In Search of Cambodia



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In Search of Cambodia (Working Paper)
Jennifer Zelnick

AAAS Annual Conference

April 2015

Abstract
Where and what is Cambodia, and can Cambodians living in diaspora ever “go back?” This paper examines the lived geographies of Cambodians in Chicago as a way to destabilize the notion of a singular, normative geography. To this end, the paper employs various maps of mainland Southeast Asia alongside semi-structured life history interviews with individual Cambodians. Recognizing the inherent limits of maps to capture the nuances and multiplicities of perspectives on a lived, constantly-changing place, I argue they are nonetheless helpful to conceptualizing and visualizing space and place. As such, this paper employs maps as a necessarily imperfect visualization tool for readers, fully accepting the limits of maps as a means of representation to capture lived experience. By examining both the similarities and disjunctures between the normative geography of maps versus the lived geographies of individuals, this essay takes up Allan Pred’s mantle of demonstrating “place as a constantly becoming human product… [that varies] with historical circumstances” (1984, 279), as opposed to place as a singular, static entity. Can we reimagine Cambodia not as a singular place, but rather through the lens of pluralist geography? Touching upon themes of transnationalism and spatial imaginaries, specifically regarding forced migration and refugees, this paper seeks to understand how memories, history, and politics shape the ways immigrants, particularly refugees, understand their place of origin.
Introduction
“We live in two worlds. In the daytime, we live in the United States, in the night we dream in Cambodia.”

– Oum Sophal1


I begin with a seemingly simple question: where is Cambodia? Before embarking on this project, I would have answered, without a second thought: Cambodia is a small country in mainland Southeast Asia, surrounded by Thailand to the West and North, Vietnam to the East, and Laos to the North. Cambodia is largely land-locked with the exception of its Southwest side where the country meets the Gulf of Thailand. I would base my answer off of two sources: first, my own experiences living in and traveling throughout the region, or what I will call my lived geography; and second, internationally agreed upon definitions of territoriality as depicted through maps, laws, and land borders (see Figure I), or normative geography2. However, such a definition is far too simplistic and singular. Lived geography is a constant dynamic based on individual experiences. That my lived geography happens to align closely with normative geography testifies to my relative privilege as an individual born and educated in America, without socioeconomic, political, or historical stakes in the land borders of mainland Southeast Asia. Therefore, my lived geography necessarily differs from the lived geography of a Cambodian. However, this privilege must not signify that my experience is somehow more true or accurate than anyone else’s reality. Accordingly, it is vital to consider the potential for individual lived geographies that question, contest, or even contradict such a normative geography as presented by my definition above and through official maps and laws. As I have found through a combination of participant observation and life history interviews with Cambodians living in Chicago, multiple factors influence how individuals articulate where Cambodia is located.

This paper examines the lived geographies of three Cambodians living in Chicago as a way to destabilize the notion of a singular, normative geography. In order to do this, the paper employs various maps of mainland Southeast Asia. Recognizing the inherent limits of maps to capture the nuances and multiplicities of perspectives on a living, constantly-changing place,3 I argue they are nonetheless helpful and necessary to conceptualizing and visualizing space and place, particularly for readers who are unfamiliar with the area being discussed. As such, this paper presents maps as a necessarily imperfect visualization tool for readers, fully accepting the limits of maps, writing, and all other means of representation to capture lived experience. By examining both the similarities and disjunctures between the normative geography of maps versus the lived geographies of individual Cambodians, this essay takes up Allan Pred’s mantle of demonstrating “place as a constantly becoming human product… [that varies] with historical circumstances” (1984, 279), as opposed to place as a singular, static entity.



