Conversation with Loung Ung
Loung Ung is a survivor of Cambodia's killing fields and an activist for the elimination of land mines. Her best-selling memoirs, First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites With the Sister She Left Behind, are riveting accounts of courage and the resilience of the human spirit.
INTERVIEW WITH MARIANNE SCHNALL (7/2/08)
Marianne Schnall: You are participating in Omega Institute’s upcoming Women & Courage conference. What made you want to participate in this conference? Why to you is this theme of women and courage so timely and important for women right now?
Loung Ung: Well, one is Omega. This will be my third trip back. Whether I was invited to return as a speaker or not, I knew I was going to return. Because Omega is that much fun. I really enjoy being together with a group of like-minded women and kindred spirits. It’s especially important, I think, at this time, because there are so many things going on out there in our world. We get caught up in all these different issues—whether it’s the economy, the war, oil crisis, or the election—that sometimes we forget about the challenges women face every day. It’s important to come together and to re-connect on that level.
MS: Of all things, why courage? What is it about courage that you think is so important to have this be a focus?
LU: One of my favorite quotes is Mae West’s “Speak up for yourself or you’ll end up a rug.” It’s a great quote. Courage is a state of mind, of fearlessness, of being fearless. And we can be this on a daily basis. It takes courage to step out of your skin, to step out of your role, to step out of the society’s roles for you. Especially as women, and in my case as a minority woman, raised in a society where you are rarely seen and seldom heard, it took courage to step out of that role. To know that when you take that step; you will be frowned upon by your community; and disappoint your family and friends. Courage is when you dare to be yourself, in whatever ways you want to be. To not be afraid, to just do it.
MS: What times in your life do you think demanded the most courage?
LU: Courage and grace and dignity are the three words I live by. As a child, it took courage to survive the war that I was in. As a young girl, it took courage to be true to my brown skin in a sea of white children. As a woman, it takes courage to live in a world where we are so infused with this sense of fear. It takes courage for all of us to be a woman, a mother, a sister; to be together in a society that is breeding so much fear. Fear for our freedom, safety, economy, and world. It seems to me we are living in a time in which fear is used as a tool in the media, entertainment, culture, and politics. I think right now, it takes courage to live a life of hope. A life of insights. A life of family. And to not buy into this fear that we’re being sold.
MS: Where do you get your courage from? What has been the source of your courage?
LU: A lot of it comes from my mother. I am writing a book about her right now. My mother was a courageous woman who sacrificed so much for her family. During the war, I thought she sent my brothers and sisters and I away because she wasn’t strong enough to keep us together. Now, I realize it was her courage, her sacrifice that kept us safe.
Part of my courage also comes from being a part of a strong community of women. My mother, my grandmother, great grandmother and other ancestors had to overcome so much to survive. My mother left China as a girl to escape the burgeoning People’s revolution there; landed in Cambodia and got stuck in the Khmer Rouge genocide. And yet, here I am; their descendant—happy, healthy, and well. I am a testament of their courage, beauty, and power.
The other part of my courage, I think, is innate. My family and I have survived wars in three continents, survived migrations, survived as strangers in foreign lands. Yet we’ve thrived. This affirms in me that my ancestral blood is pretty strong. Maybe it’s in my DNA? Maybe courage is innate in all of us? I believe it is innate in all of us. All we have to do is tap it. If we just slow ourselves down enough to recognize it and tap into it.
MS: Do you think women’s courage is different than men’s courage? What is it that women uniquely bring to the table?
LU: It is different for some. During the war, I saw that (some) men attribute strength and courage to those who would pick up arms, and fight on the front lines. The most courageous were those who were aggressive, could yell the loudest, and puff out their chest the biggest. But women, we had the courage to be nurturers, survivors, protectors, sisters, aunts, grandmothers in the midst of all that fighting. We went on loving, living, taking care of each other knowing our loved ones could be shot and killed at any moment. We didn’t give up. We lived with no guns, no support from the government, sometimes, no support from each other. We did it in whichever way, whatever capacity we were able. It takes courage to live and love with such hope and generosity—and women are great at that.
MS: When I try to understand the imbalance we see in the world today, it seems like while women do have this important wisdom and natural instincts, we’ve been made to feel scared to trust our instincts, and sometimes even know our true instincts, because there are so many outside pressures and influences on us, we often do feel so unempowered.
