Photo credit to Cross Cultural and Gender Team
The Fresno State Cross Cultural and Gender Center’s Asian Pacific Islander Programs and Services remembers the fall of Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia called Day of Remembrance on April 17, 2017. The API Programs and Services set up a booth at the Peace Garden to for this day of remembrance. In Cambodia, Day of Remembrance is May 20th but April 17 is significant to Cambodian Americans because it marks the beginning of four years of terror against the people of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge regime (the “Red Army”).
API Programs and Services student coordinator, Vanna Nauk, remembers never being taught about Cambodian history while growing up. However, he remembers his parents setting up a shrine to remember their loved ones who were lost due to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.
“I don’t know if everyone’s doing it inside their home. I think some people are still traumatized so they choose not to remember this day. Some people want to honor their loved one that were lost,” Nauk said.
In early April the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors proclaimed April 17 as “Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day.” When asked if it’s important for areas like Fresno County where Cambodian American resides, if this kind of recognition is important, he replied, “first and second generation needs to advocate for it to bring awareness. We need it so the 3rd and 4th generations can be educated about it.”
Few people know about the Cambodian genocide. From the event, Nauk learned that many people know about the Vietnam War but had never heard of the Cambodian genocide. Nauk hopes that this commemoration continues to be held on campus for the diverse student body to learn about why Cambodian Americans are in the United States today.
The Khmer Rouge regime took over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 before being defeated by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1979. The regime was led by Marxist leader, Pol Pot, with the intention to turn Cambodia to an agrarian socialist country. In their four years’ reign, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the death of over two million Cambodians (1 of 4 people in the country).
Nauk’s parents were youth during the time of regime’s take over. They told their children very little about their experience during the regime. He told his father about the commemoration on campus and his father told him of his experience.
Nauk recalls: “He told me that he was excited at first when the Khmer Rouge came into the city because he thought things were going to get better because this was a civil war. But he knew something was wrong when he saw two French reporters shot by them. He realized things were gonna be worst. He said the biggest mistake he made was telling them he was a student because that means he was educated. When they asked if he was a doctor or teacher he thought that was a good thing because those were statuses that people took pride in claiming.”
The Khmer Rouge eventually rounded up the educated and the intellectuals to be killed first.