This paper emerged from my MA thesis project on the ways Cambodians who arrived in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees reflect on the past, particularly their lives in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s rule, and afterwards in refugee camps. Research for this project took place in Chicagoland over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year. I became acquainted with Cambodians living in Chicago through my work-study job as a research assistant for a Professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. The job entailed leading focus group discussions with Cambodians on the ways they perceive and access mental health care and other related social services. I employed two main methodologies for my MA project (and this paper, by extension): participant observation and ten semi-structured life history interviews with men and women who identified as having lived through the Khmer Rouge regime.4 The primary focus of my MA thesis was the ways individual Cambodians living in Chicago experienced (and continue to experience) what regimes of aid, social services, and medicine refer to as “trauma”5 related to the Khmer Rouge and Cambodians’ subsequent displacement. Through these conversations, space, place, and memory consistently emerged as themes. Although intimately related to issues of trauma, much of this information diverged from the primary research question of my thesis. Of note, by virtue of its secondary emergence in my project, the themes and information shared here are necessarily incomplete, and call for further research.
Map (Un)Making

cb-map.gif

Figure I: Map of Cambodia and surrounding mainland Southeast Asia, from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs of Cambodia website, http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/cambodia.html.
The map in Figure I appears on the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs of Cambodia website. While not incredibly detailed, the map clearly demonstrates current internationally agreed-upon borders. Cambodia is pictured in cream, while its neighbors are shown in a uniform light brown. International borders are drawn in a slightly darker brown. As such, the map presents Cambodia as a separate, bounded entity, physically distinguished from its neighbors through a clearly demarcated border. Although this particular map is to a certain extent unique in its coloration and level of detail (other maps may use different colors, demarcate provincial boundaries, include topographical features, transliterate words differently…), it is, nonetheless largely normative in its conformity with international law. By virtue of its normativity, Figure I presents Cambodia and surrounding countries as stable, bounded, and uncontested spaces. Nothing on the map indicates the historical specificity it represents: for instance, because it appears on a United States Government website, it can be assumed to be factual, accurate, and current. This supposition creates two major problems: first, the assumption of factuality or accuracy glosses over “geographically and historically specific power relations” (Pred 1984, 286) that produce Cambodia’s normative geography “as natural rather than as humanly created and culturally arbitrary” (Pred 1984, 290). Second, by presenting only the most current boundaries, the map essentially erases temporality, presenting itself as timeless, rather than acknowledging that “time- space specific activities and power relations continuously become one another” (Pred 1984, 279). Together, such an ahistorical, hegemoic understanding of the map creates a singular idea of where Cambodia is located that is deeply embedded in what Pred refers to as dominant “institutional projects” (1984, 282).

The region of mainland Southeast Asia has undergone many shifts in rule over the years.6 Various empires, colonies, and more recently nation-states have ruled the area, each ruler differently defining the boundaries of their reign. While Figure I represents the current normative geography of Cambodia, that which is popularly understood to be the spatial, territorial, and legal limits of the country, the map fails to show areas of contestation or changes over time. I argue that, through ongoing efforts of Cambodians, including those living in Cambodia, in diaspora, and exile, where Cambodia is remains highly contested and variable.


Lived Geographies

The following are three examples of the ways individual Cambodians living in Chicago think about where Cambodia is, or, in their opinions, should be. Of note, I never asked any of my interlocutors this question directly. Instead, these insights emerged from questions about place of birth, where one grew up, opinions on Cambodia today, and politics. That I didn’t ask my interlocutors “where is Cambodia?” outright, and yet, each found a way to incorporate the topic into our conversation, attests to the importance of lived geography for Cambodians in Chicago today. For the purposes of length, I am only able to present three examples from my fieldwork. However, many of my other interlocutors for this project spoke to similar themes, also without being prompted. While each individual story is unique, through these three examples, a larger narrative of place emerges.


Kru Vuthy

I first met Kru7 Vuthy at one of the Cambodian wats in Chicago, where a friend recommended I contact him regarding continuing my studies of Khmer language. Although our schedules made tutoring difficult, I regularly saw Kru Vuthy at various Cambodian events throughout the city. Because I am not fluent in Khmer, I asked Kru Vuthy to help with on-the-spot translation when I began collecting oral histories for my MA thesis. After assisting me with an interview, Kru Vuthy asked for more information about my project. What did I want to know? Who was I asking? Did I only want to talk to “m’nous chas,” or “old people?”8 Sensing he was perhaps interested in being interviewed, I clarified that I wanted to talk to anyone who had been alive during the Khmer Rouge period, regardless of age. I went on to explain my desire to speak with multiple generations of survivors to see if there were differences or similarities in memory, experience, attitudes, and perceptions. I then asked Kru Vuthy if he wanted to be interviewed, and, upon agreeing, we set a date.

