SEAA Community Gathers for Virtual Khmer Genocide Remembrance

Reflections on the 45th anniversary

April 17, 2020 marked the 45th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to the Khmer Rouge regime. By 1979, nearly a quarter of the country’s population -approximately 2 million people – perished under genocide, almost destroying their way of life and culture. Along with over 1.2 million Southeast Asians in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Cambodians made America home as part of the largest refugee resettlement in US history.
These past four decades of resettlement have not been easy for the community, and with the current pandemic exacerbating existing disparate conditions, many are left more vulnerable and hurting during this time. Yet, in resilient spirit, the Cambodian community continues to adapt to challenges. During this strained time of social distancing, the Cambodian community has come up with creative ways to still come together and honor their history.
On Friday, partners across the country took part in a three-day national Virtual Khmer New Year celebration, hosted by Prenz Sa-Ngoun of Seattle and Hunny Hach of Long Beach, with activities that included Buddhist blessings, meditation, poetry, and performances. Participating organizations included Qhmer, TnouT, The Cambodian Family, KhAAG, National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, Khmer Census collaborative, Red Scarf Revolution, and Wat Khemarak Pothiram.
“Our people have been here for 40 years, and historically Khmer communities have been severely underserved because we’re not visible,” said Mea Lath, census outreach specialist from The Cambodian Family during Day 3 of Virtual Khmer New Year. “Every community tells a story, and the story depends on you by filling out the census. [For] our communities, we need to have visibility so we can get our funding and resources that we need.”
During a virtual Genocide Memorial Day event hosted by United Cambodian Community of Long Beach, a community elder who would like to be referred as “Ohm” shared her experience as a survivor. “In my family, my father, my husband, and two younger brothers died. To the younger generation, please keep learning, keep studying, so Cambodia 1975 can never be repeated again” Ohm said.
In addition to the virtual celebration and vigils that are taking place across the nation, the Khmer community is also taking part in mutual aid fundraisers to support Hmong farmers, calls to action for the younger Khmer generation to connect with aging elders, actions to release detained community members, getting the community counted in the 2020 Census, and the passage of a 45th Memorial of the Cambodian Genocide Day Proclamation, issued by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and a House Resolution (HR 93) introduced by Rep. Patrick O’Donnell that recognized April 13 to April 17, 2020, as Cambodian Genocide Memorial Week in California.
“It is a remarkable honor to bear witness to the resiliency and self-determination of Cambodian survivors of genocide, and to be in community and support one another in strengthening our collective voices as Southeast Asian Americans,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “We honor the lives that were lost and celebrate the resilient spirit and rich stories of the Cambodian American community during this time. Happy Khmer New Year month! សួស្ដីឆ្នាំថ្មី (Suesdey Chnam Thmey)”