On Tuesday, September 8, 2021, the Long Beach City Council voted to start the planning process to develop the Cambodian American Cultural Center, provided the City of Long Beach can find the funding for it. Councilwoman Suely Saro, the first Cambodian American to be elected to serve on the Long Beach City Council, proposed the vision for a center that would display the history, art, and culture of the Long Beach Cambodian population.
In an interview with East-West Center in Washington Young Professional Vannary Kong, Councilwoman Suely Saro stated, “I am proud to be the first Cambodian American Long Beach City Councilmember to introduce Cambodian American Culture Center to carry forward our elders’ legacy, Khmer culture arts, and history.”
Long Beach, California has the largest community of Cambodian Americans in the United States. Cambodian American residents make up about 4% of Long Beach’s population. Long Beach, California has served as one the largest populations of Cambodians since the 1970s, after the influx of refugees from the Khmer Rouge War. The number of Cambodian Americans living in Long Beach California has fluctuated in numbers. Several members of the Cambodian community advocated for the culture center, stating it would be a great initiative to preserve the Cambodian culture and history.
A part of Councilwoman Saro’s request mentioned involving an outside consultant that would bring in more public engagement for the planning process of the Culture Center. The total estimate for the consultant fee would be over $50,000 whereas the city council will need to either (a) redistribute the city’s budget or (b) extract funding from its cash reserves. The total estimated cost for the Cambodian Cultural Center is yet to be determined. Councilwoman Suely Saro also stated in an interview they are still looking for stakeholders to invest back into the Community.
According to the Pew Research, since 2019 there are about 339,000 Cambodian Americans that reside within the United States. There are several Cambodian Culture centers around the United States such as the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association, the Cambodian Association of America in Long Beach, Cambodian Society of Rhode Island, Cambodian American Community of Oregon, Cambodian American Association of Georgia, United Cambodian Association of Minnesota, and the Cambodian Association of Illinois.
Cambodian American Centers play a central role in Cambodian American communities. Former Board President of the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association (CALAA), Sanary Phan stated in an interview with Vannary Kong, “It is really important for the continued support of the Cambodian culture center because it allows us to hang on to our culture and our identity. If it was not for the Cambodian-American community in Lowell, the culture could not be passed down to the future generations therefore losing a piece of ourselves within the dominant culture.”
The addition of the Cambodian American Culture will contribute to the nickname “International City” given to the city of Long Beach, California. Several other cultural centers exist in Long Beach such as: the Homeland Culture Center, the African-American Culture Center, and the Japanese Culture Center. To get more updates regarding the Cambodian American culture center in Long Beach, California be sure to follow the updates from District 6 Long Beach news for more information.
Vannary Kong is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a Master's Student at Harvard University pursuing International Relations with a Certificate in National Security.