Satica, who is Cambodian American, was born to immigrant parents who escaped the deadly Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.
“My parents met in a refugee camp. Both my mom and dad traveled on foot to Thailand during the Khmer Rouge.”
Satica’s father had lost his wife and one of his four children while fleeing Cambodia, which was also being bombed by the U.S. over the Vietnam War, the artist said.
“Landmines were scattered throughout the rainforest. Because of lack of food while traveling and high stress, my father’s wife and one of his children passed away from starvation. He watched that happen right in front of his eyes. My elder siblings still mourn over this and it’s heartbreaking to think about how traumatic that must have been.”
Satica’s father was also shot several times while trying to get her siblings — including an infant — across the border.
“My papa survived bullet wounds in his stomach, shoulder and arm.”
On the other hand, Satica’s mother escaped with her abusive stepfather, mother and sister.
“I remember her telling me that in the water were eels and sharks, and on land there were snakes, mosquitoes, spiders, monkeys, tigers, soldiers and landmines. Not to mention being a female, you had men that were ruthless and were out to rape young women. My mother is a survivor of war, genocide and abuse in all forms.”
Satica’s parents eventually made it to a refugee camp, where they spent the next five years before coming to the US. Life was still difficult, however, as they suffered abuse from patrol men who discriminated against refugees for occupying the land.
“The camps were concentrated with people suffering from severe trauma and starvation. Behavior was extremely unpredictable,” Satica says.
Transitioning to American Life
While the short-lived reign of the Khmer Rouge had come to a halt decades ago, Satica is far from spared over its horrifying consequences.
“I personally am still affected by it every single day of my life. When my parents came here, they had nothing. To experience trauma on that level, and then have to reintegrate into a foreign society and culture, was extremely difficult. It was an absolutely horrific thing to happen and the fact that there are so many people that don’t even know about it is baffling.”
Growing up in America, Satica found it particularly difficult to identify as part of the “model minority” — especially when her family relied on government subsidy.
“My parents couldn’t work — we were on government assistance and living in government housing. We lived in a tiny apartment in a rough neighborhood my whole life. My parents are very intelligent and loving people, but the truth is, they were still trying to cope with the things they have seen and been through from the Khmer Rouge, which obviously affected the way they parented.”
The fact that she looked “different” from the “model minority” made it much harder to connect.
“I was dark skinned, I have curly hair, and big eyes.
“I feel like Asians get placed in a box and when most people think of Asians, they think of traits of specific Eastern Asian cultures, when in reality, Asian cultures vary vastly across the continent. It’s about representation for me.
“There are not very many outlets and artists that represent Southeast Asians and considering my parents survived the worst genocide since the Holocaust, of course I’m going to talk about it.”
According to Satica, both her parents suffer from PTSD and depression, while her mother is clinically-diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
“They spent years of their lives in survival mode constantly worrying about making it to the next day. They’ve watched people die in front of their eyes and seen people get blown up by landmines. My dad watched his wife and child die from starvation. You don’t mentally come out of those experiences the same way.”
Satica also spent “a large portion” of her life at the hospital with her mother — being “in and out of psych wards for months at a time” — who made constant attempts to end her own life.
“I’ve spent a large portion of my life with my mother in the hospital and in and out of psych wards for months at a time. I’ve witnessed constant attempts at suicide.
“As difficult as these things are, you realize that it’s something that you can’t control. I never blamed my parents for anything. If anything I’m just thankful I was loved and I had my siblings. I was hyper present with my family, picked up in areas that needed to be picked up in, and tried to not add to the stress. I just did my best to be there and show my love and affection.”
“The older you get, the more it just becomes a part of life and you accept it and deal with it,” Satica adds. “Now my parents are fine. They’re old and my mom still gets episodes of paranoia from time to time, but on a whole, she’s fine.”
“My best advice would be to not place blame on anyone, realize that sometimes unfortunate things happen to people that you love, and the only thing to do is just be a support system and show your gratitude.”
Healing Through Music
Since childhood, Satica knew that she wanted to be a musician. She began writing at age 11 or 12, just around the time her mother was diagnosed.
“The only way I felt like I could truly express myself was through music, poetry, and writing. It was my outlet. I didn’t tell anybody at school what I was going through because I was embarrassed, so I wrote about it.”
For Satica, however, music was never a luxury, but a necessity.
“I don’t make music because I’m good at it, I make music because i need to. It’s my only outlet that I genuinely heals my soul. The lyrics and sound flow out of me and I can’t control it sometimes.”
This is exactly the creative process behind her upcoming EP, “dear april, ily,” which also happens to be an old AOL screen name.
“I don’t think I ever had a body of work that was so personal and reflected my identity so much,” she says. “I approached the songwriting in the EP as poetry with melodies. The only song I had a co-writer involved was ‘Son of a Gun.’”
“As a writer, we capture moments in time. This is a chapter of my life that represents growth, autonomy, self-love and maturity. Expect that my moods/experiences change frequently so therefore my music and sound is and always will be versatile. That’s just me expressing my art genuinely.”
Satica, who has over nine million streams on Spotify, shared the story behind her lead track “Check$” on Instagram back in June.
“Summer of 2017, my mother was admitted into the hospital. That day I had two choices, I could stay home and cry all day or I could make music.
“That same day, I wrote ‘Check$. What you hear in the record is me legitimately singing with tears in my eyes.”
For everything that she and her family has been through — and how their stories can impact other people now — Satica believes that her music deserves to be heard.
“It should be heard because I have a voice and a story that I think could make a difference in someone’s life. I didn’t have the luxury of someone looking like me and going through similar experiences as me represented in the media. If I can be that for someone else, of course I’m going to try my best to be that person.”