April 17th, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and began their reign of terror by turning the country in to a mass labor camp. They marched in to the Phnom Penh and forced the people into the jungle to find their fate in either forced slave labor or death.
My mother never thought it would have come to that, the regime she lived through for the next fours years. They lived in Battambang, another major city and were just celebrating the Khmer New Year. When the Khmer Rouge came, my parents waved their white flag in honor of peace just like everybody else. They heard the rumors of death and execution, but they didn’t want to believe it. When they were forced to leave their home to make their march in they saw the nightmare unfolding, bodies of their own people brutally murdered and left for the world to see. They were forced into a scary unknown that will come to be Year Zero and the Killing Fields.
It’s hard to believe that was almost 40 years ago. My parents never really talked about that day as an observance date, it’s closely tied with New Years, which is a lively fun time to start anew for everyone. We celebrated the New Years growing up and that was what they wanted to pass to us, the fun new years games, offerings, cultural dances, traditions, and community.
I think my father wanted to tell us what this date meant to him though, the day when all that was secure was suddenly swept from under him, but he did’t know how to begin. He use to gather any documentaries on Pol Pot and the khmer rouge he could find and play it, but he couldn’t have a conversation about it. He had tried to show us just what it was that he had gone through, that this was still with him and this is what brought us here.
This was the day that changed everything for the Cambodian people.