The Khmer Collective is a place to collect, share, and inspire with the stories of those who survived under the Khmer Rouge regime. It’s a place to honor the dead, to recognize the extraordinary strength and bravery of those who lived through such horror, and to give a voice to those who have been holding this pain in silence. It’s a place to inform a new generation that may be disconnected, to reconnect with their history, bring that darkness in to light, and do our part to not allow such violations of human rights to continue repeating itself upon any other being.
More than 30 years have passed since the day the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and completely altered the course of the country and its people. The atrocity affected just about every person in Cambodia – there isn’t a single Cambodian you meet who hasn’t lost a family member, a friend, or a neighbor as a result of the Khmer Rouge.
I am no different, which is why I want to collect these stories.
I personally did not live through those times, my parents did. They endured tremendous hardship, suffered many losses, shed tears that would water the path they walked, and eventually found their way to freedom with nothing but hope and a will to survive.
They were able to start a new life in a completely different world after having lost everything. They gave their children the freedom they longed for, to have more opportunities than what was granted to them. However, they were never free from the pain they experienced from those years. They lived with the nightmares from then on.
This pursuit is for them.
I was born in a refugee camp on the Thai Cambodian border amongst many displaced Cambodians. I was fortunate to not have lived through what my family lived through. I can never fully understand the deep trauma they experienced, but the stories of a silent generation will shed some light in to that. I hope this site gives a voice to those who carry this pain inside.
Chansoda Roeun, Founder
Chansoda Roeun and Vannoroth Imm have been friends since early childhood, but their history began with the generation before theirs. Their fathers were lifelong friends, living as neighbors in the same village, going to boarding school together, and of course, surviving the tragedies under the Khmer Rouge regime at the same period of their lives. Like many Cambodians who were separated during the war, they searched for any remaining friends and family members who may have survived the “Killing Fields”. Fortunate to find each other again, they found a way to bring their families to America. Safely living on the same coast in the U.S., they continued their friendship, leading their children to forge a similar relationship and thus, came the collaboration for the Khmer Collective.
I’m Chansoda Roeun, a graphic designer living in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was born in Sakaeo refugee camp, from where my parents decided they should start their new life in the U.S.
As a young child with refugee status, I had no idea what “refugee” meant. I just knew we were not from this country, that we were Cambodians. The innocence of childhood did not allow me to understand what wounds were inflicted to earn that refugee status, and that it all was still very fresh in my parents’ hearts.
As an adult, having learned much more through the years, I came to understand what genocide was, and what took place in Cambodia during that time. I discovered the cruelty that was forced upon innocent lives, and that my parents endured in that extreme environment with extraordinary strength. My parents’ struggle, similar to many a Cambodian’s struggle, became my inspiration to start the Khmer Collective.
I identify myself as a 1.5 generation Cambodian American from Lowell, Massachusetts. Growing up I had many questions about my heritage, especially in a community where a quarter to a third of the population is Cambodian. Why were some of the kids split up into separate classes with a teacher of Khmer origin? Why did my parents merely point to the movie “The Killing Fields” to answer questions about the Genocide, instead of speaking about their own experiences? Why didn’t we learn about the Khmer Rouge in school, even though it was such a tragic part of history for a large part of Lowell’s population?
With no answers but plenty of questions, I figured that I had to do some soul searching . My questions about identity and history led to activism in the community starting in high school, where I became an involved in the River Ambassadors Program, CAPAY, the Cambodian Club of Lowell High School, and a conference in D.C. for Southeast Asian American leaders. In college, I furthered my understanding of Cambodia through research on its history and child trafficking issues, have spoken in conferences about the trafficking industry and my experience working in an NGO in Cambodia, and have interviewed Cambodian immigrants about their experiences growing up in the refugee camps. Post college I raised money for Tiny Toones, an NGO that uses break dancing and hip hop culture to inspire the youth of Cambodia to realize their full academic and creative potential, and taught Cambodian to Japanese students. Throughout my journey I have been able to meet many kindred spirits in the US, Cambodia, Japan, and France who I am fortunate to now call my friends!
As children in the next generation, I feel that we have a responsibility to tell the stories that our families weren’t able to, whether it was because they didn’t yet have the language skills or the strength. Khmer Collective speaks to that mission and could not have found a better person than Chansoda to initiate it. Although we are humbly starting small, we hope that we are able to grow with your help to document our family histories.
I was born in a refugee camp on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. My family was among the many who chose to leave Cambodia and migrate to America. I spent most of my childhood in California, ironically because there is a large population of Cambodians in California, among Hispanics. By 13 I moved to the east coast where I would be among other Cambodians for the first time.
With the move, the readjustment, and the possibility of finally learning what other Cambodians are like, came very high hopes. But life turned out very differently. I had a rough time adapting to my new life and for some time, life was a struggle. But if not for these struggles, I would not have developed into the person I am now. As I was struggling to put the pieces of my identity together, I developed a deep appreciation for stories. I fell in love with books, with literature, and the power of the written word. A major part of my participation here is to collect and share the stories of survivors.
My interest in stories and books lead me to acquire a Bachelor’s in English Literature. My compassion for others motivated me to pursue a Master’s in Counseling, which I am currently enrolled. I currently work as an ABA Therapist and I am the Assistant Editor for Khmer Collective.
My love for my parents, my family, for all who was affected by this tragedy, for any human being that has suffered, has brought me to this endeavor. My participation in this website is an act of love, an act of hope, an act of resilience, and in the words of my dear friend and the creator of this website, an act of turning “Darkness to Light”.