Sunday marked the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the Cambodian genocide, which lasted between 1975 and 1979 and cost about two million lives. Also known as the Khmer Rouge, the tragedy still haunts survivors today including the large diaspora here in Long Beach.
The Cambodian community in Long Beach commemorated the genocide Sunday at the Ernest S. McBride, Sr. Park Gymnasium. “Remember the Past, Pay Tribute to the Victims and Honor the Survivors” was the theme of the free event that included an art exhibit, Khmer interpretation, breakfast, and lunch.
Politicians representing Long Beach also attended the commemoration, including California State Senator Ricardo Lara, U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal, and California State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell.
In a press release, Lara said he was proud to author Senate Concurrent Resolution 107 (SCR 107), which “further declares April 13th through 17th Cambodian Genocide Memorial Week in California and will honor those who died, as well as, survivors and their descendants for their courage and contribution to our state and country.”
SCR 107 passed the Californian Senate last week but now heads to the Assembly for consideration.
At Sunday’s event, hosts Charles Song and Belinda Theam shared stories on how they were impacted by the genocide. “I have lost my brother by execution and many members of mother’s family,” said Song. “I will forgive those who slaughtered, starved, and executed its people but deep in our hearts, we will never forget what took place there.”
Pastor Chandara Lee led a prayer, thanking everyone in attendance for honoring those who lost their lives. Long Beach Polytechnic High School student Alex Siv, along with Sambo Sak of Families in Good Health, also performed poetry and spoken word.
There is emerging recognition of the genocide and Cambodian-Americans’ contributions at the national level; U.S. congressman Lowenthal said that he recently formed a Cambodian caucus with congressman Steve Chabot. “It is important that other members of Congress understand the needs of the American-Cambodian community both in terms of their needs here and we also address some of the issues that the Cambodian community in America wants us to address in Cambodia,” said Lowenthal.
Besides sharing testimony, speakers also offered words of hope. “Don’t ever underestimate your capability,” expressed Cal State Dominguez Hills Professor Dr. Sovathana Sokhom. “We have to acknowledge that all of us are capable in spite of the problem we come through and I am testimony of that.”