Chinese Cambodian American writer April Lim writes a beautiful and poignant essay about her family’s escape from Cambodia to Vietnam and then to Thailand; her mother and father’s journey toward a new life in America, and reconnecting to her heritage through a bracelet passed down to her.

In my parents’ Cambodia, no records exist to prove someone’s existence. “You’re alive, you’re living, that is good enough,” my father nonchalantly states, “If you die, you’re gone, back to the ground.” Paper will never prove a life to me—I know my ancestors’ existence through scriptless stories, spoken word by spoken word, like the tale of my family’s forest that no longer exists. If a tree falls in the forest, the forest will feel it. The body decays and the tree becomes part of the forest again, back to the ground. It does not turn to paper.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.