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US-Cambodians Say They Lack a Voice

A leading advocate of Khmer Kampuchea Krom rights in the USinsists that members of his organization and other Cambodians must act as a group in elections, such as the Nov. 4 national race.

Other groups have proven a strong voting block in elections, said Prak Sereyvuth, vice chairman of the Kamuchea Krom Federation, which has branches in nearly 20 states.

Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, for the Democracts, and John McCain, for Republicans, have run a tight race, leading to increased interest in politics by many Americans. But when it comes to having a voice heard, Cambodian-Americans can learn from many different groups, he said.

“Sometimes we hate Vietnamese nationals, because of their country’s politics,” Prak Sereyvuth said. “But sometimes we have to learn from them. Why have their communities in California, Texasand Virginiamade tremendous progress and our communities progress too slowly?”

Vietnamese communities “gather all their forces for elections,” he said. “And just close to the election, the businessmen all do party fundraising, to help any congressman who has succeeded in helping their society.”

“For our nationals, we have only by heart, but obviously no implementation,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t think the election is important, but it’s most necessary.”

An estimated 10 million Khmer Krom, who have cultural ties to Cambodia, live in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, where advocacy groups claim their basic rights are abused, a claim Vietnamdenies.

Prak Sreyvuth said he encourages members of his organization, which lobbies for greater rights of the Khmer Krom, not only to vote for presidents, but congressmen and senators, across party lines, as well.

Thach Berong, a Khmer Krom monk in San Jose, Calif., who became a citizen in 2003, said he had already voted in early balloting.

“We vote because we are thankful to the USfor allowing us to live and giving us equal rights,” he said. “So when the USneeds to pick a great leader, we participate.”

As a member of the Kamuchea Krom Federation, he helps organize groups of voters and get messages to other members, he said.

Thach Thong, another member of the group in San Jose, said about 50 percent of the local Cambodian community did not vote. The community lacked media and leaders to explain the important issues, he said.

“It’s not like the Vietnamese community,” he said. “They have their own media to tell the community, and leader as binding. So if they want to help their country, it’s better, as they have a strong voice.”

As for the candidates, Thach Thong said either man as president would push for human rights, “so whoever wins, it doesn’t matter.”