When Keith Johnson of Cleveland Heights checked in to the Golden Temple Villa Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2007, he had no idea that his life was about to change, nor did the manager of the boutique hotel, Danay Sopheakkdey. Two years later, Danay and Keith got married in a traditional Cambodian ceremony, and she moved to Cleveland Heights.
“When you come here, you start from the beginning, like a baby,” said Danay Johnson. “You don’t know about the simple things.” It took two years for her to improve her English and begin to feel comfortable living in America.
Johnson was born in a village in Kampong Cham province, Cambodia. When she was six years old her parents divorced and her father left the family of five to fend for themselves. Both of her parents’ families suffered losses during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Her father served in the military and her mother suffered from depression and PTSD from the war years. Initially, her two older siblings supported the family, but at the age of 16 she had to stop her education and find work to support her mother and two younger siblings. She often worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day, to earn enough money.