Surviving the Cambodian Genocide
Profilers: Patrick Ben, Maxwell Colowick, Isabella Galambos
The Story of a Cambodian Refugee
At what point did you realize that the Khmer Rouge was taking over? Do you remember those moments when you saw the change happen?
I said the US embassy withdraw from Cambodia on April 12th, 1975. On April 17th, five days later, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian communists, walked through the city, the capital, and we see some joy and some tears. But it’s emotional like you said okay, the war is over because we see some young Cambodian Khmer Rouge walk in the middle of the street, kind of scary, and we stand along the road to cheer them, to welcome them and we don’t know what they are going to do but we think that oh we all Cambodian we have no more war. So, the war is over, but it turned to be a nightmare in a minute and I was standing on April 17th in the morning cheering them while they walked through the city and at the same day at 11 o’clock in my area, I got a gun point from the Khmer Rouge soldiers saying, you need to move out of the capital for three days. They said don’t take anything, don’t take that much, because only three days, because American war plane is going to come and bomb the city. At the time we didn’t have time to think about if we believed them or not, we just moved because the gun point, and they said move out of your home for three days but now it’s 45 years and we never have a chance to come back. When we knew that at the time we can’t come back and we lost a lot of family members, close family members, like my father. I lost my immediate family, like 2/3 of my immediate relatives.
So, what was everyday life like under the Khmer Rouge?
It’s kinda funny because we don’t talk about 3 million live in the Capital and they, they want you to move at the same time and you no like nowhere to move and you’re stuck in the middle of the street and like I give you example like I was gun point to leave home at 11 o’clock at night and till the next day, the next morning we move like about two-mile, three-mile, because nothing we can do, we just live on the street from that time that we realized it, why they moved everybody, and we, and then they saw go back to your birthplace and they will let you know what’s next. And it hard for some people was born in the Capital and then when they said move out for three day and so they are gonna hang around there and to wait for the Pol Pot regime, the Khmer Rouge to bring them back. I, myself, was a student, my brother and sister were student, waiting for them to come back and we wait wait until like we realized that, no they closed the city. No money, no school, no market, no nothing. Go to the countryside there were labor work like a slave, so it just a lie. The one thing that I, I got upset or mad because like three million people, the whole country, move out their home and at that time no foreigner, I mean no other country, especially like the US, doesn’t know anything about it and like I said from that time we become homeless, we go to sleep on the street, we sleep under the tree, we have a, we go, we had no home to stay, and we keep move from place to place, day from day.
Alright, so, how did you end up escaping to the refugee camp in Thailand?
Uh because I heard that they have a refugee camp in Thailand so and then I knew it I’m gonna, I’m gonna leave the country, but, but, through Thailand that have a refugee camp at the United Nations so it kinda hope for me and our Cambodian people that heard about it but you had to decide, you gonna take another, another…
Risk of life so so, I finally I try to, I want to come to the Cambodian-Thai border because I heard there was a Khmer republic soldier. At the border I hope I can find my dad, you know I heard that they killed him already but I never seen my own eye so I still have hope in case he escape and to live at the border so I decide to come look for him again but I said if I could not find him so maybe I can cross the border um come to the, they call the new country. So to cross the border it very very risky like I said. You uh, people uh, suddenly a women got raped and robbed and and as a man you might got killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers by the thief on both sides Cambodian and Thai and even a Thai soldier can kill and rob and rape, like I, I crossed the border and got arrested by Thai soldiers and put me in prison for three days and we had to give them some money to get out of the jail otherwise they are going to send you back to Cambodia.
So, I know you mentioned earlier, that the North Vietnamese Army came through Cambodia and kind of chased away the Khmer Rouge from the country. Did you see the North Vietnamese as like a savior or what was your attitude towards them for taking out the Khmer Rouge?
