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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.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.