This article appears in the Photo Issue 2015
In the 1980s, nearly 150,000 Cambodian refugees resettled in America, primarily in communities struggling with poverty and inner-city violence. Cambodian Diaspora is and ongoing project that examines the refugee-resettlement experience across generations in Cambodian-American communities. Three decades after the Killing Fields, the shadows of genocide can still be felt in the diaspora in America, manifesting across generations through a fragmentation of family narratives and a profound silence about its aftermath. Many Cambodians who lived through the genocide remain silent because they do not know how to speak about what they lived through, and also because they often do not speak the same language as their Cambodian-American children. The silence is exacerbated by intergenerational trauma—elders having survived the Killing Fields and their American children having survived the dangers of the inner city.
From left to right, Joshua Vatthnavong 11, Joey Vatthnavong, 16, and Sanet Kek, 28, fish without poles at Ferry Point in the Bronx. "This is the way my father fished when he arrived to America," said Joey. Bronx New York, July 2011.
Three generations of the Duong family look at old family photos and documents from the refugee camps in the living room of their Bronx apartment, September 2011.
Thon Khoun, 47, cooks in the kitchen of her Bronx apartment. Mrs. Khoun immigrated as a refugee in 1985 and is a single mother of four. Like many Cambodian refugees, she speaks no English and her children are incapable of speaking Khmer. Bronx, New York, October 2011.
Civics and English classroom at St Ritas Refugee Center in the Bronx, where many Cambodian refugees first received english lessons upon their arrival in the states. While most Cambodians received english instruction, many were still unable to learn the language given the high rates of illiteracy in their native tongue and the unique circumstances of their displacement. October 2011
Thanna Son, 15, and Moleca Mich, 19, in traditional Cambodian dress. Moleca Mich, who graduated Salutatorian in high school, is currently a junio in college. Like many Cambodians of her generation, she is incapable of speaking Khmer.
Chhan Hui, 59, with her grandchildren, Keinna Lawrence 2, and Shania Brown 6, in the living room of their Bronx apartment. Ms. Hui immigrated to the states in 1982 and, along with a sister, is the only survivor of her immediate family. Like many Cambodian American children, her grandchildren are interracial.