Event brings together all things Cambodian

Sunday, August 16, 2009

JOYCE CHEN; The News Tribune
Published: 08/16/09

Cambodians from across the Puget Sound mingled with community leaders Saturday in Tacoma at the first statewide Khmer conference.

Highlights of the all-day conference included bilingual presentations on social services, women’s health, immigration and deportation processes, and several traditional dance performances. Among the guest speakers were Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma.

Booths promoted everything from education programs to church groups, with tables covered with gold jewelry, ceremonial masks and cowhide-bound Bibles.

Cambodian Women’s Networking Association President Sok-Khieng Lim said that the conference arose from a need to “re-educate each other about Cambodian culture, religion and history.”

Tacoma was chosen as the host city because of the South Sound’s sizeable Cambodian population.

Lim said that one of the aims of the event was to bridge the gap between older and younger generations.

“Cambodian people are very religious, and the elders were concerned that the younger people didn’t understand,” Lim said.

More than 90 percent of Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism, the state religion in Cambodia since the 1300s.

About 200 people attended the conference at La Quinta Inns and Suites hotel. Organizer Hak-Ry O’Neal said she was pleased by the cross-section of community members who attended.

“It’s wonderful to see people joining us from Oregon and California,” she said.

For those who couldn’t make the drive, the proceedings were broadcast live on the Internet.

Kayomi Wada of Federal Way said her favorite part of the conference was a public service panel discussing Asian Pacific Islander coalitions.

“I thought it was exciting to see so much programming on Khmer history and culture,” she said. She added that she particularly enjoyed the cultural dances.

Monthy Chea of Issaquah hoped that the conference would motivate younger Cambodians to get in touch with their roots.

Chea added that the event inspired her to teach her 11-year-old daughter more of the Cambodian language.

“I’ve been here 34 years, and there was a point growing up when I didn’t want to associate with being Cambodian,” she said. “When I got older, I started valuing the culture.”

Joyce Chen: 253-597-8426



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