Lam Sing Refugee Camp: February 1980 

At the camp, Meng must fill out many papers before he, Eang, and Luong are provided with supplies. They pool their funds with another person to buy a hut from a refugee who is departing for America. Their life in the camp involves standing in various lines for supplies and waiting. One day, Luong sees Meng standing, dripping wet, with a group of people. He explains that he has become a Christian because this will help them attract sponsors more quickly. The camp brings many people together, some who embrace most western styles, like a Vietnamese woman who wears a bikini, and others who judge these practices negatively. Luong’s anger rises when she thinks about how often women are the focus of judgment.  

Their funds depleted, the three struggle to find enough to eat. As they wonder how they will continue to support themselves, they learn that they will leave for the United States in a week. They attend a movie to orient themselves to America, although Luong wonders if their destination, Vermont, will be like California. Eang hurries to make Luong a new dress, which in some ways replaces the red dress her mother had made her years before. But, sadly, both Ma and the dress are gone forever. The night before they leave, Luong dreams of Pa and his comforting words give her hope and strength as she sets off to her new life. 


The epilogue begins with Luong’s return to a Cambodia she spent years trying to forget. She threw herself into American life and, even though Chou always asked after her, she never wrote to her sister. The three siblings who remained in Cambodia continued to live in Bat Deng after Meng and Luong left. Khouy became the village’s police chief and Chou married a village man and had five children. Kim, however, wanted to join Meng and Luong in America, going first to a Thai refugee camp and then to France. Meng and Eang work long hours to support their families in the United States and abroad, but they have never been able to save enough to reunite everyone. This is a source of deep sadness. 

Luong attends college in the United States and works first in a domestic violence shelter and then for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World. This organization urges her to return and, although she is initially afraid, the trip fills her with excitement. As she deplanes, Luong immediately recognizes her family, although they are a little unsettled by her dark, simple clothes, which recall the outfits the Khmer Rouge forced everyone to wear. Chou breaks the discomfort when she bursts into tears. The sisters join hands, time and difference erased instantly. 


Luong lives in several different camps during the years depicted in First They Killed My Father, but her life in all of them is characterized by uncertainty. In the Khmer Rouge camps, food was Luong’s primary concern, but in the refugee camp, money and sponsorship are the driving forces. While the refugee camp is not a brutal place, the Ungs still find themselves short on supplies and unsure of how they will continue to support themselves as they wait for a sponsor. The importance of money signals that political and economic norms are once again dominant forces in the Ungs’ world, although there was no way for them to prepare for it. Previously, the dominant controlling force in their lives had been the policies and brutality of the Angkar. One of the most frightening aspects of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality is its seemingly random violence. Even though the Ungs are able to save some money, the capitalist economy and the refugee sponsorship system also feel arbitrary and beyond their control.  

There are also other forms of cruelty in the refugee camp, especially for women. Luong senses unfairness when people make rude comments about a young woman who wears a red swimsuit. These remarks relate to the memoir’s portrayal of norms of female behavior, and they recall the discussion in the opening chapter about Luong’s unruliness. Luong, uncomfortable with the standards of femininity, feels her anger rising at the ways women are judged. For example, when a man attacks a sleeping girl in the middle of the night, people gossip about the girl’s flirtatiousness and clothing instead of criticizing the man’s violent behavior. Each of these instances draws attention to the kinds of cruelty that are often deemed socially acceptable. Ung recognizes that women are especially vulnerable to them, and her job at a domestic violence shelter shows that these unjust experiences had a far-reaching impact on her. 

“Lam Sing Refugee Camp” also returns to a recurrent symbol across the memoir, Luong’s red dress her mother made her. When Eang decides to make a dress for her to wear to the United States, a red design on the fabric she uses recalls the dress the Khmer Rouge burned. Neither Eang nor the dress supplants the past, but Luong experiences the efforts as restorative. The dress helps Luong to find a way to continue in the face of her yearning for Ma. She also finds resolution as it relates to her father. In a dream he gives her advice that indicates that she can leave Cambodia without abandoning him. This eases her disappointment about theft of Pa’s Buddha. As Luong boards a plane to her new life, she travels with the feeling that she has the support of both her parents. 

The final chapters bring Luong’s difficult journey to a successful end in Vermont, but her life is not without continued loss. Meng and Eang work long hours but cannot earn enough money to help support the family in Cambodia and bring them to the United States. In the end, the family remains fractured. As Luong embraces American culture, she once again finds herself unable to endure sadness. In an echo of her rapid departure from Ro Leap after her final visit with Ma and Geak, Luong does not write to Chou, no matter how often her sister asks after her. When she eventually returns to Cambodia, she and Chou quickly embrace, years of discomfort washed away with Chou’s tears. Even as the memoir ends, the sisters’ different modes of survival—Chou’s gentleness and Luong’s strength—bring them together.