Uh think about it. So, like you know the history, Vietnam and Cambodia, Thai and Cambodia, the what
The historical enemy right, because why. The history because the Thai took a lot of Cambodian lands and same with the Vietnamese took a lot of Cambodian lands and we know that but when you live the Pol Pot regime and the North Vietnamese invade Cambodia back in 1979 you look at both ways right. So you live with the Khmer Rouge, you know they killed almost 2 million people and they call it Cambodian genocide, you know the movie, the uhh
The Killing Fields
Known as the Killing Fields. So, a lot of people know that without the Vietnamese moving… move into Cambodia that fast we probably got killed by the Khmer Rouge communists but at the mean time it’s not like you had time to choose a Pol Pot or Vietnamese, whoever that, you gonna move from place to place from day to day whatever way you face it. So, but at that time we have freedom to move around because the Vietnamese come along the national route and killed all the Khmer Rouge and the civilian people have a chance to move around, looking for each other and it depends on who you are. You talk about politics, you talk about the Vietnamese get into Cambodia but but you talk about the Khmer soldier or commonly Khmer Rouge killed their own people its kinda sad, in between that but we don’t have time to think about who better than who but we think about I can live or not live because this one saved my life. This day and tomorrow, you, whoever you face it and you live another day.
So, at what point did you start to really assimilate yourself to American life? What, How did you find a job, how did you start building your life here?
Like I said, I go to school, and I got a job offer as an apartment manager so I had to live, I live in apartment for free and get some small money on top of the live free so, and at the time in Long Beach where I live on, now it’s called Cambodia Town is a war zone back in the mid 80’s, 80’s and 90’s it’s a war zone, it’s a gang war between Black gang, Latino gang, and later the Asian gang come up and fight, again, it’s a war zone and it hard to raise the kid in the war zone and even the police, you call the police like 8 o’clock, 8pm, the police don’t show up, the police show up at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning with four or five police car, the police didn’t want to get out the car, they just shine the light and they leave. They scared of the gangsters too, the police. I lived through that and so, I’m just like natural because I got the people so I said what can we do, we can’t count on the police and uh the bad guy afraid the police but so that’s what I tried to talk to people and get people together and talk to the city and invite like apartment watch, they have a program and I organized the meetings and invite the police officers to come and talk and I translate, I organized that and later the city offered me a job, that’s why I got a city job. They offered me a job and said do you want to work with the city, and I said what you want me to do, and they said, they said you do a city job already so that’s what I got a job offer, I didn’t go apply for a job with the city.
Alright, so you mentioned earlier that nobody gives credit to Cambodians and that the U.S. mainly focuses on Vietnam and the Cambodians are often forgotten. Is that your motivation in why you’ve been so involved in keeping the memory of the Khmer Rouge invol… alive and the experiences from that time?
So what I’m doing while I’m still alive because whatever happened from the past and we move on but we not gonna forget it and what happened back there so even we know, who would know? But right now we have to start a new life and and move on to have a better life so you talk about that, you you gonna get involved in a lot of country involved in the Vietnam war and a lot of innocent people die… uh we … you know, it, it just like, like something that you didn’t want and you had to get involved and got killed. So, and then when you have no choice you get involved and they left you behind. So, recently when I look at the, the people in Afghanistan and it just exactly like Cambodia, the U.S., I don’t know exactly about Afghanistan, but I see the people around and and block the airport and get jammed into the airplane. It, it just like disaster, it bring back the old memory from when the U.S. pulled out from Cambodia and Vietnam.
Is there any messages you want to leave behind for the viewers, as your, from your experience as a war survivor? Any advice, any last things you want to say?
Uh like it, it tough but you know like everybody have a life right, you like, I, you at the time like the ant and the elephant passing by step on you. And what I saying, just that you had no choice the elephant like the U.S. passing by step on you and you start to fall in love with them but sometime it’s not like something that you you dream for but but you have to understand you know they not gonna be here to babysit you but they gonna pass by when they have to go through that and then sometimes you survive sometimes you die sometimes and now after that I have a chance to come to live in the US start a new life and my life, and make our life better so yeah bad and good, it comes along, so, you have to accept it.
How do you feel toward Cambodia now?
Cambodia now and I said to my fellow Cambodian I said in the future we will be a, we will be a minority in our own country and you know the refugees spread all over the place in the world. You gonna see, we from the U.S., they call us Cambodian American, the Cambodian that live in France, French Cambodian, Australian Cambodian, Vietnamese Cambodian, Thai Cambodian in, in the future Cambodia gonna be a lot of mix a bunch of races and we have Cambodian live everywhere in the world.
So how did you get to the Thai refugee camp?
