Cambodian Americans Seeking Safety Unprepared for Anti-Asian Sentiment   

For many Cambodians, racial discrimination was an unanticipated part of their experience as new Americans.Vesna Nuon arrived in the U.S. in 1982 after surviving the brutal Khmer Rouge reign under FILE – Nou Moeur, a Cambodian refugee, carries his daughter on his shoulders as his wife, Orrin, right, and his children, and brother Nou Samean, sister Nou Yat, rear, are shown outside their row home in Harrisburg, Pa., March 17, 1983.Joining the wave of Vietnamese refugees who fled to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Cambodians arrived over the next 20 years until there were about 1 million refugees from Southeast Asia, included Laotians and Hmong, in the U.S. It was, according to the International Rescue Committee, the largest resettlement effort in the U.S. until that time.Vesna Nuon and his family arrived in the same year the U.S. Census announced that the 1980 count had found Asians were the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation.That year, 1982, was also the year when two out-of-work Detroit autoworkers upset by the advances of Japanese carmakers into the U.S. market beat Vincent Chen, a Chinese immigrant, with a baseball bat. Convicted of manslaughter, the autoworkers were sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine. The case “forced Asian Americans into the civil rights discourse,” Roland Hwang, co-founder and former president of American Citizens for Justice, told Chhaya Chhoum is executive director of Mekong NYC, a nonprofit organization that helps the Southeast Asian community in the Bronx, N.Y.Chhaya Chhoum is executive director of Mekong NYC, a nonprofit organization that helps the Southeast Asian community in the Bronx and the other four boroughs of New York City. She told VOA Cambodian that some people do not report incidents because of a lack of trust in the police and others remain silent because they fear deportation due to their immigration status. The victims prefer to seek help within their communities, a path that contributes to the underreporting of anti-Asian crimes.Charles Song, a community organizer in Long Beach, told VOA that after experiencing racial discrimination, while he finds it difficult to remain calm, his wifeCharles Song, a community organizer in Long Beach, Calif.reminds him that people who use discriminatory language may be doing it to provoke a fight.Some Cambodian Americans told VOA that in the past they were unclear on the definition of racism and weren’t aware their rights were being violated.Mannrinh Tran, 68, a retiree in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said, “When I first arrived in the U.S., I worked for 7-Eleven. Some customers saw me and told me to go back to China. I experienced [discrimination], but I thought it was just a tiny thing. I didn’t think it was racism.”But the Atlanta shootings made him “more aware of racism.”Chhay Kunnida, a financial analyst from Lawrenceville, Ga.Chhay Kunnida, 43, a financial analyst from Lawrenceville, Georgia, said her parents told her to keep her head down, so when she was young, she did not know how to react to racism.“I was surprised. … I could only tell the teacher that someone pulled my hair or kicks me from behind, but I did not know the word ‘racism,’ ” she said.

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