By Andrew Lam
In the early ’90s, while a graduate student in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, I became a cub reporter and got a juicy assignment: Accompany a young Cambodian American student, a recent graduate from Stanford who once fled Cambodia as a child, and write about his homecoming.
A scholarship boy, my subject nevertheless was unprepared for the reality of Cambodia and the reemergence of his own unprocessed trauma. Upon reaching his homeland he slowly unraveled.
I went on to write about Cambodia on my own, covering the then unfolding election sponsored by the United Nations. The epitome of the trip culminated in a risky interview of former Khmer Rouge soldiers. But the story of my friend’s return was never written and the planned video project of his homecoming never made.
So “expect the unexpected” became the object lesson I learned in Cambodia, and a caveat for all my foreign reporting thereafter.
Fast forward 25 years and that same lesson can be applied to another Cambodian American friend and filmmaker, Mike Siv, whose documentary “Daze of Justice” traces the return journey of a group of aging Khmer Rouge survivors back to Phnom Penh. Their purpose: to testify at a U.N. tribunal for four former high-ranking officers charged with crimes against humanity.
Siv fled Cambodia at the age of two with his mother and grew up in the Tenderloin neighborhood, a low-income immigrant enclave in the heart of San Francisco. Like many of her generation, Siv’s mother was largely silent about the past, a fact that drew Siv to focus on these survivors who are beginning to break that silence.
But if Siv thought he was simply there to document the trial and survivor testimony, his story quickly shifts after a chance encounter with the son of one of the most notorious architects of Cambodia’s genocide, Kaing Kek Eav a.k.a. Duch.
Read the rest of this story and watch the trailer featuring Long Beach voices here.