Long Beach's Killing Fields Memorial to Honor Trauma Experienced Before, During and After Genocide

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Renderings courtesy of Paline Soth. 

The monks sat at the long white table under a tent, chanting with their fellow community members. Certain individuals brought Khmer delicacies and rice.

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Smells wafting by the nostrils of passersby from the food table exuded those straight from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, but the environment was decidedly American: a gathering of people on the corner of Anaheim and Peterson Avenue in the 6th District, bordered by the Mark Twain library, shops and markets.

They were on hand yesterday, approximately 41 years after the Khmer Rouge’s genocide began, along with 6th Councilmember Dee Andrews, to officially commemorate the new Killing Fields Memorial Center (KFMC).

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Photos by Keeley Smith. 

The momentum of building such a center began with John Edmund, Andrews’ chief of staff, 10 years ago, according to KMFC Board Member Paline Soth.

“He said, ‘It’s feasible—let’s have a garden,” said Soth. “Dee Andrews has been a very good friend to us Cambodians.”

The memorial center will feature Khmer-style dwellings located on a landscaped plot of land bordered by an orderly fence, patches of green grass, a koi pond and a few leafy trees.

“This will be a great place of love and kindness,” said Soth at last week’s Long Beach City Council meeting. “It will welcome people of all walks of life to come in and enjoy peace and tranquility, find solace and closure, learn about the history of the Killing Fields, learn about the Khmer culture and worship, remember and pay respect to millions of victims of the Cambodian genocide that became well known as The Killing Fields.”

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Bryant Ben, president of the KFMC and a former Cambodian refugee himself, said the idea for the center grew out of a need for the community, many who are direct refugees or children of refugees, to collectively heal.

“Findings have shown that 62 percent of Cambodian-Americans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is 15 times the normal rate,” said Ben. He said 51 percent of the population experience symptoms of depression.

“This is a major step to move forward, a step toward healing and uniting the community,” said Ben. He said he saw another purpose of the memorial as a means to educate others and in some way deter future genocides. The next step, Ben hopes, will be a museum dedicated to The Killing Fields and preventing other genocides throughout the world.

“This should have been done yesterday,” said Andrews upon arrival at the ceremony, tearing up as he spoke. “This is a place the community can go to heal.”

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