For Studio 360, from Oakland.
In the cliché version of the immigrant story, the hardworking parents want their first-generation kids to become doctors, engineers, lawyers — to have a more comfortable life and social prestige. Chhan Huy fled Cambodia during its horrific civil war in the 1970s, and settled with his family in California. He was an engineer himself, and a passionate rock musician, so his dream for his daughter Bochan was different: he wanted her to become a pop star.
Chhan had her singing for guests at the age of nine. By her teens she was playing with her father’s band, hitting banquet halls and noodle shops up and down California, singing American pop and Cambodian songs from the 1960s for fellow refugees — and writing her own lyrics in private. “He loved her,” Bochan’s mother Sien Huy, remembers. “But he wanted her to be a very good singer. That’s why he pushed: ‘You have to practice, you have to scream!'”
“What you’re doing,” Bochan remembers thinking, “is you’re taking the thing that I love the most, and you’re making me not like it anymore. And that was the biggest problem.”
Finally Bochan walked away from her father’s band before their biggest gig, and then quit music altogether. It took a long time before she could find her way back, as a neo soul artist performing her own material. But Bochan is still trying to live her father’s dream of making it to the big time.