13 April, Cambodian New Year: A Texas Connection to the Khmer Rouge’s Assault on the Family
By THGC Admin
by Jasmine Bisheh, Education Intern
Today is the start of the Cambodian New Year. It is a time to celebrate lives, but also to reflect on the many people who lost theirs amidst tremendous suffering just a few decades ago. The Cambodian genocide was not just an assault on the Khmer people, but also on their way of life. As old ties were intentionally shattered, Cambodians were explicitly taught and viciously compelled to be servants of the state. Loyalties to anything other than the Khmer Rouge were targeted, including those to the Buddhist religion and education. Perhaps most hearbreakingly, it became official state policy to dismantle the nuclear family. Children were taken away from their parents and divided into various labor camps. In the midst of this horrendous nightmare, hundreds of thousands wondered if they would ever see their loved ones again.
Through the telling of a personal narrative, the 2006 documentary film, New Year Baby, exposes this attempt to dissolve the family. Socheata Poeuv tells the story of uncovering her family’s past from the Cambodian genocide. Poeuv was born on this New Year's Day, April 13th, in a refugee camp in Thailand. At the time, her parents and cousins had just survived the genocide. Being born on the Cambodian New Year and the only member of her family to have not lived during the genocide, she was always considered the “lucky one." The family eventually emigrated to the United States. Growing up in Dallas, Poeuv knew very little about her family’s life in Cambodia. As the film reveals, after discovering a family secret from her mother, Poeuv travels to Cambodia with her parents and brother to uncover her family’s harrowing story and learn more about Cambodia. This documentary is a heart-warming example of survival after unspeakable horror. Familial commitment is essential to Pouev’s story and life. I think New Year Baby is a great example of the endurance and strength of family.
Perhaps most hearbreakingly, it became official state policy to dismantle the nuclear family. Children were taken away from their parents and divided into various labor camps.
After watching this documentary, I wondered about the global significance of family. In our own society today, family is of paramount importance. We tend to think of our family as our roots, our background, an essential ingredient to what defines us. Most of us cannot imagine someone violently trying to break us apart. Unfortunately, this was a reality in the lives of Pouev’s family and thousands of other Cambodian families. While the situations are not identical, it is worth noting that even today, in the midst of an ongoing genocide in Darfur and the Middle East, thousands of Syrian and Iraqi families are also under attack.
On this day, I suggest that we should think about stories that, like New Year Baby, highlight familial triumph over adversity. We can contemplate the importance of family in a different culture than our own or how we view our families. We as a community should contemplate ways we can help repel assaults on the family unit, which serves as a pillar to any lasting civilization. The Khmer Rouge tried to destroy families, and they deserve remembrance. However, though too many were murdered, the family as both an ideal and a reality did indeed survive in some cases. In her film, the Texas-raised New Year Baby herself, Poeuv, conveys this important lesson to her viewers.
Image courtesy of newyearbaby.netTags: cambodian genocide socheata poeuv new year baby cambodian new year khmer rouge