So after the Vietnamese invade Cambodia and kick the Khmer Rouge soldier out to the Northern of the country Thai and Cambodian border and I heard that the Cambodian Republican Army survived from the killing field and stay at that border so I know they kill my dad my dad in the military so but I didn’t I just heard it but I didn’t see it but I believe but I still have some hope maybe 10 percent or five percent in case he can escape survive from the killing field so at that time my half brother have a military truck travel to the province near the border Cambodian Thai border at that time no public transportation you travel from place to place if you have a bicycle you you use the bicycle you don’t have a bicycle you walk like if I want to travel to the border and from the capital if I don’t have a bicycle if I need to go I walk like three week or a month to go over there it was lucky my half brother have a military truck to go have a uh work over there so I can come along with him so I got to the province here near near the Thai border and I met one of my friend and his family that that plan to escape to to to Thailand to The Refuge Camp so I can join them so they took we all take a chance to cross the Border but when we cross the border you know it’s very dangerous you can step on the Minefield you can get a robbed rape or you can get put in a prison all kinds of stuff so you have to look at this way said you you die or you or you get to a better life so you have to see that two-way that either you stay there or you cross the border you die or you you have a better chance so make it short and we had to go through the Thai border through the Khmer Rouge camp soldier camp that that we see them we scare them but the person that guide us told us said Now the Khmer Rouge soldiers they nice to the people right now they they don’t kill us like before but I still I still traumatize when I see them and make it short it takes two nights to cross the border.
The first night we try and we got rob and we got gun shot we don’t know who and who because when we left we cross the border around nine pm at night nine o’clock at night so it was so dark we don’t know who and who we have about 100 people in our group and then we all run around it doesn’t go anywhere we cannot cross the border we had to come back and regroup it and I’m thinking about come back and then my friend told me said try again second night and second night we we try again and finally we past the border and then we get close to the refugee camp named Khao-I-Dang and they have the the camp was built by the hill like small you know Hill and then we speak around like one o’clock in the morning we stay on the hill and then we’re waiting for the guy go talk to the Thai soldier that stand guard at the camp to bribe them to get in and finally they got a deal by pay them like 20 like 100 baht per person to get into the camp and even 100 baht baht it’s a Thai money 100 baht equal about five dollars US dollar so when the moon go down and its dark and they let us get in to the camp but we got betrayed by a Thai Soldier instead we give them the money and they search us and rob us for all kinds of valuable stuff like gold necklace stuff like that and they shot the gun three shots to the air and signaled their command post they said they arrest us and their Commander came and search us again and before they came and they talked in Thai language said I don’t understand that time when I ask people that understand the language they say don’t talk because they might kill us and the Thai Soldier cock the weapon back cock the gun a M16 or AR-15 and use the the gun and knock to our head and hard it you know they do that they said if you open your mouth when the commander come they’re gonna kill us so shut down or shut up.
And then the commander come and search for gold everything and then put us in the military truck go to the prison in the camp its a big camp talk about 50 000 people and they put in put us about 100 people in the jail so and after that they call all the young girl to go to another building and I believed they raped them and we I didn’t see it but I I feel that and they know that and after that a couple hours later they released all those girls come back to stay in the jail with us and those girls cry and we don’t ask but we we have a feeling that they go out there go their probably they have raped them so I stay in the jail in the camp for three days and we had to bribe the the camp guards no not a camp guard the camp leader that the person that responsible for the whole camp I don’t know but in order to either they take you back to the Border or you you bribe them you pay them at 1200 baht and at five Baht per dollar no no 20 baht per dollar and we had to pay them 1200 baht I don’t have the money but my friend family they had money they help they they bribe them for the whole family include myself so I when I come out of the prison I can find a job and make the money or whatever the money I can have to pay them back but at that time yeah they help pay me to get out otherwise they gonna send me back to the Border.
Can you tell me about your experience at the Thai refugee camp how long were you there for?
In uh refugee camp you know its kind of worry free because you don’t own anything and you get a ration like you get a bucket of water per day and you got some basic food and you have no choice in you just do whatever you they told you what to do and you just and then looking for they have some job at the camp they so you can work if you capable if you can apply for the job over there it’s not like the job can pay you a lot it’s just a job trying to make you moving doing some work in the camp and yes Thai soldiers put me in jail for three days and then I uh one of my friends they know them and they have to bribe them again in about twelve thousand twelve hundred baht it 20 baht per dollar one dollar equal about 22 Baht and we had to pay them 1200 1200 baht to get out of the jail and if you have the money to pay them so they said you live in the camp but you went out you get out of the camp to visit your family at the border so you already just a resident at the camp but if you don’t have the money to pay them they’re gonna send you back to Cambodia to the border.
