ahead and see how it is,' " he recalled.

"I've adopted American culture pretty fast. My mom, sometimes I shock her. Like two years ago," when he walked in his house wearing a cut-off T-shirt, Ocean Pacific shorts and shoes with black and white checkerboard squares.

" 'Who is this guy?' " he said his mother cried. " 'What are you? What have they turned you into? A monster or something?' "

'She Was Shocked'

His mother remembered that episode and laughed. Taing then translated as she spoke: "She was shocked, but pretty proud, too. Since I will be living here the rest of my life, she wants me to be like everybody else. Forget the past, make a new start."

As the discussion ended, Lam Ngor, Taing's father, expressed his hope that other newly arrived Asian families would become more willing to loosen the reins a bit on their sons and daughters.

"Some (Asian) people have race discrimination and they won't let their daughters go out with an American guy," said the father, speaking through his son. "Hopefully, we will learn to love everybody and live freely."

"The dancing was definitely the highlight," Taing said after the prom. "I was a little upset that the dance floor was so small. I expected it to be big. The outside of the Marriott is so big I thought it was a bigger place inside. But it was OK. I liked it."

Taing would definitely advise his friends who are juniors to go next year. "They're worried they won't have a date. I told them by the time they're seniors, they'll know someone. So go, it's once in a lifetime."

Christine Hsu: Almost 'Unforgettable'

It was some days before her prom and Christine Hsu had the basics on her mind: fashion and her date. "I'm getting my dress made. I don't want to wear the same dress everybody else is wearing." Born in Taiwan and a senior at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, Hsu continued: "I have the material, it's in my car. I'm going home today and start cutting. It's blue. . . . I asked this guy to go, a college student. He's really nice. He's from Singapore. He said he had been to proms there. He's cute, he's so cute. Really cute, that's why I asked him.

"Sometimes when I talk about the prom, now that it's getting close, close, closer, I get butterflies in my stomach. This means so much to me. At first, I thought, forget it. But I decided this is once in my whole entire life. It doesn't matter what happens, I'm going to go."

But for Hsu, the excitement of an approaching prom night was tempered by the pain of an unresolved family dispute.

Hsu, a lithe, animated 17-year-old who immigrated to the United States with her family nine years ago, said her father didn't want her to participate in extracurricular activities.

According to Loretta Huang, dean of students at Mark Keppel, Hsu, a popular student and a member of the school's dance team, was facing a problem that is not uncommon among Asian immigrants. "A student may be talented in dancing or athletics, but they have to convince their parents that it is a decent, school activity. And sometimes it is hard," said Huang, herself an immigrant who came to the United States from Taiwan seven and a half years ago.

Most top-notch schools in China or Taiwan "are not coeducational, so students don't usually have an opportunity to have social experiences with the opposite sex," the high school dean said. Where the schools do mix males and females, Huang explained, "the relationship is not as permissive as here," and academic requirements are often more rigorous. As a result, some Asian-born parents can't understand why their children want, or have time, to participate in outside activities, she said.

"I just love my dad so much," said Hsu, who plans to live with a sister in Kansas and is saving money to attend Wichita State University. Reflecting on her father's views, she added: "I know he does love me--he won't say it, but I know he does."

Hsu attended the prom, although it wasn't everything she had hoped for.

"Ohhhhh, I was a little disappointed," she said afterward. "I didn't have my limo.

"But we made up for it by racing down the highway in my car," she added. "Then a whole group of us went to the beach and we stayed just sitting there until 4."

Michael, her date, turned out to be "a real gentlemen. He's 21, so mature. A very romantic dancer . . . so sweet. . . . I'm so happy."

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