Cambodian native serves America while remembering Asian heritage
May 29, 2009
- The 2009-Year of the Noncommissioned Officer
- Asian-Pacific Heritage Month
Despite only spending six months of her life in Cambodia and Thailand combined, time spent as a newborn, Staff Sgt. Chendi Goodman speaks both countries' languages, Khmer and Thai, fluently and is well versed in the culture.
For Goodman's family, preserving their Asian Pacific heritage is a vital link to their past - to the country they did not want to leave, but had to for their own safety.
Goodman, who was born in 1979 in Battambang, Cambodia, said her parents fled the country to a missionary- run refugee in camp in Thailand not long after she was born.
The Khmer Rouge regime, which controlled Cambodia, was at war at the time with the Vietnamese, which caused mass displacement and genocide in the country.
Through one of the sponsors of the refugee camp, an Iowa-based Protestant church, Goodman's family was brought to America. While the move brought them to a safer place, the influx of refugees also caused families to be split. While Goodman and her parents were taken to Iowa, her grandmother ended up in Quebec, Canada. Other family members and cousins ended up in Long Beach, Calif.
Goodman, the administrative NCO for Gen. Charles C. Campbell, U.S. Army Forces Command, said she, her parents and her younger brother Mony Sar, moved to Long Beach themselves when she was 5, reuniting with many of their cousins. Although the move dropped her into an area celebrating her Asian heritage, it was not a strange site for her.
"My parents worked hard to instill Asian values in us (my brother and I)," Goodman said. Unlike typical children who attended summer camps between school years, Goodwin said she went to Buddist Temples to learn more about her heritage. She also visited her grandmother, who would teach her the Thai language. Additionally, her parents took time at home to teach the Khmer language to their children.
"My parents didn't want us to forget where we came from," said Sar. "They didn't want us to speak just English."
Her parents stressed the importance of the culture to her and her brother, Goodman said, but she is not the type of person who stays in a comfort zone. Although given a firm foundation in the past, Goodman, said she wanted more, an opportunity to blaze her own trail into the future.
"I was that ninja warrior," she describes herself. "I always wanted to travel and have adventure."
She found her opportunity for adventure in the military, something she was introduced to by her younger brother, who had already enlisted in the Marines.
"It is the perfect thing for her, being in the military," said Sar, who is a gunnery sergeant (the equivalent of a sergeant first class in the Army) in the Marines. "I'm really proud of my sister."
He explained that his sister was always the type of person who looked for challenges and self-improvement, something Goodman said she found plenty of in the military.
"Most people think Asian women are weak and subservient. I wanted to break that Asian stereotype," she said.
Her own contribution to that stereotype, her timidness, was broken during basic training.
"I met this female drill sergeant and she was so strong. It was like she was immortal. I wanted to be like that," said Goodman, who enlisted in 1999. "The Army made me stronger."
It also gave her a daughter, Amara, 7, and four years ago, a husband, when she married fellow Soldier Sgt. 1st Class Raus Goodman, a food service inspector with FORSCOMAca,!E+G4. The two met while stationed in Korea.
The old adage that people sometimes don't know what they are getting into really applied to Raus, who said prior to meeting his wife, his only experiences with the Asian culture was with limited interaction with the Korean people. Now, just like Goodman's parents exposed her to the culture, he has received his own education into the culture, courtesy of his wife.
"They are a people so friendly, so close and proud of their family and where came from," Raus said.
"We attend the Chinese New Year celebration in Atlanta every year," he added. "She (Goodman) really keeps abreast of where she comes from."
Other areas that helped educate Raus on the culture were visits to various area Buddhist temples which he describes as very visual and providing a good glimpse into the culture.
Likewise, Raus says he has found out a lot about the dAfAcor and furniture of the Asian culture through his wife's boss, Campbell (who Raus also worked for previously, as his enlisted aide) whose house is filled with Asian furnishings and color schemes.
The education into the culture wasn't just limited to her husband. Goodman also makes it a point to teach her daughter, as well. Raus said Amara is already speaking a little Khmer and is enrolled in Cambodian ballet classes.
"I teach her everything," Goodman said.
In the midst of all her teachings, Goodman still finds time to educate herself. She is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Her pursuits also include advancing her own military career. Like her brother, who is currently attending officer candidate school and is set to be commissioned in July, Goodman said she also hopes to submit an OCS package and become an officer.
"I'm a firm believer in self-progression," she said.
Goodman is also a firm believer in giving back to the country that has given her so much. Being well versed in her parents' culture hasn't kept her from wanting to dive into the American culture.
"I want to be part of this great nation," said Goodman, who did so by becoming a citizen in 1999. "I feel the need to give back to this country for what it did for me and my family."
In addition to her military service, volunteering within her local community also allows her to give back, Goodman said. She said she volunteers a lot of her time to her daughter's school, Evelyn C. West Elementary in Fulton County.
"I feel I can contribute. I'm not here just to live off the land. I want to be part of it," Goodman said, echoing thoughts stressed at the Fort McPherson Asian-Pacific Heritage Month celebration May 20 by guest speaker Sunny Park, vice president of the Georgia Ports Authority.
"I want to give back. That's how I feel," Goodman said. "To be here and live the American dream is amazing."