Born in Northwest Cambodia around 1965, Kru Vuthy grew up during the Lon Nol regime9 and the Khmer Rouge regime.10 After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in January 1979, Kru Vuthy and his family migrated to Thailand, where they lived in border camps for about two years before coming to Chicago as refugees. Since then, Kru Vuthy has lived in Chicago with his family. He has gone back to Cambodia three times, once in 2000 to see Angkor Wat and visit the province where he grew up, once in 2011 to meet his wife, and again in 2012 to get married. His wife is from Southeast Cambodia, near the Vietnamese border. Kru Vuthy is a professional translator, interpreter, and Khmer language teacher, and participates in Cambodian political activism in Chicago. Like many Cambodians living outside of Cambodia, Kru Vuthy supports the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party to the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The CPP has been ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen for some thirty years. When asked about Cambodian politics during our interview, Kru Vuthy explained:

I think Vietnam [is] trying to, uh, control Cambodia as long as… as many years as possible. And sending their, uh, own people to live there. And eventually take over Cambodia. That's our fear. And we are fighting against that. Because South Vietnam, that was Cambodia. And then they took over. At first they took over Champa. By… [getting] the [Vietnamese] people to live there. …At the time, the… Cambodian King married a Vietnamese Princess... they sent Vietnamese people to live in South Vietn-- South Cambodia. The French came over, the French said "ok, who is more here? Vietnamese [people are] more [numerous there]." So they give land to the Vietnamese. So right now, it’s… the same pattern. Hun Sen is... listening to every Vietnamese leader. Even Angkor Wat! Angkor Wat is owned by a Vietnamese company! And also all the gas stations, television [stations], electricity, phone companies. They basically control the economy in Cambodia. And what else do they control? They control the land. You know, all the concessions, 99 years, and Vietnamese, they control, all the, most of the concession- land concessions. And now they [are] going, clearing, and they are clearing the forest. Even the Kiri forest in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces! So who's gonna say, who’s gonna decide what to do? Hun Sen is not... he can't, he has no power.


The above quotation highlights two important ways of knowing that influence where Cambodia is (and should be) for Kru Vuthy. First, Kru Vuthy outlines a history of Southeast Asia’s empires as proof of what he considers to be Cambodia’s rightful location (see Figure II). Second, Kru Vuthy lists examples of corruption within the Cambodian government, focusing on the flows of money and resources out of Cambodia and into Vietnam as justification for “fear” of losing Cambodia to the Vietnamese.

As mentioned above, Kru Vuthy is active in Cambodian politics in Chicago, and publicly supports the CNRP. Kru Vuthy’s ideas about Cambodian territoriality reflect the party line of another Cambodian political party active in the United States: the Khmer Krom Federation (KKF). The KKF represents the interests of Khmer Krom-- Cambodians who currently reside in southern Vietnam (or, as Kru Vuthy noted, “South Cambodia”). The KKF argue that Khmer Krom face persecution from the Vietnamese government, frequent human rights abuses, and general hostility from Vietnamese people as a direct consequence of their Cambodian heritage. Although Kru Vuthy does not readily associate himself with the KKF (the group is considered more polarizing and radical than the CNRP, and furthermore, Kru Vuthy does not identify as Khmer Krom), his alignment with the group’s values and history cannot be overlooked. Instead, it indicates Kru Vuthy’s retelling of history is part of a larger collective narrative.



khmer kkf empire map.jpg

Figure II: Map of Empires of mainland Southeast Asia, 1100- 1200 AD, from the Khmers Krom Federation website, http://www.khmerkrom.org/. The black lines indicate current nation-state boundaries, while the colors indicate the various empires’ areas of control between 1100- 1200 AD. The Khmer Empire (purple) is shown here as encompassing all of modern day Cambodia, part of modern day southern Vietnam, the southernmost part of modern day Burma, and most of modern day Laos and Thailand.
Oum Sophal

I first met Oum11 Sophal at a planning meeting for a Cambodian organization where I conducted the majority of my fieldwork. I arrived late to the meeting, in time to hear the close of his speech, quoted at the beginning of the Introduction to this paper. Because I arrived late to the meeting, I was unaware of the context surrounding his words—why did he mean that Cambodians live in “two worlds?” Some months later, I had the opportunity to interview Oum Sophal for my MA project, and to ask him about these two worlds.