So I don’t have that money at that time and my friend they their family had money because I travel with them and they pay for them and then I find to work find to get the money to pay them back later when I have a chance when I get out of prison so when the deal goes through and we I my friend family paid the whole family to get out including myself so when I get out of the camp so at that day I got a job right away so they release us in the morning so in the afternoon I I walked in the camp and get a shower and get the camp and I accidentally I go look for a job with the United Nations office so it was lucky I I went to the place they called Care Organization that the place that made food for the pregnant woman and the children at that time around two o’clock in the afternoon and they closed already so I walked around there and I see Care and I don’t know exactly what is care organization and then happened to be the coordinator I think she lives in San Francisco she saw me from the inside and she went out she asked me what do I what I’m looking for and I told her I said I just get out of the jail and then I’m looking for a job and she said what kind of job looking for and how you get arrested I said I cross the border and then the Thai Soldier arrest me put me in jail in three days so I bribe them I get up so they released me in the camp so right now I had to look for a job if I can make some money to pay somebody to help me out and she said if you’re interested to work here come to see her tomorrow morning and I said okay thank you but I don’t know what to do with that but but she offered me a job and I feel like say okay thank you I just and actually I’m looking forward to work with the United Nation office but at that time I could not make over there and that night I talked to my friend Father and ask him saying they offer me the job they ask us to meet them tomorrow if you’re interested and the next day and I don’t know what to do I I you know looking for a job again I said hey they asked us to see them over there when I show up over there they offer me a job and I had no time to think about what job whatever whatever I just said yes they give me they offer me an opportunity and I say yeah without thinking and finally I get a job over there and I found out it’s the best job in the camp because they have food they make food for the children for the women they feed them and lunch time so when I work over there so I don’t have to worry about what kind of food and do what do I have so its kind of it’s good and then I work with them and make it short and you know I’m a soccer player.
I play soccer for high school in Cambodia and then they have in the camp you know beside work in the morning and you don’t have anything to do so they have some sport event volleyball basketballs especially soccer and at that time I believe I’m good I’m a good soccer player I play for the ministry I have played for the high school so I kind of become famous by playing soccer and I create the soccer team for the care organization that I work with so the coordinator in Bangkok they like it and they sneak in to buy the uniforms you know when you buy something the uniform bring to the camp either Thai Soldier find out they’re not they’re gonna confiscate it and they hide that uniform and and bring it to me so I can create the team with the uniform stuff like that and at that time I become popular because I’m a care organizers kind of the strongest team in the camp you know in the camp we have about 50,000 people in the camp like a small City and then every time I play soccer and people know me and people you know when you play and then I get all the good player among refugees put in in the team so that Care Organization or the refugee camp which is my team and and when we compete with other refugees other team from outside of the camp we win we kind of give hope for the refugee I’m at that time I’m kind of people look at me sometimes they don’t know me and say oh Mr Number Nine when I walk in the camps stuff like that it’s kind of fun it kind of live uh in the heaven for a while in in our own Heaven not not a heaven heaven you know our own world yeah so I lived there for a year and then I help a lot because people get to know me so I have a chance to help people because when they know me and I have a connection so I speak some English so later I move they moved me to another Camp as a as a interpreter for the uh U.S they call it JBA Joint Voluntary agency that the agency that worked with the U.S government to interview to interview the refugee to come to United States and I become to be an interpreter for the the big guy that the final okay that said okay you pass or you fail the interview so yea moving along and then finally we get out of the the refugee camp come to they call it a third country.
Do you still see people from the refugee camp today in your community?
Yes a lot yesterday I went up to Signal Hill take a walk and see a couple like like they walk slowly when we pass each other the first time we don’t pay attention because we exercise on the hill and then the second round we come to see again I look at them they look at me and kind of surprised the guy is surprised saying oh wow stuff like that I see a lot in Long Beach and they they still know me and on April 17 one of the guy that he met me at the temple he said oh you my idol and I said I said to myself I don’t remember him I don’t know who he is he said you’re my idol I said when you say Idol maybe I’m a singer maybe I’m a movie star but it’s not me I say I remember you I remember you my idol you number nine Mr Number Nine and I said oh that from the soccer in a refugee camp remember and I said I’m sorry I’m sorry I don’t remember you I don’t mean like I ignore you they said no no because you play soccer we’ve watched you and you don’t know who who watches you stuff like that kind of give me some emotional about the time I flashback and look at that and then I see that picture and every time I play soccer like people watch and they they cheer for me they cheer for The Refuge team so I made them happy and and kind of feel good looking back and so I made them have a dream you know we don’t have a dream at all when we live there.
