Cambodian Town in California Celebrates Khmer New Year

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by JAICHUNG LEE
Long Beach Cambodian New Year Celebration in 2016. [Image: Cambodian New Year Parade & Park Celebrations Facebook]

On April 17, the Long Beach community – one of the largest Cambodian communities abroad – honored Killing Fields Memorial Day, a day for the recognition of the genocide that began with the Khmer Rouge regime on April 17, 1975. Over the course of four years, an estimated 1.7 million to 2 million Cambodians were killed by execution, starvation, and disease. Killing Fields Memorial Center — a nonprofit organization that has organized annual commemorations since 2005— held the event to remember the genocide and the construction of Killing Fields Memorial Garden.

During and after the Khmer Rouge regime, about 140,000 Cambodian refugees fled their homeland and relocated to the United States. Findings have shown that 62% of Cambodian-Americans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is 15 times the normal rate. As the state with the largest Cambodian-American population in the United States with 120,000, California has made an effort to reconstruct and unify the Cambodian-American society. In 2015, California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced a resolution that recognizes April 17 to 23 as Cambodian Genocide Memorial Week. On March 21, the Long Beach City Council approved a grant of $150,000 to support the construction of the Killing Field Memorial Garden.

For Cambodian-Americans, April is the month of new beginnings. Khmer New Year — a three-day Cambodian holiday beginning on New Year’s Day — usually falls in mid-April. This year, the holiday lasted from April 14 to April 16. To celebrate the Year of the Rooster, the Cambodian community in Long Beach held its annual festival on April 22.

Cambodian New Year Celebration 2017, hosted by the Cambodian Coordinating Council in Long Beach, brought a wide range of Khmer culture both traditional and contemporary. The celebration featured traditional Khmer ceremonies, Cambodian New Year games, and face painting. While preserving music from the past, famous Khmer singers and bands also showcased modern Cambodian pieces. Khmer New Year festivals were also held in other cities including Lowell, Miami and Silver Spring, Maryland.

Jaichung Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.