Monday, April 21, 2008
By Richard Tenorio/The Daily Item
LYNN-In a city with a sizeable Cambodian-American population, members of the Massachusetts Cambodian-American community celebrated the Khmer New Year at LynnArts on Sunday.
“I thought it went well,” said planning committee co-chair R. Bobby Pres, a 2002 Lynn Tech graduate who now works in financial services. “This was once again a stepping-stone for us.”
Pres estimated a crowd of 150 to 200 people visited the celebration, which was held in Lynn for the seventh straight year and which celebrates a New Year rooted in the end of the Khmer harvest (its actual date is April 13-15). Pres and fellow planning committee member Judy Khy said that there were differences in the focus of this year’s event. Pres mentioned an emphasis on youth and community organizing, while Khy discussed a greater role of art.
“Usually, Cambodian youth are seen as very threatening,” Pres said, citing the role of gangs. “We try to make them known in a positive light.” He added that a goal of the New Year event was to “push them toward resources and a leadership role in the community.”
Khy, whose primary role was to coordinate volunteer outreach and recruitment, said, “We were able to get more Southeast Asian artists and performers. That was really great.”
The day began with a Khmer blessing dance from three Lynn high school students, followed by performances from 3rd World Entertainment of Lowell, a Lowell ceramic artisan, a spoken-word piece, kung fu line-dancing from the Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of Malden, and break-dancing from local Cambodian youth.
Artists had opportunities to sell their work, and attendees had a chance to sample Khmer food.
Pres and Khy both noted the roots of Khmer culture in Lynn.
“We have a temple, and culturally, there are grocery stores, video rental stores, and Cambodian people here,” Pres said. “There are a lot of us.”
Khy noted that Cambodian-Americans in Lynn might celebrate the new year with additional festivities.
“In Lynn, there might be smaller things, like temple celebrations and religious and social gatherings for older folks and families,” she said. “There might also be nighttime events and parties. (The LynnArts event) was the only one I knew of that was open to the entire community.” LynnArts hosted the event for the first time this year, providing its auditorium and both of its galleries. Past locations included North Shore Community College, the Lynn Housing Authority, and the Lynn Tech cafeteria.
“(LynnArts) was definitely a great location,” Khy said. “It’s in the vicinity of public transportation, which is a big plus. Being close to the Lynnway also helps. The parking around the area seems pretty convenient.”
Khy addressed the resilience of the Cambodian-American community, many of whose members escaped from a nation torn by a civil war in the 1970s that resulted in the ascension of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.
“I think that Cambodian-American celebrations definitely have an undertone acknowledging that the whole Cambodian-American community living in the US (is) definitely a resilient people,” Khy said, “being that they overcame a civil war in Cambodia and have become refugees, they were in refugee camps in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, and Burma ... coming to America, trying to assimilate here, and formed their own communities again.
“Each celebration just speaks to being able to acknowledge that.”