LU: In our modern world—things are moving so fast that I think we are all losing our balance. Furthermore, everyday, we are invaded by hoards of new technology that is supposed to make our lives safer, better, more advanced—but doesn’t—and we still revere them as false gods. We have to stop. As women, we have these natural body rhythms, instincts, intuitions, and connections to mother earth and to each other that this fast world discounts, devalues, and obstructs.
One example is childbirth, something done through the history of humans, and done well enough that here we are, 6.3 billion people later. And yet, we are living in an era in which people are pumped full of fear of this process. Why? Let’s think about this. Let’s not buy into this culture of fear; and step back into time and reclaim the strengths, instincts, and courage of all the mothers who came before us. Let’s reclaim their trusts in their bodies and make it part of our own DNA. I think we can. We must.
MS: What is the one message you would most want to convey to women today?
LU: My one message is that we have more courage, more worth, and more strength than we realize.
We women are told everywhere we turn; in newspapers, radio, televisions, magazines, books – that we are imperfect in so many ways. Be it our appearance, relationships, personalities; there seem to be so many things terribly wrong with us. But how can there be that many things wrong with us and yet here we are? We’ve got to sit down sometimes and look at what’s right. And know that what’s right is not anything that the world out there can dissect. It is wholly what is in you.
MS: There are extreme cases of adversity, like what you went through, and then there are just life’s everyday challenges, facing the things that happen to us, big and small, which we often let break us or beat us down. You often speak about how we need to see ourselves not as “broken beings” but as “powerful spirits.” Do you think that’s something women sometimes do, when things go badly for us, to think of ourselves as victims rather than survivors?
LU: The norm for a girl-child in our society is still one; who from birth on, is bombarded with everything that is wrong about her. Everything. Her clothes, lips, eyelids, nose, fingernails – or her lack of social skills, friends, etc… How can you not grow up being fearful and fractured in your heart and in your psyche?
One of the most frustrating things about living in the West is meeting wonderful, fabulous, phenomenal women who don’t see themselves as such. How can they not when they’re so beautiful! And healthy and have opportunities, and generous and kind and compassionate. How can they see themselves as anything else other than phenomenal? And yet because they do, they live their lives as if they are not.
What’s different about me is that I’ve been told I was broken, and I’ve learned I am not. During the war, I was truly powerless; I had no voice, I had to be invisible, dumb, mute, deaf and blind in order to survive. I know what it’s like to be treated as sub-human, to live in fear. I know how devastating that was. I was a victim. After the war, so many people heard about my story and saw me as a victim. But I didn’t want their pity; I wanted their support and respect. So I stepped out of that role. I started thinking of myself as a survivor, a fighter, a warrior. There’s power in that. Now I have my dignity, freedom, life back—and I’m not willing to give it up. I know women are pretty powerful beings, powerful spirits. If we could only tap into and realize that, we can accomplish so much.
MS: What qualities do you think women bring to the world that you think are most needed now, in terms of the problems the world faces today?
LU: We bring all the qualities that men bring, and then some! We are the descendents of Ginger Rogers dancing in high heels and backwards. Fred Astaire was great, but can he dance in high heels and backwards and in a floor length gown?
In addition to grace, beauty, intellect, leadership, we bring a connection to each other and mother earth. We bring our intuition, compassion, instincts. I know when my friends are having a hard time, I can sense it. Maybe because I listen, maybe it’s because every month I have to stop and observe my body, and what it’s going through. Whatever it is, however it works, we are in tune and we are intuitive.
MS: I thought it was interesting in your speech how you talked about how women are natural connectors and partners, yet we live in a society that instead glorifies individual successes, the path of kind of making it on our own. I think you called it the “myth of rugged individualism.” Women are often even pitted against each other. Do you think this has also held women back, that we don’t realize how important it is to support each other, to bond together, which is where our true power lies? How is that diminishing that power?
LU: The myth of the rugged individualism, the pull yourselves up by your bootstraps mentality breeds this belief that success achieved alone is sweeter than success achieved as a group. Says who? I was a part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize award and I feel pretty darn good to about it. Jody Williams, a phenomenal woman, was awarded the prize for organizing the campaign. I rejoiced with her, for her, and for us!
Women, we have to debunk this myth for all girls. This myth raises an ‘us’ against ‘them’ mentality. If I am going to succeed, then you can’t. This myth fosters the idea of finite power and finite position and finite jobs and career opportunities. Why must we all be chasing after that one position? Why can’t we create more positions for each other? Why not create five more companies and have five other positions? This myth goes against women’s natural talents and abilities are connectors, supporters, net-workers, team players. For all girls’ sake, we have to debunk it immediately!