Oum Sophal was born in Surin, Thailand in the early 1940s (see Figure III). He self-identifies as Cambodian, although he was born in Thailand and lived there until he was about 24. When asked why he moved to Cambodia, Oum Sophal explained that he felt “something was missing” in his life, and that he needed to go to Cambodia to figure out what that was. Upon arriving in Phnom Penh, Oum Sophal joined a Pagoda and trained to be a Buddhist monk. After some years of study and service, Oum Sophal left the monastery, as is common in Cambodia, and joined Lon Nol’s military as a translator. When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, Oum Sophal was in Thailand on a training mission with the military, and was unable to return to Cambodia. After living in exile in Thailand (his birth country) for a short time, he came to the United States as a refugee. Oum Sophal has never been back to Cambodia because of an overwhelming sense of guilt for not saving his wife and children, who, at the time, lived in Phnom Penh and were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Upon arriving in the United States, Oum Sophal became involved in facilitating Cambodian refugees in Thailand and the Philippines, and those who were new arrivals to the United States, eventually founding a major national Cambodian mutual aid organization. He explained to me that his involvement in this project—which he maintains to this day, although he is over seventy years old and not in great health—is how he remains “connected to Cambodia.”

When I asked Oum Sophal about why he identified as Cambodian, although he was born and grew up in Thailand, he explained, “you know, Funan is… the original country of Cambodia” (see Figure IV). He went on to elaborate that, although he was “Khmer Surin,” he was still Khmer, not Thai. “I am proud to be Cambodian!” he proclaimed. Then, to further his point, Oum Sophal wrote out a word in Khmer: កម្ពុជា (pronounced Kam-pu-chee-uh)12



This [is] the word Kampuchea. Right? ... From the Chinese word. Kam, is the gold… Pu is high, Che is land. So it's nothing to do about the race, but, it's… Cambodian is about the people who live in the, the golden land, you know? So… this word, you know, like, uh, promote, by the King, you know. But… in that time, the, uh, Chenla land and highland and lowland fighting. And fighting like right now, [with the] Vietnamese… And then use this word to uh, centralize, you know, to, to make people feel like, regardless, your, your ethnicity, you are called Cambodia… You know, Cambodian is not race, it's a people who, uh, who speak Khmer. You know? Who respect the value of Khmer… who live in the land of the gold.
Like Kru Vuthy, Oum Sophal once again refers back to history as a way to understand where Cambodia is, and, furthermore, to explain why he is Cambodian.13 As Figure IV demonstrates, Funan refers to an empire that fell over 1500 years prior to today. At some point between then and now, although he does not elaborate on the specific date, Surin became part of Thailand. Figure III demonstrates Surin’s proximity to Cambodia, and would clearly be a part of the purple “Khmer Empire” of Figure II. Although he did not use maps to illustrate his point, perhaps because he assumed I was familiar with the history in question, Oum Sophal’s narrative relies upon such historically specific imaginations of Cambodian territoriality to define his own identity. Like Kru Vuthy, Oum Sophal’s retelling of history fits into a larger collective narrative, as demonstrated through the history espoused by the KKF.

thailandmap.jpg

Figure III: Map of Thailand and surrounding mainland Southeast Asia. Surin is located to the East and slightly North of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, near the Thai-Cambodian border. From the Encyclopedia Britannica website’s Thailand page, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/589625/Thailand.14

Time line

Kampuchea-Krom has been known as:

1 – 550

Funan or Nokor Phnom

550 – 681

Chenla (Zhenla)

681- 802

Water Chenla

802 – 1862

Kambuja

1862 -1949

Cochin China (Cochinchine)

1949-1975

South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam)

1975-Present

Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam)

Figure IV: Khmer Krom History/ Timeline, from the Khmers Krom Federation website, reprinted from the Khmer Krom Federation book, The Khmer-Krom Journey to Self-Determination.

