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Despite Economy, Expectations High For Virginia’s Cambodian Day

Cambodian-Americans celebrate Cambodian Community Day in 2008.
Cambodian-Americans celebrate Cambodian Community Day in 2008.

Despite being so far away from their homeland, Cambodians in the United States never forgot to come together to celebrate their shared ethnic culture. Near Washington, a small group of Cambodians are again organizing an annual celebration to showcase their culture, even during times of difficulties.

This is the sound of organizers of the upcoming Cambodian Community Day 2010, an annual event showcasing Cambodian culture this Sunday, August 22, in Alexandria near Washington.

Organizers of the Cambodian Community Day say that despite financial and human resource shortages, the group is more than capable of making this year’s event another success.

Yann Somony, President of the CCD, explains that such difficulties do not come in the way of the festival’s main goal.

“We want the younger US-born generation to know about their Khmer culture, the geography of Cambodia, as well as what Cambodia is like today,” she told VOA Khmer.

The Cambodian Community Day has been organized by local Cambodians since 2002. The one-day event has regularly drawn around 3,000 to 4,000 Cambodian and American residents in the Alexandria Washington, DC area.

Past events have included cultural performances like Khmer classical dance, Khmer traditional games, popular songs, Cambodian Buddhist ceremonies, display of Angkor Wat replica and presentation of other tourist sites in Cambodia. According to Yann Somony, this year’s highlights will include hair-cutting ritual in Khmer weddings, Bon Pkha—a Buddhist fundraising ceremony, singing of the national ‘Pong Savada Khmer’ song and presentation of Cambodia’s four northeastern Kratie, Stoeng Treng, Mondol Kiri, and Ratank Kiri provinces.

Tep Sophia, Treasurer and former President of CCD, told VOA Khmer that these activities and promotion of Cambodia serve another major purpose.

“After the Khmer Rouge, some people in America know nothing about Cambodians. So after we had organized the events, they came to realize that Cambodians have had a glorious civilization,” she says, adding that, “we further want them to know that Cambodia has a natural beauty so that they would become interested and want to visit the country.

The festival has also become a community forum, with Cambodian Embassy and Alexandria city officials, local vendors, and civil groups taking part. More than 10 Cambodian and American NGOs are expected at this year’s event to publicize their activities.

Each year’s event has its challenges, particularly the lack of Cambodian artistic materials for display, but the bad economic situation in the US has made this year’s event more difficult, with the city of Alexandria withdrawing its financial support and a shortage of volunteers, on which organizers heavily rely.

Nevertheless, the successes of past years and further publicity of the event has motivated organizers to go ahead confidently. Yann Somony is hopeful that up to 5,000 people could show up at this year’s event.

This motivation, says Tep Sophia, comes from a genuine love for her motherland.

“Even though we live in the U.S. we still love Cambodia…our heart and soul will always be with Cambodia,” she describes emotionally.

She reminds her compatriots in Cambodia that they should equally work together to promote Khmer culture in whatever ways they can. She says CCD would welcome any material donations from individuals and institutions in Cambodia, so that future events will be even more successful.