MS: You also talked about how women are natural givers and nurturers, which is of course a wonderful quality that the world so desperately needs, but that women must learn not to just indiscriminately give and give, but to choose what we give to and to attribute value to it. Can you talk more about it? Is that the first step in women being adequately valued and respected, to first make sure we value and respect ourselves?
LU: In our society, there’s a belief that a good, nurturing woman gives and gives and gives…until she drops. If she takes time off for herself, she is selfish. Too many of us buy into this belief and give and give and give until we’re so exhausted we can hardly move. Then we give some more!
I’ve dealt with this. For a while, especially after my first book was published, I was asked to MC events, sit on boards, and write essays, endorsements for various groups and papers. As I said ‘yes’ to these requests, there was a small voice in me that kept saying…soon, people will realize I’m exhausted and stop asking. Someone please speak up for me so I don’t have to say ‘no’! Ha! I also had issues with people I’ve said ‘yes’ to not valuing my time and talents. I’d showed up at an event and it was not organized, publicized, and no one showed up. After a while, I was started to feel sad and angry that I was not getting enough returns for my investment and time. Soo…
The first thing I had to learn was to speak up for myself. I learned to say ‘no’. Then I learned to choose and pick groups whose missions match my heart and passion. I can supportive of many groups – but I have to choose.
Second, I put value and conditions on my givings. For example, when I give a pro-bono speech at a school, my condition is that the students need to raise a minimum of $1000.00 to donate to a local charity of my choice. I pick a charity that connects to my topic of speech. If they don’t meet this goal, I don’t show up. I want them to understand that there are cause and consequences to their actions. I want them to work for my time. This also gives teachers some ‘teachable’ moments; students are forced to research and learn about the groups in order to raise the money. It gives me great satisfaction in knowing that I am not the only one ‘giving’ my time and energy; we are all giving together. The last school I did this with, the students raised $3,200 to give to the group Facing Histories and Ourselves.
MS: You talk a lot about taking risks, and for you, you have put yourself out there in a very public way, but sometimes it is so hard for women, because we are often so caught up in what other people think, or by the expectations of our society, that I think it can feel scarier for women to take those type of risks, which often holds us back.
LU: I guess I’ve been the black sheep in my family for so long that I’m used to it. I guess I even thrive on it. Also, I’ve never really cared about what people thought of me… the only opinions that count are those from my loved ones. I love this quote from Jane Fonda; "You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do."
Yes, I put myself out there, but I back it up with research, knowledge, studies and experience. You’re less vulnerable and more powerful if you can defend your points, articulate your thoughts, and are aware of other viewpoints. When I worked with students in high schools, I advised them to learn to argue well. And not be afraid of confrontations. Not be afraid to disagree. If some guy or teacher is not treating you well – you have a right to speak up! You don’t have to lock it away. You don’t have to pretend it doesn’t hurt. But you have to do it in a way that is powerful. Write it down, practice, rehearse your lines if you need to, but please say something! Because if you don’t; twenty years later you will still be thinking about it. “Well, I should have said this to him.” [laughs] And I think we all have those experiences, and hopefully we have less of them now.
MS: Running a site calling Feminist.com, one of the things we try to say is there is no one definition of feminism. What does feminism or being a feminist mean to you?
LU: Mae West’s quote I love. "Speak up for yourself or you'll end up a rug." I read it when I was working for the domestic violence program. I’m a feminist because I’m not going to be walked on. That’s says it all.
MS: When I interviewed Elizabeth Lesser recently and we were talking about the amazing women participating in the Women & Courage conference, she said about you, “It is inspiring when you listen to someone like Loung Ung, who survived the killing fields in Cambodia and saw her entire family murdered – and she has the spirit of a survivor. She did not become bitter – she became devoted to helping people live. And that’s what courage, women and courage is about.” I have heard you discuss how angry you were as a child, and your journey from being a “child of war to a woman of peace.” What do you think kept you from becoming bitter, and instead transmuting this into this amazing person you are today?
LU: Elizabeth is a role model for me. She is so kind, compassionate, generous and brilliant! It is an honor to be invited back to Omega and to share the stage with so many wonderful women I like, respect and admire.
