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The unexpected ways cultural differences shaped a couple's relationship


It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And today we have a story from New York City. In the 1990s, Chhaya Chhoum was living in the Bronx in New York. She was the daughter of Cambodian parents. And she met a young man from nearby Manhattan. He was Eddie Rivera, who was Puerto Rican. They came to StoryCorps to talk about how their love story began in high school.

EDDIE RIVERA: We had class together. There was just something about you that made you stand out. And you gave me your number with your big cheesy smile.

CHHAYA CHHOUM: And you didn't call - what? - for, like, months.


CHHOUM: You know, you never really came to class. I think when we started talking on the phone, we talked every day.

RIVERA: Mmm hmm.

CHHOUM: And you was on the payphone.

RIVERA: I would have at least 2, $3 worth of nickels.

CHHOUM: Oh, my God.

RIVERA: (Laughter) My phone that I had at home was a rotary, had a lock on it, so I couldn't use it.

CHHOUM: Do you remember our first, quote-unquote, "date"? Well, I waited for you.

RIVERA: Oh, my God.

CHHOUM: You told me to meet you on 116th Street. You didn't show up until an hour later. Do you remember that?

RIVERA: Yes. But you waited.

CHHOUM: I waited. When was the first time you met my parents?

RIVERA: At first I was introduced as just a friend. You know, I helped out around the store and stuff like that.

CHHOUM: And then you got to go upstairs to the house.

RIVERA: Yeah, but by then, you know, your parents were so used to knowing me...


RIVERA: ...I don't think there was any issues. Fast forwarding that, years later, we have our first daughter - both nervous, but knew that we were going to be good parents. And I remember being invited over to your house.

CHHOUM: I said, Eddie, my grandmother really wants to do a blessing for the baby. And that day - I didn't understand why - all my aunts and uncles, all ten, twenty of them...

RIVERA: My mom...

CHHOUM: Your mom, your uncles showed up.

RIVERA: ...My uncles from a completely different state. I mean, you know...

CHHOUM: The baby, right?

RIVERA: ...I took it for what it was. I - you know, it was a blessing. I thought I was paying my blessings by being there and doing, you know, something that meant a lot for your family. And years later, I'm talking to your sister, and she blows the whistle and says, no, it was the day you got married. So then I then called my mom, and I confirmed with her, like, did you know about this? And she goes, yeah, I thought you knew. But as for getting married, I feel like I'm happy.

CHHOUM: We've lived it.

RIVERA: Yeah, exactly. We live it. And you're an incredible person because even though we've been together for 15 years, I always learn something new. And you're my complete package - everything that I'm not. I love you, babe.

CHHOUM: Love you, too. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Chhaya Chhoum and Eddie Rivera remembering their impromptu family wedding. Their StoryCorps conversation is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Annie Russell