Nguyen's coping mechanism was food. She thought that she could become American by "eating what real people eat … hamburgers and casseroles and brownies. And I wanted to be a real person, or at least make others believe I was one."
This reminded me so much of our former Cambodian neighbor. I used to smell her delicious meals. Once I complimented her and she brought over plates for us the next day. A stirfry studded with tiny octopi, no bigger than the palm of my hand. All the legs and suckers. It was hard for me - the world's former pickiest child ever - to eat, I'll admit.
She later came to us after her husband left her for another woman, but not before turning off all services to the house, taking all their stuff, and saddling her with thousands of credit card debt she knew nothing about. He had another woman pose as her to sign divorce papers - so Sonika was already divorced, but didn't know it. He came back only long enough to threaten her. She was in a shelter for a while. I tried to talk to them when she called me and cried, saying there was nothing to eat. The shelter worker said in a sullen drawl, "We've got plenty of food. There's bread and canned peaches and…" reeling off of a list of things Sonika had never eaten.
Later Sonika told me in all seriousness, "I going to be strong. I eat American now. I eat McDonalds."