Mareine Uy owns and runs the local diner The Country Kitchen. She’s lived in Joshua Tree for twenty-five years. Before that, she lived in Long Beach, and before that, in her native Cambodia.
“I came to the United States in ’75. I worked with the American Embassy in my country, Cambodia, and when the country started shaking, the US government took all the employees out. Not just employees, their families too. At that time I was single, I didn’t have my own family, but if I had children and a husband, they would have taken them all too. I was single, and my mom and dad let me come. They were left behind; they didn’t let my mom and dad’s family come. They went through the ordeal—you know what happened in my country? The Khmer Rouge… They went through all those things, and I came alone. For five years I didn’t hear anything from them, but later on I heard they were still alive, they escaped, and later on they joined me here. I sponsored them.
“I raised two kids here, one boy, one girl. They’re grown up already. When I came from Long Beach, they were young, seven and five.
“It’s a small town. I like the schools here, I like the system here. You don’t get lost. You’re close. We know our neighbors. I don’t know everybody, but we’re friendly. I like it. It’s not like when I lived in Long Beach, I just knew my left neighbor, front neighbor, and that’s it. Everybody there is busy with their own life, there’s not much connection.
“Three years ago, I had a little stroke, and it affected my eyesight. I can see you, but I don’t see you clearly, I don’t know what color your eye is, but I still can see you. I’m pretty good, I’m very lucky. When I first got out of the hospital, my family wanted me to stay home, but I said no. I came here the next day. I said, I can handle it, don’t worry. Because I know my routine. If you stay home and do nothing, you just go downhill. You have to keep going. Keep going, keep going, no matter what.”
Someplace: If you could give people one piece of advice, what would it be?
“I told my kids, I came far away from home. When I came here, I was empty-handed, too—almost like I was homeless. The government brought me here, and I wasn’t homeless, but I had no home; I came with my suitcase only. Since then I went to school, I work, I came here, and I want to give back to the community. To share. We can live a certain amount, can make a living, but whatever is left, we have to share back to people, unfortunate people. That’s what I tell my kids: whatever you do, if you have success in your life, don’t forget unfortunate people. We don’t know their situations. We don’t know. Whatever it is, don’t judge them, just help them, that’s all. And be kind to each other. Then you will be happy. If you grow gratitude, peace and happiness will come to you."