So we spoke about your journey um from The Killing Fields to America in a previous interview but today I’m curious to learn more about uh what happened to your family at that time, your immediate family, your siblings, your parents?
2/3rd of my sibling brother and sister half brother and sister and my stepmother and escape to the other side of the country in the province of Kampot and my two brothers and I moved to the other side of the country looking for my dad and we left the capital Phnom Penh and and my other two brother older brother move to Kampong Cham province because that my dad military base and over there and plus my I believe yeah three or four of my half brother and sister live with my dad at the military Camp base so that’s what we separate in two families in in two group and how to survive I try to get close to my dad as much as I can but I couldn’t it was lucky because if I found him I’m gonna I’m gonna live with him and then we all going to die together but unfortunately uh I met one of my dad brother he’s in the military till they arrest them in put in a temple and he advised me stop looking for my dad and get away as far as you can so this way I got the message and then I see what’s going on and I decide to isolate myself from my dad stop looking for him and then my uh other brother that the oldest brother is a medical student and then he they arrest him already because he told them what where he came from they consider him as a higher education student and even I myself but I was lucky and I go look for my second brother oldest brother and I found him and we thinking about escape to Thailand but we got stuck in the middle of the country because they don’t allow us to travel anymore because it’s a raining season it’s it’s a season to start to to do farm work they stop people from traveling so how to survive and you know no formula no nothing that you plan those strategy but it’s just like you learn from day to day from situation to situation and you try to respond to the thing that happened right away because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow you’re not you don’t know what’s going to happen tonight so you respond to whatever it happened to you right now and you deal with that the key word is too hide your identity and to work hard and no complaints so this way you get away from their radar because they believe that the people don’t have don’t work hard enough they believe like you in a different situation you not uh uh people that you know because they said you in a high class family or in uh family that that they they believe that they’re looking for so if you work hard with no complaints they believe that you in the same uh class or society that they that is for their revolution.
So you mentioned your two brothers were you all together at the time of The Killing Fields era or did you guys all get separated?
Uh starting April 17 I left the capital with my oldest brother the one in a medical student and my second brother he stayed with my uncle family in the other side of the capital thats what when you live like a half mile away from each other so you might separate from each other for life it’s not like you can look at like okay like five blocks while we live in the capital five blocks you can if you if you happen to to separate from each other at the time maybe you don’t see each other for life so my second brother live at the other side of the capital so when they ask you to move out of the capital even if they point you you’ll go to the southern of the city and the other one live in the western you know west side of the city you probably don’t see each other for life how did you manage to find your older brother uh my first brother when they arrest him and I and as a student and at that time I said already because I was lucky first they call my name out of the student group and sent me to another camp and when I got to that camp I had to be it happened to be a military camp and then I thought what’s going on this is for military I was a student and why they put me in the military camp and a week later they said okay sorry this is a soldier camp so they let they released me that’s what I separate from my first brother my oldest brother so when I come looking for my dad and I met my uncle my uncle said stop looking for your dad and then I’m thinking about we cannot live in this country anymore we had to escape the country that’s what I I know my other brother still the other side of the country that’s what I travel to go get him to escape that’s what I go get my second brother and then like I said in a rainy season by that time so they stop us from traveling so I still stay together with my brother that now he live in the United States too.
So how did you uh what was the trip like from Cambodia to the Thai border?