Minh Thida

I met Minh15 Thida through Kru Vuthy, who suggested I interview her for my MA thesis project because “she’s almost my age, so she remembers [the Khmer Rouge]. She wasn’t a baby when the Khmer Rouge took over… she remembers. And unlike [other people I interviewed], she isn’t from the older generation, so you get a different… perspective.” Additionally, Kru Vuthy explained, he wanted me to interview Minh Thida because she was also involved in Cambodian political activism in the greater Chicago area. To my delight, when I called Minh Thida to introduce myself, she was already quite familiar with my project, and was eager to participate. Upon learning that she lived in the suburbs, we set a date for me to make the trip to visit and interview her at her home.

Because previous interlocutors had stressed that most Cambodians living in the suburbs are less financially stable, when I arrived at Minh Thida’s house, inside a gated development, I was a bit surprised. Her home was tucked away on a quiet street where everyone’s house, manicured lawn, and garden adhered to one of a few design models. Neighbors eyed me through big picture windows as I drove past, perhaps suspicious of my somewhat dilapidated car and out-of-state license plates. Luckily, Minh Thida was waiting for me outside, and, although we had never met before, she was quick to embrace me, perhaps, I wondered, to ease her neighbors’ anxieties about the stranger in the unfamiliar car.16

After exchanging pleasantries and eating a delicious homemade Cambodian lunch, Minh Thida began telling me about her life. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Minh Thida about Cambodian politics today. She expressed dissatisfaction with the current Government, explaining:

When I came to [the] United States, I came with the [legal] papers. The government allowed me to come. I didn’t just come to live in the United States without papers... Right now, Vietnamese, they go to Uni--, they go to… Cambodia, they kick all the Cambodians out, and… they just walk in there and [settle]! Because they… support Hun Sen. Yeah. Because… Vietnam has many people, I don't know how many million. But they have more people, they have no place to live! That's why they try to send… Vietnamese to Cambodia, and Cambodian government, they kick the [Cambodian] people out! …And the Vietnamese come in, and no rule, no nothing, you know? And then, they just live there... and then they vote, they elect Hun Sen to be Prime Minister… forever!

In this quotation, Minh Thida clearly establishes herself as a legal resident of the United States, in contrast to the Vietnamese people she references who, she asserts, live in Cambodia without necessary documentation. Furthermore, she notes the correlation between the influx of undocumented Vietnamese into Cambodia and what she (and many other Cambodians) considers to be unfair, negative voting outcomes. Later in the interview, Minh Thida more explicitly echoes Kru Vuthy’s “fear,” that, through Prime Minister Hun Sen, Vietnam will control and eventually take over Cambodia. Like Kru Vuthy, Minh Thida actively participates in the CNRP efforts in the greater Chicago area. She frequently organizes fundraisers to send money and supplies to Cambodian hospitals and political prisoners. Once again, like Kru Vuthy and Oum Sophal, Minh Thida’s narrative lends itself to a larger collective memory of how Cambodians conceptualize where Cambodia is, or should be, specifically in relation to fears of Vietnam and the Vietnamese as invaders.


Conclusion: Toward a Pluralist Geography?

This paper has argued that Cambodia must be understood not as a singular, static place, but rather through the lens of pluralism. In other words, a pluralist geography would acknowledge any number of different, even conflicting, lived geographies of Cambodia, without hierarchy or granting favor or preference to any individual point of view. But what would that look like? Can the lived geographies of Kru Vuthy, Oum Sophal, and Minh Thida ever be reconciled with the lived geographies of a Vietnamese person residing in South Vietnam/South Cambodia? How would a pluralist geography work within our international system of nation-states as bounded places, subject to different laws? The KKF call for a restoration of all Cambodian lands currently under Vietnamese control. But where is the cutoff? As Doreen Massey so aptly asks, “how long do you have to have been here to be local” (2006, 149)? What would happen to the Vietnamese living in South Vietnam/South Cambodia if the land were back under Cambodia’s sole jurisdiction? Would they not be displaced? Similarly, what would happen to the Thais living in Surin if the province were returned to Cambodia? How can we validate every individual experience without necessarily devaluing or invalidating some?

