Written by Sophinarath Cheang
It’s time to put the problems on the table. On October 26,2011, many members of Long Beach’s Cambodian community attended a meeting where they voiced their concerns. Sponsored by The California Endowment, United Cambodian Community, as well as other organizations such as Khmer Parents Association, Cambodian Association of America, Khmer Girls in Action, and Families in Good Health, it is part of series of monthly meetings specifically targeting Cambodian Americans.
Chad Sammeth, UCC’s Project Coordinator and Community Organizer, explained how these meetings help identify problems.
“We’ve been approached by The California Endowment, and they are willing to invest millions of dollars over the next 10 years. What they want to see is the concerns that exist in the Cambodian community. That is what we are doing now: to identify the concerns, challenges and disparities that are unique to our community and take them back to The California Endowment. When they see these are the solid tangible issues, then they will be willing to invest in us.”
Prior issues raised were poor air quality, education, bridging the gap between generations, and health issues. Economic development was the main topic of this meeting.
“We’ve been here for 30-plus years—three generations—and we are still renting. That raises the questions: What’s a mortgage? What’s equity? What’s credit? What’s different between renting and buying? What’s the difference between a 15-year mortgage and a 30-year mortgage?” Sammeth said.
“This kind of language is still foreign to us. It is something that a lot of people in our community don’t understand. We hope that what we are doing here will lead our community to become homeowners, business owners. Instead of being on the receiving end of public resources, we’d rather be the giving and contributing sources in the society, ” Sammeth explained.
Sophya Chum, Program Coordinator of Khmer Girls in Action, brought up problems that Cambodian youth experience. “Some of the issues that our youth are facing are violence. Youth do not have mentors that help guide them in what’s right and wrong,” Chum said.
Besides violent issues and the lack of mentorship, Sammeth added, “Lots of our youth have lots of times on their hands that they spend playing video games, things that do not have tangible [effects in positively shaping their future]. We want to push them to spend their time in a more productive way. We want to pair them with mentors and teach them financial literacy. Instead of buying video games, we want to have them buy stocks, instead of buying Nike shoes, we want to have them buy Nike stocks.”
Samneang Ros, a Long Beach resident, said, “I want unity in our community, a safe neighborhood, a hospital that Cambodians who do not speak English can go, Khmer TV and news for our elders, and I want elders to take part in problem solving when violence happens among youth.”
For the first two years, the coalition will be working on gathering information, taking feedback from the community, and organizing it in a way that can be strategically addressed.