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Are we Khmericans? On the Cambodian American community in Long Beach, its dual loyalties and its separate suffering

Colloquium with Gea Wijers, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Centre for Comparative Social Science

Monday, April 18, 2011
2:30 PM - 4:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

 The key question addressed in this presentation is in what ways American governmental policy and local power structures governing the Cambodian refugees’ ethnic community in Long beach have enabled and restricted its leaders’ civic engagement and influenced its members’ survival in American society.
The turbulence of events in the 1970s and 80s forced many Cambodians into exile. Several decades after the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge, generations of returnees are now reconnected with their homecountry through a long- or short-term return and the establishment of transnational networks. Many combine the unique experiences of ‘preconflict’ Cambodia and a prolonged stay in countries of exile with the process of getting reacquainted with a ‘postconflict’ Cambodia structured by the Paris Peace accords of 1991.

Among the many nations offering refuge, America has played a special role, as expressed in both the quantity and quality of Cambodians that have specifically chosen, and been allowed, to enter. For a diversity of social groups, America made a logic ‘safehaven’ and a ‘home-away-from-home’. Markedly for refugees, a group often forced into an unintended entry of a host society unprepared like the Cambodians, the traditions and customs of their former homecountry are never entirely left behind (Berry 1989:2). However, the United States are still having a hard time to formulate effective policies to find a balance for all entrants in the required adjustment to their immigrant nation.

Paradoxically, despite continued discussions and concerns about the evolution of a ‘global village’ in an internet age, the loss of local traditions and the intensification of economic interdependencies, equal appreciation of the world’s ethnicities in a ‘trans-national’ federation of cultures seems more remote than ever. The question is how this may affect ethnic communities such as the Cambodian Americans in Long Beach.

After spending two years in Cambodia as a strategy- and management advisor to the Ministry of Environment, Gea Wijers is now working on her PhD research inquiring into Cambodian returnees as institutional entrepreneurs. She is part of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’ Centre for Comparative Social Science (CCSS). Her research is part of an integrated programme entitled: “Competing hegemons. Foreign dominated processes of development in Cambodia” funded by the Netherlands Organization for Social Research’ (NWO) Science for Global Development department (WOTRO). This programme’s strategy is based on the practice of building capacity in Cambodian higher education in a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences of the VU University Amsterdam and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Cambodia. See also:

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies

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