Khmer Generations Project / Cambodian American Resource Agency

Khmer Generations Project / Cambodian American Resource Agency

The Khmer Generations Project (KGP), an initiative of the Southeast Asia Research and Cultural Heritage (SEARCH) Center, is built on the belief that everyone has a story, and every story holds transformative power. Stories give our lives purpose, and enable us to connect with each other.

Khmer Generations Project / Cambodian American Resource Agency

The Khmer Generations Project (KGP), an initiative of the Southeast Asia Research and Cultural Heritage (SEARCH) Center, is built on the belief that everyone has a story, and every story holds transformative power. Stories give our lives purpose, and enable us to connect with each other. Within the Khmer (Cambodian) diaspora, however, many stories remain untold. Most Cambodians who came to the U.S. were refugees fleeing the horrific Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), which inflicted inconceivable trauma, killing more than 2 million. Survivors witnessed the torture and death of family and friends. They learned that speaking out, even in response to such tragedies, could lead to their own deaths. Yet even after arriving in receiving countries, many kept these painful experiences to themselves. As a result, there are new generations of Cambodians unaware of their own family histories and how they inform their identities. Mission: KGP is committed to honoring and sharing the stories of Cambodians of all generations throughout the world. Through dialogue, publications, and events, these stories will be seen and heard, and diasporic Cambodians empowered to speak their truths. Mission: CARA was founded in 1998 by Cambodian American professionals with a deep interest in the uniting the local community and is committed to promoting the empowerment, visibility, and well-being of the Cambodian community through culture, arts, training, and community building. Our Collective Vision: to create spaces and places where Cambodian stories are valued, preserved, and shared, and through which we come to better understand themselves and others.

About the Organization:

The Khmer Generations Project (KGP), an initiative of the Southeast Asia Research and Cultural Heritage (SEARCH) Center, is built on the belief that everyone has a story, and every story holds transformative power. Stories give our lives purpose, and enable us to connect with each other. Within the Khmer (Cambodian) diaspora, however, many stories remain untold. Most Cambodians who came to the U.S. were refugees fleeing the horrific Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), which inflicted inconceivable trauma, killing more than 2 million. Survivors witnessed the torture and death of family and friends. They learned that speaking out, even in response to such tragedies, could lead to their own deaths. Yet even after arriving in receiving countries, many kept these painful experiences to themselves. As a result, there are new generations of Cambodians unaware of their own family histories and how they inform their identities. Mission: KGP is committed to honoring and sharing the stories of Cambodians of all generations throughout the world. Through dialogue, publications, and events, these stories will be seen and heard, and diasporic Cambodians empowered to speak their truths. Mission: CARA was founded in 1998 by Cambodian American professionals with a deep interest in the uniting the local community and is committed to promoting the empowerment, visibility, and well-being of the Cambodian community through culture, arts, training, and community building. Our Collective Vision: to create spaces and places where Cambodian stories are valued, preserved, and shared, and through which we come to better understand themselves and others.

organizational budget

$0 - $50,000

existence for

0-5 Years

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

National

organizational budget

$0 - $50,000

existence for

0-5 Years

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

National

The Issue:

KGP and CARA wish to create much-needed spaces and opportunities for both oral and written dialogues – stories -- that can connect Cambodian American generations. Unfortunately, the monolithic model minority myth detracts from this work. While in the aggregate “Asian Americans” appear to have succeeded economically and academically, Cambodian Americans remain overrepresented among those living below the poverty line as well as the underemployed, even decades after they arrived in the U.S. Due to geographic, linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers, many are socially isolated, which affects their mental as well as physical health. Adult Cambodian refugees brought with them their children, who were born or very young during the Khmer Rouge regime, or who were born in the refugee camps. Members of this group have become known as the “1.5 generation.” The 1.5 generation quickly found themselves caught in-between their Khmer heritage and their contemporary lives in the U.S. Exposed to English in school and in the greater community, they learned the language more rapidly than their parents, and felt obliged to fill the role of bridge-builder and linguistic and cultural interpreter. While relying upon them to help navigate life in the U.S. on one hand, many parents also implored them to maintain their cultural values, traditions, and native tongue on the other. And yet, meaningful dialogues between them about pain, trauma, loss, survival, recovery, and healing went unspoken. Without hearing each others’ stories, Cambodians cannot know each other. These dialogues might occur in an academic setting, in a classroom or discussion group. Yet only 20% of U.S. born and 14% of foreign-born Cambodian Americans 25 and older attend college and earn Bachelor’s degrees (Pew Research Center, 2019). Even those who attend do not see themselves reflected in the curricula (Southeast Asian American experiences are often left out, and what scholarly/analytical literature exists is written by non-Cambodians) or the campus environment as faculty. It is time for Cambodians to wrestle back control of their own stories, and add their own complex perspectives to the narrative. As such, we must create our own curricula and classrooms; hence, we present "Sok Talks."

The Solution:

We propose a series of Khmer Generations Symposia , which we informally call " Sok Talks " (a linguistic play on Ted Talks - Sok is the Khmer word for happy or well), culminating in a Khmer Generations Conference, co-hosted by KGP and CARA. Smith (1991) suggests that the formation of ethnic identity is an essential human need, providing a sense of belonging and historical connection. Positive feelings about identity correlate with greater self-esteem, motivation, and life satisfaction (e.g., Iwamoto and Liu 2010; Uy 2016). And anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that the way one feels about their heritage and culture can affect their confidence, which in turn influences ambition and success. With this project, we will host six symposia over six months (one every 1-2 months), each led and facilitated by a Cambodian subject expert. Like Ted Talks, Sok Talks * will share knowledge that matters through short talks and presentations, with the goal of informing and educating global audiences in an accessible way. Each session will impart knowledge on relevant topics (e.g., scholarship, wellness, entrepreneurship, creativity), and inspire participants to think and dialogue about challenging topics in new ways. Each talk will be supplemented with readings and other materials, and importantly, Sok Talks will center Cambodian American history and experiences. Dr.Su and Dr. Uy, as successful Cambodians, have gathered a network of like-minded professionals, eager to share their journeys and what they have learned: medical doctors, filmmakers, professors, poets, dancers, designers, and more. The symposia will encourage interpersonal communication, self-reflection, and mental/spiritual growth as well as cognitive skills enhancement and intellectual development. Participants in each Sok Talk (who can and are encouraged to attend more than one) will work on an individual project related to one of the symposia topics, with the goal of developing a presentation for a Khmer Generations Conference to take place several months after the symposia are completed, where they will share their creations and revelations with other participants, family, friends, and community members. The presentations and correlated writings and artistic creations will be compiled into a book to be published and distributed widely. *presented in hybrid format

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