Cambodians to celebrate New Year in concord

Events: Parade banner to hang next to one for April 17 'killing fields' commemoration.

By Greg Mellen, Staff writer

LONG BEACH — As events involving the local Cambodian community go, preparations for the 2006 Cambodian New Year celebration have been remarkably smooth.

Just a year ago, the community was deeply divided when the proposed date for the inaugural Cambodian New Year parade coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge's infamous "killing fields" campaign of genocide.

Eventually, an 11th-hour deal was struck to move the parade date from April 17 to April 24.

This year, the newfound cooperation was perhaps best exemplified in a seemingly small but significant gesture this week.

Paline Soth and a group of community members had created a banner to commemorate the April 17 day of mourning, which they will remember with a candlelight vigil at MacArthur Park on Monday.

Initially, their request to display the banner on a fence at MacArthur Park next to another banner promoting Sunday's parade was denied.

However, David Ashman, the city's special events manager, Soth and parade coordinator Peter Long struck a deal to allow the two banners to hang side-by-side.

To be sure, the two banners illustrate very different aspects of the Cambodian experience.

The parade seeks to be joyful and celebrate Cambodian-American successes, highlight Cambodian businesses along the Anaheim corridor and complement the New Year celebration in El Dorado Park.

The vigil memorializes the horrors of the past that can never be forgotten. It remembers the launching of a four-year reign of terror that wiped out between 1 million and 3 million people, a staggering 20 percent to 40 percent of Cambodia's population.

"I want to preserve our true culture and our true grief," Soth said of the vigil. "I respect other people's opinion, but as an individual, this is how I remember the biggest loss in my life."
A year ago, the two notions collided; this year, they are able to coexist.

Although Soth says he won't participate in the parade, he respects the opinions of those who will.

One of those is Tippana Tith. Last year, Tith was among the leadership opposing the parade. This year, he will be playing host to Cambodian human rights activist Kem Sokha, who will march in the parade with Tith and other human rights supporters.

Across the board, organizers for this weekend's events are expressing great optimism.

Traditionally, the Cambodian New Year is celebrated over three days in mid-April, though the exact dates vary. This year, it technically began Friday morning, although most celebrations in the United States are on the weekend closest to the actual days.

The annual New Year celebration at El Dorado Park is looking to celebrate another banner year. Last year, the event sold out for the first time, and coordinator Steve Meng predicts the same could happen this year.

Meng said people from as far away as Boston and New York have been expressing interest in attending.

"We're encouraging people to buy tickets early," Meng said.
The celebration will feature entertainment
throughout the day. Among the performers will be Cambodian rapper Prach Ly, Khmer Angels, traditional singers and modern and folklore dancers.

The event will run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at El Dorado Park East, 7550 E. Spring St.

This year's second annual Cambodian New Year parade will kick off at 10 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Junipero Avenue and Anaheim Street. It will continue west to Orange Avenue and be followed by a celebration at MacArthur Park. A brief interfaith celebration and blessing by local monks will precede the parade.

About 5,000 to 6,000 residents lined the parade route last year, despite the late change of date. Organizers say they have added a number of participants to the parade this year who had to bow out last year after the date change.

Last year's original parade date conflicted with "killing fields" remembrances. This year, the date falls on Easter. It is unknown how that will affect attendance.

The weekend's activities will conclude with a candlelight vigil Monday at MacArthur Park at 6 p.m. to remember the genocide.
The event will include testimonials from those affected by the atrocities as well as a poetry reading and slide show.

Also on Monday, beginning at 9 a.m., the Cambodian Association of America, 2390 Pacific Ave., will participate in a video conference National Town Hall meeting that will connect Cambodians from across the country to discuss health issues in the Cambodian-American Community.

The event is being sponsored by the Cambodian Heritage Museum-Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago and the National Cambodian American Health Initiative, a health advocacy organization.

The NCAHI declared a health emergency in the Cambodian community in the wake of a RAND Corporation Study that found that 62 percent of the survivor population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Also discovered were increased diabetes and cardiovascular disease and mental health issues arising from the disorder.

Greg Mellen can be reached at greg.mellen@presstelegram.com or (562) 499-1291.