Cambodian American

A Cambodian American is an American who is of ethnic Khmer descent or, more broadly, having ancestors from Cambodia. They make up the bulk of Cambodian people who do not live in Cambodia.


Prior to 1975, most of the few Cambodians in the United States were children of upper class families sent abroad to attend school. After the fall of Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975, a few Cambodians managed to escape, but it wasn't until the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979 that large waves of Cambodians began immigrating to the United States as refugees. In order to encourage rapid assimilation into American culture and to spread the economic impact, the U.S. government settled the 150,000 refugees in various towns and cities throughout the country. However, once established enough to be able to communicate and travel, many Cambodians began migrating within the U.S. to certain localities where the climate was more like home, where they knew friends and relatives had been sent, or where there were rumored to be familiar jobs or higher government benefits. Consequently, large communities of Cambodians took root in cities such as Long Beach, Fresno and Stockton in California, as well as Lynn (Boston) and Lowell in Massachusetts.

Areas of concentration

Today's Cambodian Americans are these refugees and their children and grandchildren. While many Cambodian Americans have finished school, obtained degrees and integrated into American society, large, culturally isolated enclaves still exist in many cities across the United States, including Los Angeles (36,233), San Diego (4,314), New York City (4,060), Philadelphia (7,790), Oakland (10,552), Minneapolis (4,149), Seattle(12,391), Fresno (4,173), Providence (9,330), Stockton (9,313), Dallas Fort Worth (3,310), Modesto (2,959), Chicago (2,764), and Boston (17,301). Half of the Cambodian American population in the United States is in California, with Long Beach having the highest density of Cambodian Americans in the U.S. There is also a large population in Massachusetts, concentrated in around Lowell and Lynn. Lowell is considered to have the second highest population of Cambodians, Lynn is the third city with the highest population. Cambodian Americans are quickly growing in numbers in the entire Northeast, but more so in the states of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Michigan and Illinois have also seen growth in the Cambodian American population.

There are two museums in the U.S. devoted to the story of Cambodians in America, the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Seattle and the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, both founded in 2004.

Notable Cambodian Americans

Some prominent or famous Cambodian Americans include Dith Pran, Haing S. Ngor, Sam-Ang Sam, Loung Ung, Arn Chorn-Pond, Prach Ly, U Sam Oeur, and the adopted Maddox Chivon Jolie-Pitt.

Cambodian American related books

Aside from personal memoirs of coming to America, such as those by Loung Ung, a few books have been dedicated to studying the Khmer American population in the U.S., such as Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner. This book is an anthropological study of Khmer refugee families, largely from the perspective of the parental generation, residing in metropolitan Boston and eastern Massachusetts. This book was one of the early books among the few, circulating, that talks about this diasporic community. It portrays some understanding of both traditional Khmer culture and contemporary American society, but it is not a historical study of Khmer Americans. A more recent book is, Buddha Is Hiding written by Aiwha Ong, an ethnographic study that tells the story of Khmer Americans and their experiences of American citizenship. The study was largely investigating Khmer refugee in Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area. It portrayed what most Cambodian refugees experience with American institutions such as health, welfare, law, police force, church, and school. The book reveals through extensive ethnographic dialogs showing how Khmer refugees interpret and negotiate with American culture, often at the expense of their own cultural Theravada Buddhist cultural upbringing. This book revealed the contradictions in how Khmer American encounters with American citizenship as they negotiate with service providers, bureaucrats, and employers on how to be autonomous while the system and American cultural citizenship limits them within terms that labeled them as refugees in the context of ethnicity, race, and class.

Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States written by Sucheng Chan, is a multidisciplinary study of Khmer American, drawing on interviews with community leaders, government officials, and other staff members in community agencies as well as common Khmer American to capture the perspectives of Cambodian Americans from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

See also


External links

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