Bringing to Light the Struggle of Cambodian Immigrants and Their Families

April 17, 2015 will mark the 40 year anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, which ushered in a four year reign of terror in which 2 million Cambodians died (approximately 25% of the total population).  Those who survived experienced extreme deprivation, total breakdown of family and societal functioning, escape through mine-laden jungles, displacement within refugee camps, and eventual resettlement to the U.S. where they understood neither the language nor the culture.  It is no wonder that Cambodian adults remain one of the most traumatized populations in the world (more than 1 in 3 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the only population where PTSD has been proven to pass across generations.

Not surprisingly given this history, Cambodians in the U.S. continue to struggle in school and finding employment that lifts them out of poverty. However, often their experiences are hidden because Cambodians are counted as “Asians” in the reporting of school and census data.

Tremendous differences exist in the histories, cultures, and migration experiences of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Hmong, and the many other people groups that are considered “Asian.”  And when data is disaggregated, it reveals enormous disparities in poverty rates, educational attainment, and many other indicators of health and well-being.  For example, 95% of the Japanese population has a high school diploma, compared with only 60% of Cambodians and 58% of Hmong.  Likewise, 53% of Cambodians in California are low-income, compared with only 16% of Indian-Americans.

Too often these numbers and the lives they represent are invisible and policy makers and the general public continue to operate with the false assumption of Asians as the “model minority.”  As the fastest growing racial group in California, it is critical that we better understand what is happening within the Asian sub-groups through better collection and greater availability of disaggregated data.

The stories of Cambodian refugees in Long Beach are explored in an episode of the new PBS seriesAmerica By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa called “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town.” The California Endowment is proud to join with the makers of this series in documenting and demystifying the dramatic demographic changes occurring in the U.S.  In addition, we will be screening the episode and hosting panel discussions of these issues at two events in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Click here for more info and to register for the November 6th Long Beach event.

Written by Jenny Chheang, Program Manager, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach

Editor’s Note: This posy originally appeared on The California Endowment website blog

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