I didn’t expect my post on Facebook about the Vietnamese’s issue last Thursday, to receive such various feedback. Some friends, who I rarely interacted with, also jumped into the thread of conversations. So I guess it was a very sensitive topic when it comes to the presence of Vietnamese people in Cambodia. Instead of replying to each comment, I’d like to write out here a separate Note addressing most concerns raised by my (Cambodian) friends. So what you’re going to read might affect you intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually. Before you start, I need your cooperation in doing some simple bodily movements with me. If you don’t do these, I’m afraid you don’t need to read this post further. Ready? Go!
Now I’d like you to hold your fist as tight as possible and close it as if you grabbed a special rare firefly. OK? Then, read on.
In Cambodian History, we learn that Vietnam migrated from China and overtook parts of Champa and then, Cambodia. While Cambodia still have some land left like now, Vietnam is reported to control Laos administratively. So we fear that Cambodia will become another country colonized by our neighbor country like Vietnam.
Currently, more and more Vietnamese people flow into Cambodia legally and illegally. The number of this population is said to be unknown or underestimated, increasing more concern about the repeated History of them claiming the land (or water) they’ve settled down in as their territory. Most of illegal Vietnamese immigrants work as fishers, scrap sellers, cafe owners and some even end up as tycoons in our Kingdom.
Legal Vietnamese immigrants have been introduced to Cambodia as workers or professionals. Over time, they also want to settle down here. It is said that they’re planning to monopolize some businesses like telecom or trading, given our relatively weak economy. Some would even worry that they will take over our jobs, especially when we integrate more into ASEAN community.
I may be wrong or even limited about this knowledge of Vietnamese settlement. Call them “Yuon” as you wish; they’re still the same people, despite historical evolution. Likewise, we’d prefer to be called “Khmer” (by blood) while our nationality is Cambodian. So here’s the most interesting part: What makes us “Cambodian”? Is our nation free from fear yet?
Now let’s come with me to visit some Vietnamese originals. Before reading this part, I’d like you to open your fist as much as possible like you release that firefly.
The first case is the family of a father and daughter, whom my family and I have befriended for years. The father worked as a bike repairer. He admitted to go back to Vietnam from time to time, but still ends up living in Cambodia most of the time. His daughter tried to find a job as a waitress. Both of them speak both Vietnamese and Khmer fluently. Every time we had ceremonies, they would voluntarily come to our assistance without being asked to. Every time my bike was broken down, I’d rather have the father fix it for me. In the past several years, I haven’t seen them, although, a little before that, we might cross each other at times.
The second story was experienced by my wife. A Vietnamese boy came to live in Cambodia with his mother in Siem Reap. She tried to enroll him to a Cambodian school, without success. So she gave up and my wife, as a strong advocate for formal education, thought she would regret it if the boy missed the chance to be educated at the school she administered. So it took her a couple of years until the local authorities considered integrating him with other Cambodian pupils. Reason? He was not born in Cambodia, thus without no paper proving his (Cambodian) nationality.
The third (true) story was made into a short documentary by a colleague of mine. The title is “Scale Boy”. As the title says, the film is about a Vietnamese-born boy who is left behind by his family to live with a Cambodian family. They didn’t care about him as the boy was not even their relative or Cambodian enough to befriend. All he could do for his living is to weigh people at public parks, at night. At day time, he goes to (Cambodian) school with little financial support and learns to play Khmer traditional music instruments in White Building.
The forth story is also true and was made into a feature film called “Freedom Writers”. This drama mainly raises how (illegal) refugees and their next generations live in the US. What stricked me most is how the instructor of those kids (with refugee parents) teaches them about genocide, emanating from racial discrimination, dating back to Hitler’s period. All she can do is to get them to see the consequences of the Holocaust in museums and visit genocide (Jewish) victims. In the end, virtually all of them change their perspective about other ethnic groups they used to fight with or label as a threat.
At this point, ask yourself this question: How do you feel between tightening your fist and reading the History and opening your fist and read these stories? Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT saying to let immigrants, Vietnamese or not, come into Cambodia freely. As Buddha said, “Walk the middle way”. I think what works best for us at the moment is to enforce our immigration law, in legal terms, and spread love to them as humans, in human terms. They have been brainwashed to destroy us? Then, have we been brainwashed to wipe them out? I may sound too optimistic about opening up Cambodia. But, like it or not, the world is going to evolve into one. One without physical or emotional boundaries. Only then will we prosper together.
I guess the resentment and thread of such lively conversations on immigration are very politically motivated. I’m not sure if the opposition leaders have lately tried to soften their position about the Vietnamese living here. I got informed of their answer about the same “issue” on the same night like this, shared by a caring friend:
LIVE!! RFA: How can CNRP solve the issue of the Vietnamese immigrants?
Kem Sokha: We will put the immigration law into practice.
Sam Rainsy: I appeal for all Cambodians NOT to use violence. We have to respect human rights regardless of whatever nationalities. We will implement the immigration law.
I’m not sure how the ruling party is going to keep the same promise and you don’t have to think like me. After all, the fist represents our heart. Whether or not you choose to open it, it’s going to be your problem, not mine. I hope, this Sunday, you’ll vote for the party that represents best your HEART!
Peace, Prosperity, Unity for a better Cambodia!
PS: Please keep your comments “clean” and “ethical”. I reserve rights to unfriend or even block those who abuse this simple rule. Being positive also means getting away from negative people!