Uh I I knew that they killed my father but I I didn’t see in my own eye and I still have some hope but I heard that after the Vietnamese invade Cambodia in 1979 and I hear that the Khmer Republican army still some of them still survive and they formed their group in the Cambodian Thai border and I said to myself I never seen on my own eye that my dad got killed but for sure like 90 percent but I said that other 10 percent in case my dad escape from the Khmer Rouge and now lives by the border so I had to go to the border to make sure that if I can find him over there or maybe not but at least I go check so it was lucky at the time my half brother and he worked with the the government at that time he had a military truck go to the province near the Cambodian Thai border so I have a chance to go with him because at that time we have no no public transportation and no they no money no market so all you can if you want travel from province to province you can walk or you you have a bicycle at that time I have no bicycle and no nothing and so what I can do because I I can walk but it’s gonna take me uh two weeks or three weeks from one province to another province from the capital to the Border so it was lucky that my my half brother have a military truck I can go with him to to the province near the border so that’s what how I go over there and then from the province near the border to cross to cross the border I had to find a way uh to go to the Border Cambodian Thai border I was lucky again I met one of my classmates and then the whole family my my friend whole family tried to cross the border and I met him at that time and I joined the trip with them so I have a close person that I know and travel with me and they they kind of happy to see me alone to go with them so we we travel together by by bicycle with the the guy person that helped us how to communicate with the people at the borders and you know it was funny and we we try to get away from the Khmer Rouge soldier camp and the guy that told us said okay we have to go to that camp they call Cham Kar Kho Camp that is controlled by the Khmer Rouge soldier and it kind of a shock to me when I get into the camp I see that the Khmer Rouge soldiers still in charge over there kind of traumatized because I said wow and but they said now they they’re nice to the people they don’t do anything then it’s better to go that route so to cross the border so finally we go through that channel and we cross the Cambodian Thai border to the refugee camp so at this point what military was in charge of the country uh early 1979 1990 it’s Vietnamese troops maintain control the country and they installed the Cambodian Army that come along with them but to my opinion the Cambodian Army not that many cannot handle the cannot fight with the the Khmer Rouge soldier but the Vietnamese Soldier kind of like I don’t know hundred thousand or two hundred thousand Vietnamese soldiers kind of support maintain support behind that that’s why they kicked the Khmer Rouge soldiers real quick to the border were you afraid of the Vietnamese at all yes or no but in reality the Vietnamese Soldier they don’t pay that much attention to you they just their job is to kick the Khmer Rouge soldiers out of the country so and at the meantime they they take care the people like myself because if they don’t fight enough to kick the Khmer Rouge soldiers out of the country the Khmer Rouge soldiers gonna take the people as a human shield to go along and a lot of people that the Khmer Rouge soldiers take along with them and use as a human shield to protect the Vietnamese from fighting and the Vietnamese kind of at the time kind of be like okay to Cambodian people Vietnamese is a historical enemy but at the time Vietnamese come and save your life and at that time you don’t have to think about oh you my history enemy you think about surviving from time to time from hour to hour from day to day so it’s just you you live by your moment you you cannot analyze or figure out left and right who’s the bad guy if you look at the people that rescue you right now is a history enemy of the country and the people that that that you try to run away from them that the one that killed three million people during they call a Cambodian genocide the killing field so no way to think about that it just live by the moon decide make a wrong decision or right decision at that time.
Did you face any particular dangerous experiences on your journey to the to the border?
Yes the first night we tried to leave and it’s very dark at night and then we left just like I say maybe a couple hundred feet from where we stay to cross the border and we got a gunshot a gun we don’t know what exactly going on and and we cannot move and we said we got robbed and we got stuck with people that maybe thieves or we had to get away from the thief thieves can be both ways uh Thai thief or Cambodian thief or Cambodian Soldier or Thai Soldier so like I said we just we cannot get out and we got stuck because we left around 9 pm at night and then we got back we just left about like I say a couple hundred feet and then we got stuck and we don’t know what’s going on at the time we come back its almost one o’clock in like in three or four hours we got stuck in and then at that night I was thinking about it okay maybe probably I go back to the capital and my friend told me he said I know it’s very dangerous so so right now try another another day another night incase we can find a better time for us and the second night and we try it clear but we got there and we got arrested by the Thai Soldier it’s not they arrest us you know when we get to the refugee camp the guy so say we have to bribe the Thai Soldier and
So you had to bribe the Thai soldiers?
so when we got to the refugee camp and like a small City you can see from the from the hill in there and like around one o’clock in the morning and we stay take a rest on like a hill near the refugee camp and the guy go down to talk to the Thai Soldier and we’ve been told that said they let us in but we had to pay them 100 baht and I think about 100 baht at that time maybe five dollar per person to the Thai Soldier and then we agreed to pay them and then they said you had to wait till the moon go down because when there’s the moonlight kind of you can see so when the moon go down like around two or three or three o’clock in the morning so you can come down and they ready because we negotiate with them already of course when the moon go down and it kind of night dark and then we walked down from the hill go to the refugee camp we have a wire barbed you know you have and then the Thai soldier help you to get inside because they have two fences and and in the middle is like a road for military car to patrol and they have a light on you know to to shine around the fence and to see in case somebody tried to get in.
