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DAILY 49er - SPECIAL ISSUE: How generations of Cambodian Americans in Long Beach are embracing two cultures By JAMES CHOW UPDATED: APR 29, 2019, 10:15 PM
The 1.5 and second generation of Cambodian Americans are finding new ways to retain their roots, while acclimating to the diverse Long Beach population.
Laura Som was just six years old when she was kidnapped and abandoned during one of the bloodiest atrocities in history: The Khmer Rouge. She saw her mother surrounded in a pool of her own blood, beaten to near death. Som was kidnapped and never saw her father again. She fainted, lost her memories and repressed her experiences of the Cambodian genocide until they recurred in her nightmares.
These experiences are not uncommon for the many Cambodians who lived through the genocide. In just four years of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of power, nearly two million people died as a result of mass executions, abuse, malnutrition and disease. The Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot’s regime lasted from 1975 to 1979 and obliterated approximately 25% of the country’s 1975 population.
Paul San, a Los Angeles resident, lived through the killing fields from ages 9 to 13. He still has dreams about it and likens his experience to Loung Ung, author of “First They Killed My Father.” To cope, San refocused his energy into education. He’s an engineer today. “Oh my God, it’s a nightmare,” San said. “When I was still young, I used to have nightmares, and as I get older, it became less.”
While each person has a different way of coping with the aftermath of the genocide, Long Beach’s MAYE Center looks to heal the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that permeates within the first generation Cambodian populace, while bringing them back to their roots. Som, who founded the center in 2014, said it works in a cyclical way. Its purpose is to integrate elder Cambodians to modern American life and to introduce the second generation to traditional Khmer lifestyles.
Paula Kiley | Daily 49er
Laura Som, survivor of the Cambodian genocide and Founder of the MAYE Center, sits in the community garden surrounding the Center on East Anaheim Street.
The MAYE Center wishes to mirror households in Cambodia, according to Som. its garden boasts a sea of green Khmer and American vegetables and fruits, including a Java Plum Tree and four miracle trees over 20 years old. Som recalled seeing Cambodian gardens everywhere in the motherland and in Long Beach.
“When I was kidnapped and abandoned in the jungles, I realized there were people who have never been exposed to civilization … their entire life is based on gardening and farming and their education is actually from nature,” she said. READ THE FULL ARTICLE….
On Monday, April 8, children released ladybugs and decollate snails in the urban farm located just north of Anaheim Street, in Long Beach’s Zaferia neighborhood. Through this hands-on activity, preschool-aged children learned about the harmonious life cycle of ladybugs, aphids, and snails. This activity is one of many being hosted at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm on Monday mornings that teaches farming, while connecting the community directly to their source of food.
“This is teaching children about organic food at a young age so when they grow up, it’s just a part of their natural being”, said Laura Som. She is the Director of the MAYE Center, which is responsible for restoring Gladys Avenue.
Ladybugs sitting on kale at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez. The MAYE Center, just a few blocks from the garden, is a place where Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide use gardening as a form of healing. Gladys Avenue serves as an expansion of the MAYE Center with its focus on meditation, agriculture, yoga and education.
Ollie Cigliano, an urban chef and organic cooking class instructor has taken the initiative to lead educational activities for children at this farm for the first time in five years. She demonstrated how to grow organic tomatoes at home through an engaging activity for both parents and their children. Children setting carnivorous snails onto the soil with the help of Laura Som at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez. Long Beach resident Phi Ewing brought her two daughters to the garden and watched them as they explored the kale beds by placing snails on the soil. “Any chance to play in the dirt, they love it,” said Ewing.
Cigliano believes that by mere exposure to what she calls a real tomato and being a part of the process of making it grow, will make children want to eat them. She and Som are working to provide a space where children can scatter and use the garden as an outdoor classroom.
Children help put soil into a pot during the tomato potting demonstration, taught by Ollie Cigliano at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez. The two met at this garden in 2012 when they brought preschoolers from the area to learn about organic produce. Som and Cigliano are now working at making sure Gladys Avenue lives up to its full potential. That includes plans to make this garden a sustainable food system by providing affordable organic Asian produce for the Cambodian community in Long Beach. Survivors will have access to more space to grow Asian specific produce and use the gardens as a sanctuary for healing.
“One of the first things you can do to heal yourself is through your food,” said Som. Children learning about the French snails that will eat the brown garden snails at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez. This farm brings a positive social impact to the people who live on Gladys Ave. and beyond, and only has plans to continue to grow. “Kids who grow up on Gladys Ave. walk by and watch as volunteers harvest kale, it engages this community and has such a high social impact,” said Cigliano.
Their mission right now is to disseminate information about gardening for free to empower others through the process of growing their own food. While restoring this farm, they engage the community by inviting them to the farm every Monday morning, to participate in a different activity or workshop every week. Last week, Cigliano taught how to make your own vermicompost. Children setting carnivorous snails onto the soil with the help of Laura Som at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Long Beach, California, Monday April 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.
On Monday, April 29, Cigliano will host a Sun Ball planting workshop where the community will help plant the flowers and be given their own potted seed to plant at home.
Events at Gladys Ave are free although RSVP is required.
The Cambodian Community being divided into 4 districts
The Cambodian Community has been in Long Beach for 40 years yet its people has no representation on city council. Their voting power has been diluted because the city of Long Beach has divided them into 4 districts. Equity for Cambodians, is a group of residents working to address these historic grievances.
Equity for Cambodian
The traumas the Cambodian people had experienced during the Khmer Rouge genocide has yet to be healed yet community re-traumatization and compounded traumas immigrating to Long Beach calls for a group of people with stronger resiliency to advocate for these people.
The Mayor and 4 council members have proposed a city of Long Beach amendments to City Charter to give the people the power to redistricting. The Equity for Cambodians have fought hard to ensure equity for all residents, ethnic and minority communities through working with the city to include to shape this policy.
MAYE CENTER’S ‘HEALING GARDEN’ GETS SPOTLIGHT AT FIRST TASTE OF CAMBODIA TOWN
“For the Cambodian immigrants who have made this community center into a second home, the process of working with the earth as a way to work through trauma is also nourishment for the soul. “Gardening is a form of healing. It’s also a form of exercise,” says MAYE Center founder Laura Som. “For us, spirituality is connected with the garden.””
MAYE CENTER COMMUNITY CENTER
with City Fabrik
“Located in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town ethnic enclave, the MAYE Center repurposed a for,we single-family property into an community farm, repurposing the vintage California Bungalow, into a yoga, meditation and community learning center. With it’s growing number of users, MAYE Center leadership engaged City Fabrick to develop a master plan for enhancing the indoor and outdoor elements, to better support existing and new programming.”