A current trend in anthropology, politics, and religious and legal philosophy is the notion of pluralism as a way to validate the experiences of multiple individual actors. In theory, this is a great, humanistic solution to the problems that emerge from normative geography. However, what would such a solution look like in practical application? Pluralism doesn’t reconcile opposing views, nor does it set forth a plan for how it can be incorporated into the international legal system under which nation-states are governed and govern their inhabitants. I hesitate to suggest more laws, or special sanctions for those whose lived geographies differ from the normative geography. After all, if special consideration is given to the oppressed or marginalized, don’t they risk becoming the oppressors over those who were previously part of the unmarked, unmarginalized masses?

By virtue of its exploratory nature, this paper, as demonstrated through the three perspectives of Kru Vuthy, Oum Sophal, and Minh Thida, demonstrates the ways in which Cambodians living in Chicago individually locate Cambodia. Ideas of where Cambodia is reflect these individuals’ perspectives on history, politics, geography, and legality. As this section’s title indicates, I have yet to reach a firm conclusion for this paper. Instead, I close with a call for further research of where Cambodia is, and should be, both for Cambodians, as well as for other Southeast Asians living in their countries of origin and in diaspora who would potentially be displaced or otherwise affected by these different lived geographies. How do Cambodians envision land restitutions, not just for other Cambodians, but for the Vietnamese and Thais living in these contested areas? I did not ask my interlocutors for potential solutions to the problem of multiple, conflicting, lived geographies. After I finished conducting fieldwork, pluralism emerged as a potential solution. However, what is more interesting would be the ways Cambodians propose to address this problem. Do Cambodians consider pluralism a viable solution to reconciling conflicting lived geographies? Another important question deserving of further research is the notion of “going back,” specifically in relation to contested geography. Do Cambodians living elsewhere in the world feel as if they can “go back?” What does or would it mean to “go back,” particularly to a place whose normative geography differs from an individual’s lived experiences? Works Cited



Chandler, David P. 1991. The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution Since 1945. New Haven: Yale University Press.
-----, 2000. A History of Cambodia. 3rd edition. Boulder: Westview Press.
Fassin, Didier and Richard Rechtman. 2009. The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Translated by Rachel Gomme. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Hinton, Alexander Laban. 2005. Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Khmers Kampuchea Krom Federation. Last modified 2013. http://www.khmerkrom.org/.
Kiernan, Ben, 2008. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79, Third Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Ledgerwood, Judy, May M. Ebihara, and Carol A. Mortland, 1994. “Introduction.” In Cambodian Culture Since 1975: Homeland and Exile, edited by Mary M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, 1- 26. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Locard, Henri, 2004. Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books.
Low, Setha. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Massey, Doreen. For Space. London: Sage Publications, 2006.
Norton, Anne. “Reading in the Shadow of History.” Social Text 56: 49- 52, 1998.
Pred, Allan. “Place as Historically Contingent Process: Structuration and the Time-Geography of Becoming Places.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 74, no. 2: 279- 297, 1984.
Rechtman, Richard. 2000. “Stories of Trauma and Idioms of Distress: From Cultural Narratives to Clinical Assessment.” Transcultural Psychiatry 37, no. 3: 403- 415.
-----. 2004. “The Rebirth of PTSD: The Rise of a New Paradigm in Psychiatry.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 39: 913- 915.
-----. 2006. “The Survivor’s Paradox: Psychological Consequences of the Khmer Rouge Rhetoric of Extermination.” Anthropology & Medicine 13, no. 1: 1- 11.
Robins, Philip. “The 2005 BRISMES Lecture: A Double Gravity State: Turkish Foreign Policy Reconsidered.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33, no. 2: 199- 211, 2006.
Smith, Adam T. “Sublimated Spaces.” In The Political Landscape, 30- 77. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
U.S. Passports & International Travel: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. Cambodia. Last modified May 17, 2013. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/ english/country/cambodia.html.
Young, Allan. 1995. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton: Princeton University Press.





1 In order to protect my interlocutors’ confidentiality and that of their families, as well as the confidentiality of the organizations with whom I worked, all names have been changed. Of note, when I introduce an interlocutor, I refer to him or her first by what I call a Name Title (Oum, Pu, Minh, Bâng, B’aun), followed by their first name. Additionally, certain place names have purposefully been changed or left unspecified to further ensure confidentiality.

