BENJAMIN BARRETT WRITES — While United States immigration stories are frequent, it is rare that we are able to read about them in a fictional, entertaining, and emotionally evocative way. However, in his book Afterparties (2021), Anthony Veasna So does just that.
Before his book was even released, So’s life was unexpectedly cut short when he died of a drug overdose on December 8th, 2020. He was a 28-year-old queer, aspiring writer, whose style and emotions can easily be seen within his diverse array of characters. These individuals are full of curiosity, affection, anxiety, and depression – but they all deal with their situations in very different ways.
So’s book features a collection of short stories that share experiences of first-generation Cambodian immigrants. He notes that all stories and names used are fictional, however, he credits his parents for telling him about their lives and says that many of his stories are inspired by their experiences.
Afterparties does an incredible job connecting Cambodian heritage with American life. Many of the stories take place in traditionally “American” places such as donut shops, car shops, grocery stores and more. However, the experiences of the characters themselves are truly unique to that of Cambodian Americans.
For example, in the first story, a mom and her two daughters become suspicious of a man who keeps returning to their donut shop. They believe the man is from Cambodia and is looking to collect money from them which was borrowed by the mom’s ex-husband in the distant past.
Another story shows the depressing life of a high school badminton coach through the eyes of his players. They look up to him like no one else until one day a new student joins the team. The new student, Justin, is a terrific badminton player and the kids revere and adore him. The coach becomes increasingly jealous of Justin until they end up dueling in a combative game of badminton. The coach wins and is overcome with joy, but the players lose respect for him as his dark side clearly bested him, revealing his buried insecurities surrounding his sportsmanship.
The stories reference the old and new generations and their struggle fitting in with each other and other Cambodian Americans. The old generation lived through the Cambodian Genocide. So’s writing often makes references to the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime and its despotic leader, Pol Pot. The younger people within the stories do not fully understand the severity of the Khmer Rouge Regime. They have a hard time grasping the scope of the violence, partially because the elders often joke about it which simply confuses them.
While So unfortunately left this world prematurely, he lives on through his powerful stories. His writing style, character development, and creative plots all reflect a young, queer Cambodian American searching for his place in an ever-changing world.
Benjamin Barrett is a senior Journalism major at Loyola Marymount University. He is interested in eventually reporting for a radio station and starting his own podcast.