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US Cambodian Boatmen Lose Will to Race

PHOTO SLIDESHOW by Stephane Janin, click here.

Every third week of August, in the city of Lowell, Mass., Cambodian, Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese residents celebrate a boat racing festival. This year, six racing groups used two boats to compete, without the Cambodian teams.

The race included two American groups, two Laotian and two Thai. Cambodian-Americans were represented by traditional dancers, but no racers.

"I am so sad, you know," said Souen Sayon, who leads a Cambodian boat racing program. "Since 2005 Cambodian boat racing groups do not care anymore to join the competition."

Souen Sayon had tried many times to encourage boat racers, "to keep our culture and tradition alive."

Each attempt met with failure, he said. "They don't even want to preserve our Cambodian reputation and civilization."

The boat-race festival began in Lowell in 1997, and, held in the summer month of August, has slowly gained in popularity.

"There were around 3,000 people participating in the boat racing festival during the start of this event, but now there are more and more people who come and are aware of this event," said Khoeun Samkhan, former head of the Cambodian Mutual Assistant Association. "Some people are from many different states, and some are from other, neighboring countries."

Chea Bun Heak an out-of-town visitor from Takoma, Wash., said he'd learned about the festival from relatives in Lowell.

"I have so much fun down here," he said. "I am so proud that our Cambodian people are able to celebrate this wonderful event."