2For the purposes of this paper, normative geography can be understood in accordance with Anne Norton’s “Reading in the Shadow of History,” 1998, and Philip Robins’ “The 2005 BRISMES Lecture: A Double Gravity State: Turkish Foreign Policy Reconsidered,” 2006, meaning a hegemonic geography that is embedded in international laws, politics, and financial systems.

3See, for example, Adam T. Smith’s “Sublimated Space” in The Political Landscape, 2003 on the map as geography of space, and not place.

4 Of note, the three life history interviews referenced in this paper were conducted in English, while many of the other interviews for my MA project were conducted in Khmer or a combination of Khmer and English. The choice to leave in the pauses and grammar of my interlocutors was deliberate and reflects a commitment to honoring my interlocutor’s stories in their own words, or as closely as possible, in my ethnographic retelling.

5 The question of “trauma” and its applicability (or lack thereof) in cross-cultural contexts is an ongoing, complex set of problems, deeply embedded in specific historical processes and regimes of control. For more information on the history of trauma and its applications across cultures, see: Young 1995; Fassin and Rechtman 2009; and Rechtman 2000. For more on psychiatric trauma diagnoses on Cambodians, see: Rechtman 2004; and Recthman 2006.

6 As have most (if not all) areas of the world, including the Americas, Europe, South Asia, maritime Southeast Asia, and Africa…

7 “Kru” is the Khmer word for “teacher,” and is used as a name title to indicate respect or deference.

8 “M’nous chas” literally translates to “old people.” Of note, in Khmer, this term is not meant to be disrespectful, as it could be construed in English. In my experience, Cambodians tend to be more upfront with descriptions of themselves and others, and, at the same time, these descriptions are less laden with value judgment than in English. So, it is fairly common (and largely inoffensive) to describe someone as “fatter than so-and-so,” or “old.”

9 Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic (a United-States backed military regime), seized control of Cambodia from Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970 and ruled the country until the Khmer Rouge takeover on April 17, 1975. While the history of the regime is obviously relevant to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, a thorough examination of this time period is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper. For more information on Lon Nol and the Khmer Republic, see: Chandler 1991, 156- 158, 166, 187- 191; Chandler 2000, 178-187, 202-207; Hinton 2005b 7- 8, 39, 58- 59; Kiernan 2008, 15, 31; Ledgerwood et al 1994, 11.

10The Khmer Rouge was a communist regime in Cambodia lead by Pol Pot, which officially ruled the country from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979. The Khmer Rouge, also known as Angkar or “the organization” in Khmer, attempted to transform Cambodia into a classless agrarian utopia. The project’s catastrophic failure, along with the regime’s cruelty, lead to the death of at least 2 million Cambodians, although many believe the figure should be greater than 3 million. For more on the Khmer Rouge, see: Chandler 1991; Chandler 2000; Hinton 2005; Kiernan 2008; Ledgerwood, Ebihara, and Mortland 1994; and Locard 2004.

11 “Oum” is a Cambodian name title meaning “elder,” said as a sign of respect for those who are significantly older than Ego’s parents.

12 NB: Microsoft Word sometimes reformats Khmer Unicode on my computer, so I apologize if Kampuchea is misspelled as a result of such unintentional reformatting. Kampuchea is the Khmer word for Cambodia.

13 Of note, I asked this question somewhat rhetorically, knowing the history of Khmer Surin, because I wanted to hear Oum Sophal’s explanation, in his own words.


14 I know the map of Thailand is bigger than the map of Cambodia, and I understand what this could imply vis-a-vis politics. However, the map of Thailand is more detailed, making it harder to read. So, without attempting to deny the politics at stake, for the purposes of identifying Surin province, I opted to make the Thailand map larger.

15 “Minh” is a Cambodian name title that literally means “aunt,” and is said as a sign of respect to females who are usually ten or more years older than Ego, but are younger than or the same age as Ego’s parents.

16 While I am fascinated by Minh Thida’s decision to live in a development, in the suburbs, away from the Cambodian community, and such a topic is obviously relevant to issues of space and place, it is beyond the scope of this paper. Further analysis, however, would benefit from Setha Low’s Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America.


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