So what kept me positive? Well for one, being bitter is exhausting. I’ve done that. I held it in my shoulders, back, stomach, and face. I aged. I hurt, I cramped. It was no fun!
When I wrote my first book, a reviewer, and I’m paraphrasing what she/he wrote; said; “…the rage kept Ung going, but love and family kept her together…”
I didn’t know I was doing this but it made so much sense. The anger might have kept my body going, but without love the soul would have just slowly crumbled. And burned. It was the love that kept the soul going. So I think to be fully alive, you need both a healthy body and a loving soul.
Third, Ms. Winfrey says it best when she said you have to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I am very grateful for so many things—my breath, my friends, family, my health, my education, going to Omega, my curiosity, my memories… Even though I went through wars and lost my parents at a very young age, I still have so much to be grateful for. One of which was given to me by my father.
As a girl, I was curious, and interested in bugs, and pulled at my mother’s bras, and followed my brothers as they flirted with girls, and pet frogs – and all those traits that others thought made me a troublesome, bad girl; my father thought it made me clever. This stayed with me. And it’s made all difference in how I view myself.
Now I am “Auntie” to many nieces, and my girlfriends’ daughters. We have this rule amongst ourselves – every time somebody tells a child how cute and beautiful she is, one of us in the inner circle has to say four other things. That the child is interesting, curious, observant, detail-oriented, smart and clever.
MS: You have said that when you first started writing, you wrote to save your life. How did it do this for you? How did the experience of writing help you?
LU: Writing is very cathartic, a great therapy for me. But on a psychological level, it changed who I am. There was one scene in particular I had such a hard time writing. The scene where the Vietnamese soldiers tried to rape me. There was so much shame surrounding that. I had never told my brothers. My sister knew, who was there, but we didn’t talk about it after that. There was so much shame that I was nine years old and the soldiers pulled down my pants and I’m kicking him, and he pulled down his pants and there was red underwear and I saw my first penis at age nine. And how could that make me a good girl, if I saw something that no good girls were supposed to see? And how was it my fault? Why did I go into the woods with him? Why was I picked?
When I was writing that scene, there was a moment after I finished it, I thought, “hell!” Like I swore. [laughs] I didn’t say “hell”, I said the “F-word”. But I thought, “I didn’t escape a rape, I fought my way out of a rape!” That is very much the seed of my power. To go from being a victim to a fighter, a survivor! I fought off a would-be rapist! I was nine, I was pushing him and I kicked him, and somehow, some way, my foot landed in his groin, and he clutched his balls and he went down and I ran away, I thought at that point, like wow – I was lucky. But now I look back and I go, wow – I fought my way out of rape. And that changed my focus. That changed who I am. I’m a fighter.
MS: There was the way that writing helped you, but there was also the enormous impact that your book had on others. What do you think is the power of the memoir? How do you view the role of memoirs such as yours to document these personal firsthand accounts of human suffering and inhumanity as a form of media and activism?
LU: Memoirs bring the numbers of casualties to a human face. We often hear about how many hundred thousands killed in Darfur, and two million in Cambodia. All these big numbers. Memoirs brings it down to a family, a face, a story, a brother, a father…I remember watching “Hearts and Minds” a 1970-something documentary on the Vietnam war. And General Westmoretland said in the documentary something to the effect of …”These Vietnamese don’t have respect for life the way we do…” In the next scene, a Vietnamese mother threw herself on top of a coffin, wailing.
That’s what a memoir does – it breaks down that barrier of what is Cambodia, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Darfur—to a father, a mother, a brother, a sister. How I missed my mother – is that very different from how your children miss you? How I long for my father’s touch on top of my head is not different from any other child’s longing. A memoir connects the humanity in us. It connects the daughter, the mother, the father, and not just the Republicans against the Democrats or the Tutsi or the Hutus. It connects the humanity in us.
MS: You said in your speech how writing of this type has almost been undervalued. What is your view of how well the media is doing its job and how you do see the connection between the media and the potential for human rights advocacy?
LU: It’s about balance. There’s a lot of sensationalism in the media, a lot of eye-grabbing headlines, entertainment news, but not enough in-depth human stories. Memoirs, as a form of literature, is wonderful in that it can go deep, as well as wide. A memoir writer can be biased.
Some writers don’t give memoirs the credit they deserve. Stories about Cambodia and other cultures have been written many times before by politicians, journalists, and soldiers. Those who trek over to the war zone, who studied it, who reported on it have been witness to our stories for generations. Memoirs allow those who live it to be the bearer of news and witnesses. But because it’s written out of passion and it grew out of our hearts, somehow it is deemed less valued by some.