So as far as remembering the and honoring the victims and memories of the Khmer Rouge genocide what projects have you been a part of?
Uh if you’re talking about the Cambodian genocide known as the killing field you know like I can say 99 percent or 100 percent of the people living in Long Beach even if they don’t live through the killing fields they came here in 1975 they still have a relative a family member die and and victim of the the killing field so back in 2005 one of the group of the Cambodian groups try to have the parade New Year Cambodian New Year parade on April 17th which is that I know for sure that the day I left my home at 11 PM they said left home for three days now I left home forever when I come back and I didn’t see my immediate family like my father brother and sister and they all got killed so I kinda believe I said April 17 is not the day or the celebration New Year Cambodian New Year happened three days a year and happened mostly on the 13th 14th and 15th and we kind of have a big argument about that and make it short before that in year 2000 I worked as a legislative analyst for the city council 6th district and now the 6th the the council woman support the the Cambodian group that wanna do the parade on April 17 and I advise her I said you know I’m your friend and I do to help you out a lot you ask me but and on this project if you support the Cambodian group to have a parade on April 17 and I beg you please don’t don’t do that because April 17th to me as a day of the killing field start and you don’t have to believe me you can ask other Cambodians in Long Beach and if you doing that I’m not gonna be with you anymore and I’m gonna do everything against you and I beg for you to look at that again so 365 days a year I always ask for one day to respect the victims you know to honor the survivors and I remember my at least I can say on myself my my my immediate family that lost their life without with no justice you know that’s why I I start with that the killing field project start from that time and again like I said and at that time the city council and the mayor study about that and then I believe that at the time that city of Long Beach is the first city in the world that recognize April 17 as a Cambodian uh memorial day officially Cambodian mourning day in the city of Long Beach start in 2005.
I want to know more about the Killing Fields Memorial can you tell us more about what what that is what your goals are what events you guys put on?
So we found out that four four countries that the genocide happened in the month of April the Armenian Genocide start in April the Jewish Holocaust start in April the Rwanda genocide start in April same as the killing field started in April and we put that stuff together and submit to the city of Long Beach and city of Long Beach known as genocide awareness month on April and the reason we that and then we just come along and we have a good relationship with the former vice mayor in 6th District councilman Dee Andrews and then we work with the city of Long Beach and we finally we got one of the land they call a pocket land just like a small land and the city of Long Beach kind of agreed to have that small land for us to build a killing field Memorial Garden to honor the Cambodian that live in Long Beach and right now we still working on right now we get 1/3rd of the project done right now and we start and then we run out of the money and the COVID come and it’s hard for us to raise the money so hopefully we can get it done and I go back to the city of Long Beach and request more uh ask for more extension so the lease signed between 2017 five year lease so expire in the year 2020 2002 so I request for extension for up to 2000 no 2022 and extension another two year to 2024. so I was a the founder and former president now I work as a executive director of the killing field Memorial center but don’t get me wrong no pay job it’s a volunteer normally in a non-profit executive director is a paid job but no we don’t have the money as a volunteer job but just the title as an executive director so hopefully I can get that project done that garden done if I get enough money to finish the project like I said we have 1/3rd done already.
Do you do anything special on the day of remembrance on April 17th?
Yeah we do a Buddhist ceremony to remember the victim and we have a candlelight candle uh
Vigil in the evening and we have some Survivor come and do a testimonial and tell the story because I’m worried about that even myself I imagine I almost 70 years old so I feel like if we all getting old and we then keep that story alive and and store on somewhere else and we all die and all this story because like I said a thousand people a thousand stories and different area of the country so it I see that it’s like my next step if I can get people to help me out to write a grant to build a Museum like I think about that almost time when I have time think about that and I went to the Museum of Tolerance and I see that I kind of copy learn from that I said if somebody can help me out and on to get the money writing a grant to build a museum and I I said temporary right now I call if it happens I call that as a museum of remembrance so to collect all the story of the survivors and have that museum to to expose to the general public to to understand to know more it happened in Cambodia it might happen again somewhere around the world so don’t forget.