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Cambodian Americans

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Cambodian Americans

Cambodian American
Dith Pran
Total population
0.09% of the U.S. population (2010)
Regions with significant populations
California (Long Beach, Stockton, Fresno, Oakland, Modesto, Los Angeles Chinatown), Massachusetts (Lowell, Lynn), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Twin Cities, Minnesota; King County, Washington
Khmer, American English, Cham
Related ethnic groups
Khmer people, Vietnamese Cambodians, Chinese Cambodians, Southeast Asian Americans, Asian Americans

A Cambodian American is an American who is born, raised, or from Cambodia usually of Khmer descent but also including Chinese Cambodians, Vietnamese Cambodians, Cham people and other ethnicities of Cambodia. The term may also refer to Americans who have ancestors that are born, raised or from Cambodia.


Prior to 1975, most of the few Cambodians in the United States were children of upper income families or having government funded scholarships sent abroad to attend school. After the fall of Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975, a few Cambodians managed to escape, but not until the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979 did large waves of Cambodians began immigrating to the United States as refugees. In order to encourage rapid assimilation into American culture and to spread the economic impact, the U.S. government settled the 150,000 refugees in various towns and cities throughout the country. However, once established enough to be able to communicate and travel, many Cambodians began migrating within the U.S. to certain localities where the climate was more like home, where they knew friends and relatives had been sent, or where there were rumored to be familiar jobs or higher government benefits. Consequently, large communities of Cambodians took root in cities such as Long Beach, Fresno and Stockton in California, Providence, Rhode Island, Cleveland, Ohio as well as Lynn and Lowell in Massachusetts, and in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland.

The 2010 U.S. Census counted 276,667 persons of Cambodian descent in the United States, up from 206,052 in 2000. Of them, 231,616 (84%) are Cambodian alone and 45,051 part-Cambodian.[1]

Areas of concentration

In Southern California, there is a large Cambodian population in Long Beach, and smaller yet significant communities of Cambodians are present in Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. Four percent of Long Beach's population is of Cambodian descent, mainly concentrated on the city's east section. The Pueblo Del Rio housing projects in South Los Angeles were home to around 200 Cambodian families in the 1980s, and as of 2010, remains a smaller but sufficient population of Cambodians.[2] The Los Angeles Chinatown has more than 600 Cambodian residents. The City Heights neighborhood in eastern San Diego has a large concentration of Cambodians.[3][4]

In Northern California, Stockton, Modesto, and Oakland have significant Cambodian populations, while Santa Rosa and Sacramento have sizable communities as well. Outside of California, the Seattle, Washington area is home to another large Cambodian settlement on the west coast, specifically in cities such as Tacoma, where Cambodians enumerate at thousands.

Lowell, Massachusetts, a suburb of north of Boston, has the second highest population of Cambodian Americans of in the U.S., and is a center of Cambodian population on the east coast. Lynn, Massachusetts, a city right besides Boston has the third largest Cambodian American population. Providence, Rhode Island is also another New England city that contains a sizable Cambodian community. Outside of New England, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has many residents of Cambodian descent in the northern and southern areas of the city.

The Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota metropolitan area has been a home to many Southeast Asian refugees, mainly Hmong, but also have thousands of Cambodian American residents.

There are two museums in the U.S. devoted to the story of Cambodians in America, the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Seattle and the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, both founded in 2004.

Cambodian American studies and culture

Aside from personal memoirs of coming to America, such as those by Loung Ung, a few books have been dedicated to studying the Khmer American population in the U.S., such as Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner. This book is an anthropological study of Khmer refugee families, largely from the perspective of the parental generation, residing in metropolitan Boston and eastern Massachusetts. This book was one of the early books among the few, circulating, that talks about this diasporic community. It portrays some understanding of both traditional Khmer culture and contemporary American society, but it is not a historical study of Khmer Americans. A more recent book is, Buddha Is Hiding written by Aiwha Ong, an ethnographic study that tells the story of Khmer Americans and their experiences of American citizenship. The study was largely investigating Khmer refugee in Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area. It portrayed what most Cambodian refugees experience with American institutions such as health, welfare, law, police force, church, and school. The book reveals through extensive ethnographic dialogs showing how Khmer refugees interpret and negotiate with American culture, often at the expense of their own cultural Theravada Buddhist cultural upbringing. This book revealed the contradictions in how Khmer American encounters with American citizenship as they negotiate with service providers, bureaucrats, and employers on how to be autonomous while the system and American cultural citizenship limits them within terms that labeled them as refugees in the context of ethnicity, race, and class.

Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States written by Sucheng Chan, is a multidisciplinary study of Khmer American, drawing on interviews with community leaders, government officials, and other staff members in community agencies as well as common Khmer American to capture the perspectives of Cambodian Americans from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

A survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Dara Duong, has founded The Killing Fields Museum in Seattle.[5]

Cambodian Americans

Some prominent or famous Cambodian Americans include film director.

See also


  • Wright, Wayne E. 2010. Khmer as a Heritage Language in the United States: Historical Sketch, Current Realities, and Future Prospects Heritage Language Journal, 7(1). pp 117–147

External links

  • Cambodian American Resource Agency
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