I think what some people don’t understand is that although a memoirist writes about his or her life, many of us also have put in years of studies and research into the topic. To write my books, I’ve watched more documentaries than I can remember, read many, many books, and returned to Cambodia over thirty times. The notes I’ve garnered should get me a Ph.D… and this past April, I was given an honorary one! So there! [laughs]
Overall, I think the more team members we have—be it memoir writers, journalists, peace corps volunteers—to go out there and report on human rights issues out there in the world, the better. Ultimately, I think our goal is the same; to create a safer and better world for all of us.
MS: When you started off your speech at Omega's Enlightened Power conference you observed how easy it is to forget everything that is going on out there in the world, that others are not as blessed as we are, and you gave all the shocking statistics about how many millions around the world are illiterate or suffering from poverty and malnutrition, or are survivors of war or other types of violence. And when you hear that, sometimes it goes in your mind and then you forget it about it the next second. What is at the root of this lack of awareness of what’s really going on in the world? And what shift of consciousness do you think needs to take place?
LU: My guess is three things. 1) The world is big and fast; and we’re having a hard time keeping up so we shut ourselves in and others out. 2) Even if we know about it, we doubt our own power to make much of a difference because the number so big and the problems so many. 3) We don’t see enough tangible, touchable examples and models of things being done that makes a difference, the people doing it, and the people their work helped.
What do we do about it? With a global population of 6.3 billion people—that’s a lot of potential for good to happen. If we all just do a little something, it’ll go a long way. We need to realize that we are powerful beings. We live in a world where ordinary people do extraordinary things every day. They do not get the headlines, accolades, the awards. We don’t know much about them but they’re out there. They work miracles every day, and as a result of that there are now over a hundred thousand Cambodians living in America. Many of us came here because of all those ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Same thing with the Lost Boys and Vietnamese refugees and Laotians and Ethiopians – those are people changing worlds. And many more of us need to get on that band wagon.
MS: Sometimes I think people honestly have no idea where to start. What advice would you give to people on making a difference?
LU: Start by learning about a cause or program that causes your heart strings to vibrate. Go to the computer and read up on it. On their websites, there’ll have a page telling you how you can take actions, help out. If the program doesn’t have one, help them build a site. Or raise that $500 to help them build a site. Do what you can, however you’re able. Just do something. There are over a million registered charitable organizations in the U.S. A lot of people are doing a lot of good work. Join them.
Activism is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it’ll become. It’s like riding a bike, it’s like working out, it’s writing a book, you start, you practice, you get better at it. The next thing you know, it’s really not that hard. I started one program, I connected with ten, I connected to 50, and now it’s really not that difficult for me to go into that world.
MS: You’ve been active on behalf of many causes. What causes right now are most dear to heart? I know you have been involved on landmine issues, and in Cambodia – what are the things that you are currently focusing most of your efforts on?
LU: I have been involved with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia, the tribunal to convict Khmer Rouge of war crimes against humanity and genocide since 1997. In ‘97 when the prime ministers of Cambodia went to the UN and asked for their assistance to set up a tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge for war crimes. Ten years of negotiations later, the court has been built, the money has been raised, judges have been trained, and this month we are now hearing the first case against the Khmer Rouge leaders. I am hoping to be able to spend many months in Cambodia, probably in November and cover the trial, and sit there and listen and be a witness.
MS: As a survivor yourself, what advice would you give to people who have survived violence and other atrocities?
LU: Each person’s healing path is unique. Don’t let other people hurry you, the path is different for everybody.
I do believe, however, that it is not enough to go deep in your healing but you have to go wide as well. In the West, talk therapy often goes deep, but rarely are we ever told to go wide. When you go deep, you can get stuck in the thought that ‘this’ is all about you. But it’s not. I survived the Khmer Rouge genocide…but so did 5 millions other Cambodians; and 120 millions others of other wars in the last century. What happened to me was not only a crime against Cambodians, but a crime against humanity. I have to keep this in mind, spread out the pain a little or I’ll drown in it. So I get involved with causes, become an activist, and cast my nets for like-minded friends and helping hands everywhere. Because going deep without a safety line to pull you out when you’re in the dark, you can get lost in it. It’s important to keep a foot in the world as you are going inside your heart.
