[Editor’s Note: Democratic California State Senator Ricardo Lara represents the 33rd Senate District, including Long Beach, home to the greatest number of Cambodian-Americans in the United States. He spoke in a recent phone interview with VOA Khmer’s Sok Khemara about early plans to form a partnership with Cambodia to promote trade, commerce, tourism and cultural exchanges.]
SK: Why have you proposed that California form a sister state relationship with Cambodia?
RL: Well, you know the state of California has the largest population of Cambodians and particularly the city of Long Beach which I represent is known around the world as the home of to the largest Cambodian community outside of South East Asia. And I think building a sister state relationship with California would be a tool that we can use to promote international trade, commerce, tourism, and increase the potential commercial relationship among Cambodians in California and, quite frankly, I am very proud of the fact that California is the most diverse state in the country, one that respects our immigrant population, one that celebrates our rich tapestry of culture, and the Cambodian community is part of that unique experience of being a Californian.
Could you give a few examples of specifically what the benefits might be?
The sister state relationship allows us to further expand on promoting international trade, promoting tourism and commerce. And so understanding that we had such a rich population of Cambodians in California that we can further exploit our relationship by investing in both our countries and states.
Have you had a response from the Cambodian government?
We have been working with a local community in Long Beach and what we have heard is that they are excited to have this opportunity to formalize this relationship with California. And we are looking forward to working with them on further enhancing our economic, cultural ties with Cambodians in California.
Will this move help the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime in any way?
You know, I think what we have done in the past, we actually carried another resolution that commemorated the the genocide that occurred. This was the first legislative recognition of the Cambodian genocide and we had people come two years ago and we had Cambodian folks come from the entire state and witnessed the legislature for the first time ever recognize the travesty that happened in the killing fields.
What is your message to the Cambodian community at this point?
My message to the Cambodian community is that you know I am proud to represent the large Cambodian community in my district. And as somebody who also comes from an immigrant background, I understand and respect their traditions, culture and their experience in the US, and we are going to continue to fight like I did to get more resources so that Cambodian children and families get the mental health services they need and deserve to be able to overcome this horrific tragedy that many of them are still facing, with [post-traumatic stress disorder] and with any other issues that are associated with people who have suffered tremendous violence. Ensuring that we work together and we incorporate them into our state and into our democratic process, so that they cannot only feel included, but they can feel respected as well, as the great community that they are. So it’s an honor for me to represent the Cambodian community in the California State Senate.