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As a little girl, I remember listening to the stories my mother would tell about how our family survived the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I would illustrate each story in my mind as if I were there experiencing it firsthand alongside her. Some stories were light and funny and others were dark and heavy. I didn’t know then, but as I grew up and began developing my own identity as a woman, I realized how much of my mother’s experiences affected me. Our mother-daughter relationship has influenced the choices I’ve made thus far. The strengths and weaknesses in my heart come from my family’s history–the backbone of my life.

Backbone is a project that was inspired by a myriad of conversations I’ve had with a couple of my life-long friends. In particular, Alice Nguyễn and Lailan Huen, whom I’ve known since we were teenagers. We were budding young women who were just beginning to form who we wanted to be in the world and find our voices. In addition to the anecdotes we’d share about our lives, our conversations often included stories about our family’s history. Although there are stark contrasts in our mothers’ experiences, we found some beautiful commonalities that connected us. Through tears and laughter and late night talks, we found value in our stories and in ourselves. That authentic connection reinforced our friendship and strengthened our bond. The impact our mothers have made in transforming our identities has continued to shape us today as we try to make our voices heard in a society that often silences us. 

From 1st generation to 6th generation Asian American women, Backbone was inspired by a vision that calls on recognizing the complexities in the relationship between mothers and daughters. The generational push and pull that comes with language barriers and misunderstandings are usually swallowed up by our pride. 

This zine shines light on the importance of speaking our truth by honoring our mothers to heal and move forward with love, forgiveness and compassion. With that vision, we sparked a collective of women who come from all walks of life. The uniquely written pieces, enchanting photographs and amazingly crafted artwork that are showcased in this zine, invite us to explore and to be curious about the diverse relationships we have with our care-takers, whether it be our mothers or grandmothers or sisters or friends.

Each piece will tug at your heart’s strings and make you smile and chuckle. It will also shine light on various themes that we may find ourselves experiencing in our daily lives. From love and loss to struggles and sacrifices, the stories will envelop you and release you with gratitude, appreciation and transformation within ourselves. Backbone hopes to inspire you to share your story with us in our next edition or on our website and to build community amongst each other by celebrating our similarities and embracing our differences. 

Pary Chuong

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This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit for more info.

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