Photos by Asia Morris. Supervisor Janice Hahn posing with members of the Cambodian-American community outside of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Janice Hahn asked the board to recognize the Cambodian genocide and, for the first time in the county’s history, proclaim April 17 as “Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day.”
The board unanimously approved the motion, authored by Hahn.
Prior to the agenda item, reverend Thet Sim of the Khemara Buddhikaram Temple in Long Beach led the meeting’s invocation as a packed board room of Cambodian-American residents, many of whom live in Long Beach and are members of local culture-preserving organizations, looked on.
Several also testified to the board about their experiences related to the Cambodian genocide.
Reverend Thet Sim (center) of the Khemara Buddhikarama Temple in Long Beach.
“This is an historic day in Los Angeles County,” said Supervisor Hahn. “The Cambodian Genocide was a human tragedy and we must never forget the scale of violence and devastation perpetrated against the people of Cambodia.”
Hahn also presented County scrolls to 13 Cambodian groups in recognition of their efforts to preserve Cambodian history and culture.
The 13 groups that received scrolls were the Cambodia-California Sister State, Inc., Khmer American Civic Engagement Committee, Cambodia Town Film Festival, United Cambodian Community, Cambodian Association of America, Families in Good Health, Khmer Parent Association, Khmer Girls in Action, Cambodia Town Inc., Cambodian Coordinating Council, Cambodian Health Professional Association of America, the Khemara Buddhikarama Temple and the Los Angeles County Cambodian Employee Association.
Supervisor Janice Hahn posing with members of the Cambodian-American community.
“While many Cambodian-Americans continue to cope with the atrocities they witnessed and experienced, the thriving Cambodian community in Long Beach is a testament to the perseverance and unbreakable spirit of the Cambodian people to reestablish their communities and enhance the cultural diversity of our state and nation,” Hahn continued.
Rithy Hanh, board member of the Cambodia Town Film Festival, a Long Beach resident, and the first of his family to graduate from college, was born in a refugee camp, and arrived in San Jose at age 11, only to live in Chicago, Illinois for three months before moving to California.
“I’m actually the byproduct of the killing fields,” Hanh told the Post. “My parents escaped, and then I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand where I was living for 11 years. A lot of people didn’t know that the camp was open until 1992.”
Photo of Cambodian-American Long Beach resident, Rithy Hanh.
Born in 1981, Hanh said when the camp closed in 92, there were two options: go back to Cambodia, where he had never actually been, or travel to America. Hanh was one of “the lucky ones” who was able to travel to the States.
“We’re living in a refugee camp and we don’t know what’s going on out there, all I heard was America was the best,” he said. “When I landed here I thought it was a dream and I was pinching myself, I said, ‘This is not real.’”
Hanh had also found out that his grandparents had survived, an answer to his prayers.
Receiving his degree from Cal State Long Beach was one of the highest honors, Hanh said. Now, as a board member of the film festival and an active person in his community, he wants to work on closing the gap between the older generation and the new generation of Cambodian-Americans.
“I want to see both of them come together and just unite, just help each other out,” he said. “We’ve been struggling for so long and we still struggle, and I want to see one day that we all work together.”
The motion to proclaim April 17 as a day of remembrance also helps the different generations understand each other, said Hanh.
“This means a lot to us,” Hanh said. “It’s like all the souls that perished, they finally can rest in peace and I’m speechless right now. It’s also letting the new generation know what our parents [have] been through, you know, [to] never forget what happened to us in the past. So I’m really, really honored to be here.”