Message and Notes from Publisher Soben Ung on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Heritage Month

May is the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It is the month that America celebrates the diverse cultures of AA and NHPIs communities, their achievements, as well as their struggles and their contributions to the American dream. 

For Cambodian Americans, our history in the United States began in the 1970s during the turmoil of the Vietnam war when the dominos started to fall. The flood of war refugees started arriving in 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia that ended the Khmer Rouge regime but began its 10 years occupation until the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement. They settled spreading across the United States, mainly in California and Massachusetts.

Every Asian American community has a unique story to tell. This week, the South Korean president visited the White House and Massachusetts. We are reminded that the Korean War helped keep democracy alive on the Korean Peninsula next to Japan, as well as the painful unlawful incarceration  of 10,000 Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. America vowed never to repeat the punishment of certain groups based on suspicions, yet when Covid-19 hit the U.S, President Donald Trump blamed it on “China’s virus”, sparking hatred on Asian Americans across the nation, Cambodian-Americans included.

However, in every obstacle, as Americans we try to live up to the ideal that everyone is equal and try to hold our elected officials accountable. And this term with President Joe Biden, we finally saw the end of havocs from the sitting president on the daily news headlines. We also see hopes and dreams being realized at multiple levels from having elected Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President of Asian descent, to Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian American to win an Oscar for best actress in “Everything Everywhere At Once”. Here in Massachusetts, we have the first Cambodian American woman elected to the State House, Representative Vanna Howard, and the first Cambodian American Mayor Sokhary Chau in Lowell. The list goes on.

Additionally, the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was signed into law by president Biden which allows people to report hate crimes to local authorities and to help State, local, law enforcement agencies better track hateful acts. Additionally, for the first time in history, the White House hosted Lunar New Years, as well as Diwali, and other Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander’s traditional holidays.

The president also signed into law the Amache National Historic Site Act, which establishes a memorial to the 10,000 Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated at Amache during World War II so that Americans can learn from past wrongs in order to “build a more just and equitable future”.

“This country’s fundamental promise holds that every person is created equal and deserves to be treated equally throughout their lives. We have never fully lived up to that ideal, but we have never walked away from it either. This month, we renew our work to put the American Dream within reach of all people, and we celebrate the vibrancy, contributions, and future of Asian Americans and NHPI communities across America,” said president Joe Biden in commemorating the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Month.

First Cambodian American Woman State Representative Vanna Howard

First Cambodian American Mayor Sokhary Chau

For the Cambodian Americans, we are still somewhere near the bottom of the list of those who achieved higher education amongst all the Asian American ethnic groups, because the Killing Fields eliminated almost all the Cambodians who had any kind of education. There is a lot more work to do to help uplift our community across the country. We need to have our fair share of the resources, voices, and representations in order to build an equitable future for our younger generation.