LONG BEACH – Youthful rebellion can come in many guises, from being anti-Google to defending animal rights. But for an all-female group of Cambodian American teens in Long Beach, home to the country’s largest Cambodian community, the target of their adolescent disaffection is their parents’ generational hopelessness.
“We felt the word ‘action’ was important,” said Sophya Chum, an organizer for Khmer Girls in Action, an activist group whose members, young Cambodian American women, surveyed some 500 of their 1.5-generation (those who immigrated to the U.S. as children) and second-generation peers to better understand the issues affecting their lives. Their findings are the basis of Show Youth the Love, a health and wellness forum held last month.
The survey, completed two years ago, shed light on the ricochet effect of trauma on refugee families – families “caught in the process of historical forgetting,” in the words of Jonathan H.X. Lee, an assistant professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Many of the girls’ parents arrived in Long Beach in the early 1980s after fleeing the “killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge regime, a genocide that resulted in an estimated 1.7 to 2 million deaths. Survivors of unimaginable horror, many have kept their stories untold, creating a generation of silence that has taken a profound toll on their children.