If you are Lao, living with a bunch of people is the norm not the exception. Most Lao people can agree that helping others whether they are your relatives or friends is part of our culture. Maybe that is because some of us who grew up in Laos, or were brought up the traditional Lao way, we know that if someone needs help we take them in even though we ourselves may be struggling. My parents were no exception. They helped our relatives even though they were not financially set.
In the late 1980s, we moved into a three bedroom, two bath home and a garage. It was about 1800 square foot, but it had a huge back yard. The best part about the house was the honeysuckle bush in the backyard. I would love the distintive fragrance and would often meander outside and sit on the little step to relax in the summer. When we first moved into the house, it was just my sister, little brother, older brother, and my parents. I don’t remember how long we lived in that house before my relatives started moving in with us, but I know it was fast. It happened so quickly that I don’t remember actually having a bedroom. Pretty soon, three other families moved in with us. My dad’s sister and husband and their three kids. My cousin and their three kids. Then my other cousin and his wife. Pretty soon our house tiny three bedroom house was cramped and overflowing with people. At first it was chaotic trying to find a place for everyone. Our garage was turned into a bedroom for all the kids. My parents retained their bedroom, my dad’s siter and her husband got one bedroom and my cousin got the other one. As for my other cousin and his wife, the living room became their bedroom at night.
Some people may wonder why did my parents take in so many people. They did it because our relatives just got to America as refugees and they needed a place to live until they could get on their feet, find a job, and save up for a place of their own. Somehow we managed to make it work. I don’t remember any drama. All I remember is that meal times were chaotic. My female cousins and mom cooked for everyone. The kids would spread out the newspaper in the living room and helped carried out the food. Every meal time was like a big party because there were so many of us. We went through a big bag of rice a week.
I have to say, that living with those many people was fun and interesting. Since I was young, I didn’t really need my privacy. Besides, my cousins and I had fun sleeping in the garage and hanging out. We were never lonely. Since there were so many of us kids, playing hide and go seek was an adventure.
Living Lao style, with extended family is not such a bad idea. We were poor, but everyone pitched in. We depended on each other. When everyone started moving out, it felt weird to be in a quiet house. We finally had a sense of privacy, but I was not as happy. I think this experience has made me into the people person I am today. I love being around people. I am the happiest when I have friends and family over. When they leave and the house quietens down, I find myself planning another event where they can come back again.