Commemorative Event at Cambodian American Heritage Museum

April 02, 2012
Izabela Grobelna Uniting America AmeriCorps Fellow

The recent commemorative gathering of the Cambodian genocide experience at the Cambodian American Heritage Museum in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, a community with the most diverse population of immigrants, was the first Cambodian Day of Remembrance. I attended the gathering to represent Uniting America, and as usual, I was warmly welcomed. 

I had visited the Cambodian American Heritage Museum a number of times, but this was my second time walking through the new exhibit "Remembering the Killing Fields" that tells the stories of genocide survivors. Given that this museum is the only one in existence, I wanted to learn from the guests at the gathering: "Why should more people visit the Cambodian American Heritage Museum?" By proposing this interactive activity, I had arranged for the question to be translated in Khmer and allowed the guests to write their answers in Khmer, if they wanted to. I had paired with a friendly Cambodian, who assisted me with talking with the Cambodian elders.

The responses from the Cambodian elders expressed the crucial need to not forget the past and learn from the Cambodian experience how to better strive toward peace. Later on, two young Cambodian-America girls shared that the museum is a place where people can learn more about their country of heritage. 

During the commemorative service the keynote speaker, Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch, made a powerful statement: "We may disagree on punishment, but its human nature to not want to live next to neighbors whom harmed our family." The Cambodians living in Cambodia still have to manage to deal with the atrocities that had taken place between 1975 and 1979 that their neighbors to neighbors had committed. Those living in the U.S., none who have come by choice, continue to live with these horrific memories of genocide. Yet despite this horrific experience, the Cambodian people have proven incredibly resilient through building the Memorial of the Killing Fields to serving their refugee community in the community healing and rebuilding.