MS: How do you create balance and keep yourself centered in your own life? Are there specific practices or a philosophy of life that has given you strength or comfort?
LU: I eat really well. [laughs] I love food. I try to good care of myself. I have a wonderful group of friends who love me and support me. There are times when I over commit, or find myself in that dark place of my survivor’s guilt, ashamed for the food I stole, people I hurt, lies I told to survive. I reach out to my friends. I’m not afraid to ask for help, food, a movie night, a good joke. Sometimes, when I am in that dark place and feel bad about myself, I think – I can’t dishonor my friends by thinking so badly of myself. My friends are good people, and if they love me, I can’t be that bad. That actually helps me. I am very blessed in that I’m surrounded by good people, good human beings.
MS: Does that help to keep you hopeful?
LU: Yes. I’m inspired by them, and I aspire to be like them. I surround myself with my number one fans, and I’m their number one fan. That’s another important thing for women – have the courage to break up with people. We are often told that’s it’s appropriate to break up with a boy or spouse or a partner who is not treating you right, but what happens when that relationship is with a girlfriend, your cousin, an aunt, a neighbor? Sometimes we have to have the courage to walk away.
MS: Do you think there is an evolutionary consciousness shift taking place, and a rising of feminine energy, to help save the planet?
LU: Well, it’s going to save some world, so that’s good. [laughs] I am hopeful in that I do think there’s a shift in grace, power, and the feminine spirit. The pride of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, I think that’s very feminine in spirit. Many of us have been preaching that for decades, but people are now starting to listen. I think there are dual cosmic wavelengths that circle our planet. One band that keeps going faster and faster, spinning everything out of control. Another that pulses outside of this. Perhaps this is feminine spirit, slowing things down a bit. Just enough for us to stop and smell the roses, take care of our family and each other.
MS: What is your prayer or your vision for the children of the future?
LU: The tentative title of my book is called “half-half child”. It’s a literal translation in Cambodia to mean those who are mixed race. I’m a mixed race – my mother’s Chinese, my father’s Cambodian – we’re literally called “half-half child”, or “cut-up child.” I would love for just everybody to be whole. Just to be whole and to enjoy it, and to have joy in being whole. Wholeness comes about when you’re more centered in your inner being, even when you live in this fast moving world, and yet you can sit with your wholeness.
MS: Is there anything else you would want people to know about or do?
I see you have a section at your website called The Power to Change the World – what do you hope to accomplish in that section at your site?
LU: I wanted to provide visitors to my site with an easy way to connect to the people and programs I’ve met around the world who are doing good work. You’ve mentioned that sometimes people don’t know what to do or where to go; the programs listed on my sites are programs I’ve visited in my thirty plus trips back to Cambodia. I’ve met wonderful people who work in all these wonderful programs that are changing the world. And I’m proud of to support and endorse them. Hopefully the people who visit my website trust me enough to support them as well. I see myself as a bridge – be the bridge from here to there.
What else? I wanted to encourage all your readers to come to Omega. It really is a wonderful, life changing experience. I’ve been there as a participant and as an attendee. Last year I was there as an attendee and I had a wonderful, wonderful time just sitting back, eating wonderful food, and connecting to the feminine spirit, energy, support, love, generosity and kindness. You leave there feeling more charged, more exhilarated, more hopeful and more ready to change the world.
MS: What are you working on now?
LU: I’m writing a book about my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother—it’s a story about our family’s migration from China to Cambodia to America. And it’s been fascinating. My grandmother left China, and her mother—because my great grandmother couldn’t walk. Her feet were bound. She couldn’t leave because she couldn’t walk. How powerful are we that we are to walk away from so many things, toward many things. The power of having our own two feet to take us to places. In my talk, I will focus on the everyday things that we can do to empower ourselves, like having the courage to move your feet in the directions you want your life to go. When you have an inkling; summon your courage, let your heart beat wildly, let it go and see where it takes you. Then take that first step.
For more information on Loung Ung, visit her web site at www.loungung.com.
Note: Portions of this interview appeared in the article Isabel Allende, Loung Ung and the Power of Memoir which appeared at the Women's Media Center site.
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Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer. She is also the founder and Executive Director of Feminist.com and cofounder of EcoMall.com, a website promoting environmentally-friendly living. Marianne has worked for many media outlets and publications. Her interviews with well-known individuals appear at Feminist.com as well as in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, The Huffington Post, the Women's Media Center, and many others.
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