WASHINGTON DC - As US President Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in for a second term, Cambodian-Americans say they have high expectations for the next four years.
The US president, who won his first election on a platform of hope and change, saw an embattled first term and a bitter election campaign. But Cambodians in various states across the US say they now see his second term as a chance for him to set an example for their communities.
“We consider him as a hero and a role model, and that we want to be like him in the future,” said Meas Chea, who arrived in the US in 1987 and is a social worker in Philadelphia.
Timothy Chhim, who runs an insurance and investment company in Nanuet, New York, after immigrating in 1976, said Obama remains an example for minorities in the US.
“We see the opportunities allowed to all Americans, including Cambodian-Americans,” he said. “This is a very important point: that we want our Cambodians to be proud, that we can do like he has done.”
Republicans have been deeply critical of Obama, who is a Democrat, especially during his first term in office. But Meas Chea said Obama’s leadership in the second term can focus on pressing issues.
“First, President Obama needs to resolve some politics, like foreign policy,” he said. “Second, he needs to solve the economy, in order to give more jobs to all Americans, including Cambodian-Americans. And for the issue of health care, we see there is a problem when the government does not have money.”
Chhim said similarly that Obama will have to resolve the country’s “debt crisis,” end America’s wars and turn his focus on internal issues.
“If he focuses on the internal economy, by turning away from outside problems, in my view the debt and economy will be improved,” Chhim said.
Theanvy Kuoch, who came to the US in 1981 and is now the head of Khmer Health Advocates, a group based in Connecticut, said Obama’s second term will be important for minorities and health care, including in Cambodian communities. “Obamacare” gives choices in health assistance, she said, “which is unprecedented.”
This is especially important for Cambodians in the US, many of whom have a range of health issues, having survived the Khmer Rouge, she said. An estimated 75 percent of the 350,000 Cambodians living in the US today have problems that range from depression, post-traumatic stress and serious mental illness, or physical health problems, she said. Only about 33 percent use Medicare or Medicaid. And cultural and language barriers remain, she said.
Tung Yap, who lives in Virginia and is the head of the advocacy group Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, said he and his family will take part in public events surrounding the inauguration in Washington this weekend.
“Because the American president is selected once every four years,” he said. “I will bring my children along, to learn that this is a change in the American presidency. I will also make a comparison for my children with the leadership changes in Cambodia, because the US change is peaceful, but in our country, Cambodia, any power switch is hard.”
He said he was referring to the coup that ousted former monarch Norodom Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge rise to power, the civil war and change to democracy in 1993, and Cambodia’s first election.