By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/15/2009 09:42:39 PM PDT
LONG BEACH — On Friday, two local Cambodian groups will gather to commemorate a somber annual rite.
April 17 marks the 34th anniversary of the date the Khmer Rouge rolled into Phnom Penh and cemented its ascendancy in Cambodia. It is also the date that is associated with the Killing Fields genocide campaign that left more than 2 million Cambodians dead from execution, starvation, disease and deprivation under the brutal 45-month reign of the Khmer Rouge.
As a result, for many Cambodians in Long Beach and worldwide, April 17 is a day of mourning, prayer and remembrance.
The Killing Fields Memorial Center began formally remembering April 17 in 2005 with a candlelight vigil, after it helped lead a fight to prevent the first Cambodian New Year Parade from being held on the 30th anniversary of the rise of Khmer Rouge.
This year, the group will stage its fifth annual memorial day at Wat Vipassanaram, also known as Wat IRAP, 1239 E. 20th St, with a day of prayer, testimonials and a candlelight vigil.
Also on Friday, for the first time, the United Cambodian Community will commemorate the day with remembrances and a fundraising dinner at New Paradise Restaurant.
At Wat Vipassanaram, survivors share tales every year about experiences in Cambodia during the genocide years. Often their voices quake with emotion.
One time, Chhom Nimol, a popular singer with the group Dengue Fever, showed up at the event and sang several
traditional Khmer songs a cappella.
Chantara Nop is a poet who has written about the Killing Fields and is a regular at the memorial.
He said it is vital for the community to remember and share survivor stories so that history won't be repeated in Cambodia and so that children learn about the history of their forbears.
It is also important for the victims, according to Nop.
"It feels much relief when people are supportive," Nop said. "You go through so much pain if you don't tell and you keep secrets."
For UCC, the experience is new but continues efforts it has undertaken this year to heal wounds and close the generational gap.
"This year we're piggybacking on what we've done to help heal the community," said executive director Sara Pol-Lim. "We're addressing the past. We hope by facing it we can put it behind us."
Pol-Lim is also inviting the Jewish community to the UCC event, because of the history of suffering the two cultures share.
In addition to the dinner, the UCC event will feature Buddhist blessings and Jewish prayers, speeches and proclamations by elected officials, the honoring of survivors, poetry by youth and a veterans' salute.