An embrace of newcomers helps Long Beach thrive

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Pasin Chanou, Chairman of the Board for Cambodia Town, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge brutally gained power in Cambodia and threatened my family’s gemstone business, my parents fled to Thailand. I was abroad at the time, studying computer science at American University in Washington, D.C., and when I graduated in 1978, I realized I couldn’t go back. I decided then to do whatever was necessary to succeed in the United States.

Around the same time, a steady flow of Cambodian refugees was settling in Long Beach. My then-fiancée and I moved here, and I began working as a computer analyst at McDonnell-Douglas, the aerospace manufacturer that later merged with Boeing. After 32 years at the company, working on commercial and military aircrafts and on rockets that launched commercial and military communications satellites into space, I retired in 2011 and shifted my focus to community work.

Today, as chairman of the board for Cambodia Town, Inc., I dedicate my time to serving Cambodia Town, a 1.2-mile business and cultural district that features ethnic restaurants and retailers. I regularly work with the City of Long Beach. We’ve created a growing business improvement district that funds neighborhood security, sidewalk cleanup, business promotion and helps underwrite the annual Cambodia Town Culture Festival that attracts two thousand visitors every April.

Given the city’s commitment to our community, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Long Beach received perfect scores in the categories of “Economic Empowerment” and “Inclusivity” in New American Economy’s Cities Index, a new tool that measures how effectively the largest 100 U.S. cities are integrating immigrants.

Specifically, Long Beach’s “Economic Empowerment” score speaks to vocational and entrepreneurship resources for our foreign-born residents. And “Inclusivity” demonstrates the city’s commitment to providing social services and language assistance for newcomers and policies to attract bilingual job candidates.

Over my almost four decades in Long Beach, I’ve seen the city make great strides toward becoming a more welcoming place for immigrants. Cambodia Town, which crosses both District 4 and District 6, is a perfect example. Both Councilmember Daryl Supernaw and Long Beach Vice Mayor Dee Andrews always ensure that Cambodian residents are informed about—and have a chance to weigh-in on—major decisions.

Further, under Mayor Garcia, funding has been allocated to help Cambodia Town repair infrastructure and continue the transformation toward becoming a business and tourist destination. To attract tourists to Cambodia Town, I requested that the city to install gateways to create landmarks and raise the visibility of the district. Our annual festival, run entirely by Cambodia Town, Inc. volunteers, will also benefit from new city backing. With financial assistance this year from the City of Long Beach and Arts Council for Long Beach, we’ll be able to solidify outreach efforts across the greater Los Angeles region and highlight the district to even more people—Angelenos and visitors alike.

Long Beach is a place where immigrant economic contributions are front and center. Instead of pursuing higher education, many Cambodian refugees have become entrepreneurs. They’ve opened restaurants, jewelry stores, beauty salons, grocery stores and tailoring businesses. In so doing, they are now essential to our city’s identity. More than ever, the city is recognizing this and working to enhance our efforts. Immigrants are being embraced by native Californians; here in Long Beach, we are truly a success story of integration.

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