Where Y'all Really From

The children of first-generation immigrants often have a complicated relationship with language. Some immigrant parents refuse to speak their native language around the kids, because they want them to focus on learning English. Some kids end up being de facto translators who bridge the language gap between the family and the outside world. And fluency, or the lack thereof, becomes part of the whole package of identity, and longing for a deeper connection with the family’s roots.

For this week’s guest, Joann Lianekhammy, language acquisition has been part of her life from literally the first moment. Because Joann was born in an ESL class. That’s not hyperbole.

Her parents were refugees from Laos, and refugees were required to take an ESL class at Western Kentucky University, which was taught in a building called the Rock House.

“One day, they’re in class, and my mom starts going into labor, right then and there,” she says. Her dad asked someone to call an ambulance. But baby Joann was a little too ready:

My mom’s like, ‘No, this baby’s coming,’ and she pulls down her pants. My dad’s like, ‘what are you doing?’ Because, you know, Asian culture, modesty is everything. You do not show, like, anything. He pulls her pants back up. And she was like, ‘Are you crazy? I said, this is coming, the baby’s coming now.’ So he ended up having to deliver me right there in the Rock House, in the middle of class.

And while Joann Lianekhammy first met her parents in a language class, it took them a while to really, truly communicate about some important things. In this episode, Joanne tells host Dan Wu a story she never expected to have: her coming out story.

Listen to the episode:


Learn more about the show and subscribe for free at whereyallreallyfrom.org.


“Where Y’all Really From” is part of the Louisville Public Media Podcast Incubator. We get support from the Community Foundation of Louisville, Podchaser, Rankings.io and the Eye Care Institute’s Butchertown Clinical Trials.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects.