BY ELIZABETH ORTIZ
For the past 40 years, Cambodian emigrants have been coming to America and specifically to southern California and Long Beach. They have endured a difficult and long journey from their homeland’s “Killing Fields.” Their fanatical and tyrant communist leader, Pol Pot’s genocidal campaign took place between 1975 to 1978. Those who survived came to start fresh from the scarred past to find new opportunities here in the land of the free and protected.
Although Cambodians have seen the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they seem to move past surviving the unwanted-civilian campaign, the one that slaughtered and buried roughly two million of their people immediately after the Cambodian civil war by the Khmer Rouge Regime.
This strong culture is determined to grow roots. The city of Long Beach has been an ally by funding programs like the United Cambodian Community (UCC) that offers free tuition for an entire year at Cal State Long Beach for all Cambodians. Support has also come from organizations like Khmer Girls who help with free resources to Cambodian’s youth about the Killing Fields and traces of PTSD left on their parents minds. Khmer Girls promote working hard, the importance of earning degrees and having dreams of owning small businesses in Cambodia Town.
There seems to be a trend these days about celebrating diversity so I guess we can thank President Ford for the opportunity to have a chance to get to know such a rich culture. He was actually the first president to go overseas to further foreign relations until all hell broke lose.
In the heart of Long Beach, which is now considered the Cambodian capital of the United States, there is a stretch along Anaheim Street between Junipero Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard that has been put on the map as “Cambodian Town.” If you are curious enough to look it up, you will see that the community even has its own council representing 4 percent of the Long Beach population.
During the Cambodian New Year festival, President and Reverend Sopheak Kheng of the Cambodian Coordinating Council said his highest hope is to bring everyone together to make a stronger community through loving each other. The constant battle is to convince the older generation that growth and success in Cambodian territory is possible. His American wife Amy Kheng said an entire family of one household pulls their resources together by working 16 hours a day making it harder to connect at times.
“Families have been breaking down because of Americanizing and there is still left over baggage while trying to jump into a new culture,” she said.
Kheng also believes Cambodians are the worst at acclimating into American life: they did not know how to use the bathrooms, go up elevators, or turn on light switches.
“Cambodians can’t just stop what they’re used to, they’re always going to pick their noses, but they do not see it as disgusting,” she said.
Other optimist like Kim Sour Ngann who is one of the original founders of Cambodia Town remembers escaping in the nick of time when he was 27-years-old as a pilot; unfortunately his family did not make it. He ran across the Thailand border right before the Killing Fields occurred in 1975. He said Cambodia town’s biggest challenge stems from the lack of trust of one another. He feels Cambodians are afraid of stealing from each other and this paralyzes the growth of the community. Ngann also understands that most of the militia recruited into the massive killings during that time were uneducated peasants trying to save their families as they were lied to.
“No matter what, I continued to act like who I was before I came over, no matter what... I did not complain if people didn’t want to progress [into this new community] because I have always wanted to make a difference for the next generation,” Ngann said.
Going through these genocides was described as constantly walking over dead bodies and seeing entire families being killed. The younger generation like Khmer Girl leader Amy Horn explains that she has heard terrible things by her mother including bodies being stuffed into holes with limbs hanging out. Because of stories told to their children like these, Horn believes PTSD has been a symptom commonly passed down.
That might not be the best way to promote Cambodia Town but to experience that sort of devastation, explains that this culture had to endure an extremely difficult situation. For the most part the shop owners and dignitaries seem to be kind hearted and hard working. Besides... the value of exploring this new emerging section of Long Beach keeps its richness alive. The whole point is to promote Cambodian business with an understanding of a cultural background. Like where to market, where to eat and where to receive a special temple, or church blessing with some compassion.
A taste of Cambodia: spicy medium hot
2150 E. Anaheim Street
Long Beach CA, 90804
If you want to dive a little deeper past the Ti tea and boaba for a slightly similar taste of the Far East, try Monorom where your palette will be delighted with rich flavors of lemongrass, coconut and spicy veggies layered with more veggies like carrots, potatoes, and things you have not heard of before.
One noodle soup that you are sure to come back for is something like Pho, but with papaya, coconut and a banana flower. Touch Van who makes Nom Ban Chok (Khmer Noodle) said it was Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown’s favorite. Even though it is described as breakfast on the menu, she makes it with a sweet and spicy touch doable for lunch.
A Market for specialized Cambodian food
1842 Anaheim St
Long Beach CA, 90813
Need a quick vegetarian, vegan, or meaty bite for lunch? Come try array of Cambodian soups, with candied coconut strips afterward for your sweet tooth, or maybe even get dinner to cook for your loved ones on the way home. This market is the perfect spot for that, a quick in and out for when you want to try something different and have some fun with. There is also a butcher with a large selection of meats in the far left side of the store that can prepare something special for you. Be weary of the parking however, It is a little tight.
Where to find blessings in Cambodia town
Cambodian Buddhist Temple of Long Beach
2625 E. 3rd Street
Long Beach CA 90814
Many believe in the red-string-blessing thing. It is suppose to be good luck, a symbol of life and worn as a reminder to show compassion to others. Buddhist, Hindus, Jews and Christians have been seen wearing red-string-blessing things. It is generally placed on the left wrist. Genesis 38 mentions to wear it to “worn off misfortunes.” You can get one at the temple.