As the date approaches for the city’s first annual Long Beach Sankranta, organized by District 6 Councilwoman Suely Saro and the United Cambodian Community, the name of the event has been the subject of ongoing debate among elders and community leaders in Cambodia Town, sparking heated public comment at City Council meetings and disappointment for some residents.
As Saro described in a promotional video for Long Beach Sankranta 2023, it is a “united and inclusive event to promote peace and harmony within our most diverse communities.” Sankranta marks the beginning of the new year that takes place in mid-April for many cultures including in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and some parts of India.
Members of the Cambodian community, however, have expressed deep concern over the new event, accusing Saro of wanting to change Khmer New Year, or Chol Chnam Thmey, to Sankranta permanently. Those same members of the community have also claimed that the event itself takes away from the already inclusive Cambodian New Year celebration that has been taking place in Cambodia Town for 15 years.
This year’s Cambodia Town Parade and Festival will go on as planned Sunday, April 2, one day after Long Beach Sankranta, and there is no plan to cancel Cambodia Town’s events, said Saro.
“Long Beach Sankranta 2023 is the name of an EVENT that promotes a tradition of many different ethnicities including Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and some parts of India, in celebrating New Year. And this event shall and does not interfere with any Cambodian related issues at any level (City, State, or Federal),” said Saro in a statement to the Post.
To residents like Charles Song, who’s been an active community leader in Cambodia Town for over 25 years, the issue is far more complex.
“It’s our culture, it’s our tradition, and to omit that is to destroy what we know,” said Song.
“She made it sound like we divided our community for all these years,” he said, speaking of the popular Cambodian New Year events held by Cambodia Town every year. “We’ve never been divided, that I know. We’ve always been inclusive, we always embrace other cultures.”
Souvachana Pou, a Cambodian elder, Long Beach resident and retired lecturer at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, told the Post that the disregard for the established Cambodian New Year events held by Cambodia Town will have negative impacts on the mental health of other elders like himself. For many, Pou said, events like Cambodian New Year are a chance to focus on the beauty of their culture without thinking of the pain and suffering many endured during the Khmer Rouge.
“We should preserve our culture, our identity. You are taking that away from me, and my nightmare is coming back,” said Pou.
A community forum held in late January did little to address the concerns of the community members, Song said. In response, he and dozens of residents signed a letter opposing the name and asking the councilwoman to reconsider the name—to no avail.
The event was approved unanimously by the City Council on March 21 as community members in the audience held up signs that read, “No Long Beach Sankranta.”
During public comment, many applauded Saro for the new event and expressed their excitement. “I can’t wait to celebrate this wonderful event,” said one attendee.
Others said the term was not well known among Cambodian elders.
“As much as I am proud to be Cambodian, I am first and foremost about inclusivity,” said Saro.
The first annual Long Beach Sankranta will take place at the Long Beach City College Pacific Coast Campus on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Attendees can expect a broad lineup of musical entertainment, including performances by local and international artists. There will also be traditional games and dances, food and merchandise vendors.
The Cambodia Town Parade and Festival will take place on Sunday, April 2. The event will kick off at the intersection of East Anaheim Street and Cherry Avenue with an interfaith blessing at 9 a.m., followed by the parade at 10 a.m. After that, the cultural festival will take place at MacArthur Park from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The cultural festival will feature local Khmer artisans, music, dancing, food, games and other vivid representations of Cambodian culture.