Monday, 7 April 2008

A Banner Day for Cambodians

Sihaneat Chea, attired as a Cambodian warrior, carries a Prasat Preach Vihear in honor of King Suryavarman, who reunited Cambodia in 1113. (Diandra Jay / Staff Photographer)
By Kelly Puente, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/06/2008

LONG BEACH - Long Beach resident Phan Phin hasn't been back to Cambodia since his entire family was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

For Phin, 62, the Cambodian New Year Parade is a small taste of home.

"I love to see the culture," he said. "It helps me remember."

The fourth annual parade kicked off on Sunday with a colorful sea of floats, community groups and dance troupes in traditional costume.

Under sunny skies and warm weather, thousands of spectators lined the sidewalks of Anaheim Street between Junipero and Warren avenues, cheering "Happy New Year" and waving Cambodian and U.S. flags.

A handful of Buddhist monks began the festivities with a ceremonial prayer meant to bless the New Year, the Year of the Rat.

Organizer Danny Vong said this year's parade, with more than 80 entrants, was the city's biggest and best yet. The theme, "Cambodia Town For Diversity," is a celebration of the city's official designation of part of Anaheim Street between Junipero Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard as Cambodia Town in July.

Grand marshals included Long Beach Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal, 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews and activists Charles Song, Sweety Chap and Michael Sar.

Sar, a 26-year-old Cal State Long Beach student, was chosen to represent a generation of young people working to preserve their culture.

Born and raised in Long Beach, Sar has served as president and vice president of Cal State Long Beach's Cambodian Student Society, served on the 2006 parade committee and also worked to establish Cambodia Town.

"(The parade) is a positive event where Cambodians can celebrate their culture and also celebrate being American," he said.

Sophy Juli Nuth, 22, who trains in Khmer classical dance, is also trying to honor the past and embrace the future.

In an elaborate gold costume, Nuth performed a traditional blessing dance with the Khmer Arts Cultural Center.

"Cambodia was always big on the arts, but when the Khmer Rouge took over, it pretty much wiped it away," she said.

Long Beach resident Tim Keo, who fled Cambodia in 1979, remembers that time. Keo, now 62, says she attends the parade each year for the music and dance.

"It makes me so happy to see the young people dancing," she said.

Organizers said new this year was participation by representatives from the Cambodian government, including the county's ministries of tourism and culture and fine arts, and Council of Ministries.

Controversy emerged last week when an invitation was extended to Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. The invitation caused an emotional response from community members opposed to the Hun Sen government, which has been linked to human-rights abuses.

Organizers were later told that the Cambodian official would not participate.

Despite the earlier controversy, Sunday's event was smooth and peaceful as the parade moved along Anaheim and spilled into MacArthur Park for a celebration with music, food and information booths.

Many employees and business owners along Anaheim stepped outside to watch.

"Of course we support them," said Mia Hutchins, an employee at Long Beach Transit. "It's our family. It's our neighborhood. This is Long Beach right here."

Cambodian New Year is typically a three-day celebration that falls in mid-April.

The Long Beach festivities continue on Saturday with the annual Cambodian New Year Celebration at El Dorado Regional Park.

The all-day event features religious ceremonies, New Year games, cultural performances and music. Admission is $20 per vehicle parking at El Dorado if purchased in advance. For information, call 562-833-6128 or go online to the Cambodian Coordinating Council at, 562-499-1305


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