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Serey Pheap: Freedom for Cambodians

NCM Profile

NCM, Pueng Vongs Posted: Jun 04, 2003

The Cambodian community is often overlooked among California's more dominant Asian groups including the Chinese, Korean and Filipino. But in the pages of Cambodian publications like the weekly Serey Pheap in Long Beach, youll find a journal for a community that is pushing to evolve and emerge.

In the late 70's, tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees began arriving on California shores to escape the country's oppressive Khmer Rouge regime. In 1983, Narin Kem began Serey Pheap, which means freedom, and was the first Cambodian publication in the United States. He filled the paper with tutorials in Khmer with the goal of helping the community settle into the United States. We published articles on everything from how to drive a car to take your carpet in for cleaning to applying for welfare.

Kem was a newcomer at the time, having arrived just two years earlier. After studying to be an engineer, Kem decided he would not be able to give up his first love, journalism. He had worked as a newspaper reporter beginning at the age of 16 in his native Phnom Penh, writing stories against the harsh and autocratic government at the time.

Over the past 20 years, Kem says hes watched the community grow up. As Cambodians became more acclimated to American society, they began to increase their education and affluence. In the beginning we knew nothing and we thought that welfare was a god send, but in the last decade weve turned our attention to education so that we do not have to depend on assistance. He says more Cambodians are self employed now, and he proudly boasts that the community has at least one millionaire. More Cambodians are also venturing out of the safety nest of Californian communities, which is more than 100,000- strong, and moving to other parts of the United Sates, according to Kem.

The focus of the newspaper has also changed over the years. Kem prints 20,000 copies of the paper and distributes it statewide. He says his readers are becoming more politically conscious and concerned about their standing in American society. For example, Cambodian Americans were incensed when the United States signed an agreement with Cambodia last year to deport roughly 2,000 Cambodian immigrants who were convicted of crimes in the United States. Some had been born in refugee camps, or had come as young children to the United States. Kem said it was unfair to deport them to a country they've never known. He says the government still treats them like second class citizens. "The government doesn't care if we work here and pay taxes," says Kem. He says he also carries more stories in English now and plans to continue this trend as the younger generation cannot read Khmer.

Unlike when he first started the newspaper, Kem says his readers today are also more interested in news from Cambodia. "They want to know how the country is developing economically, politically and socially," he says. It's twofold, he says. Our readers are concerned about the people in this country and their old country.

Serey Pheap
PO Box 40178
Long Beach, CA 90804
Ph: 562 498 0309
Fax: 562 684 4309

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