Experience in the United States
is estimated that 150,000 Cambodians fled to the United States
to escape the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge (Levin & Hott,
1991). There are several large communities of Cambodian Americans:
Lowell and Amherst, Massachusetts; Long Beach, California;
Providence, Rhode Island; and San Antonio, Texas (Migration
World Magazine, 1995).
Perhaps the most revealing overview of Cambodians in the
United States is the documentary film, Rebuilding
the Temple: Cambodians in America by Claudia Levin
and Lawrence Hott (1991). This documentary examines the struggle
of new Cambodian immigrants to retain their cultural identity
and preserve their heritage in a harsh environment that is
totally at odds with the Buddhist way of life that is integral
to a true Cambodian identity.
Cambodian immigrants were often overwhelmed with the relatively
competitive and materialistic American urban environment.
Insofar as family is central to every Cambodian, requiring
all personal desires and ambition to be subordinate to the
wishes of parents and elder, many Cambodian youngsters have
faced constant conflicts between the environment within their
home and that of school. Eventually, many strive to find
a balance and a bridge between the Cambodian identity,
on one hand, and their new American life on the other. The
experience of Ben
Bao and Salang Mak of Lake Ridge, Virginia and their children
illustrates this issue. (Andrei, 2004).
As Cambodian students sail through the acculturation process,
they go through stages of cultural
adaptation to the U. S. society. Some may identify themselves
as Cambodian, others as Americans, others as Cambodian-Americans,
or they may not identify with either American
or Cambodian culture (anomie stage).
The teacher fellows in this project reported that many of
the students they work with in the Lowell Public Schools in
Massachusetts tend not to identify with either Cambodian or
American culture. This observation reveals a huge challenge
for schools as they strive to educate these students fully.
This lack of a sense of belonging turns into fertile ground
for young people to seek a sense of belonging elsewhere, sometimes
in gangs. What are schools going to do about this challenge?
How are educators being prepared to address culturally responsive
pedagogy? Why that important for our children?
In conclusion, Cambodian background students in the United
States may be experiencing cultural identity challenges that
need to be studied further and addressed in teaching and learning
in order to provide them with an appropriate education in
the least restrictive environment
Life may change, but it may fly not;
Hope may vanish, but can die not;
Truth be veiled, but still it burneth.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Here are some examples of prominent Cambodian-American people:
Pran – Photojournalist who survived the Cambodian Holocaust
and was the subject of an Academy-award winning film, “The
S. Nor – Academy-award winning actor and doctor who portrayed
Dith Pran in “The Killing Fields.” He was also a survivor
of the Cambodian Holocaust. He survived by hiding the fact
that he was a gynecologist/obstetrician, a fact that would
have resulted in his death by the Khmer Rouge.