Executive Summary ................................................ I.
Historical Background .......................................... 1
Migration, Resettlement, and Demographics ...................... 15
Issues and Concerns for Southeast Asians in the U.S............. 27
The Cambodian Community in the U.S./Colorado ................... 42
Ethnic Models: Asian American Communities in the U.S............ 55
The Korean Community .................................... 58
The Hmong Community ..................................... 64
Community Development Theory ............................ 78
A Community Development Methodology for
Colorados Cambodian Community ............................... 84
Community Needs ........................................... 85
Services Available to the Community ....................... 86
Principles ................................................ 89
The Methodology ........................................... 90
A Personal Example of Efforts in the Cambodian Community 104
Bibliography .................................................... 107
Map of Denver Area, Showing Areas of Concentrated Southeast Asian Population .......................
In the last decade the United States has taken in over 760,000 refugees from Southeast Asia. Although they were originally dispersed across the country, these refugees have tended to relocate to several southern and western states in concentrated groups with other members of their ethnic community. The existence of these communities of new Americans has created a range of issues and concerns for state and local governments, and for the refugee communities themselves.
Colorado has the thirteenth largest refugee population in the nation (approximately 10,500). Of this group, 2,100 are members of the Cambodian refugee community. The purpose of this paper is to examine some of the issues, needs, and concerns facing Colorados Cambodian refugee community, and to suggest a set of community development activities/strategies designed to answer those concerns.
Section I provides the context for this community development methodology by examining the history of Cambodia (with an emphasis on war and revolution in Cambodia in the 1970s); the migration of Southeast Asian refugees to the U.S., and their resettlement across the nation; and the most important issues (economic, social, cultural, ect...) facing refugee communities in the U.S. For most of this part of the paper, Cambodians have been grouped together with other Southeast Asian ethnic groups, due to the scarcity of information specifically on Cambodians. The section does end with a more detailed look at the Cambodian refugee community in the U.S., and in Colorado.
The information in Section I demonstrates the need for "purposive change" (i.e. community development) in Colorados Cambodian community. Members of this community tend to be supporting large families (as well as substantial community obligations) on low incomes, and in a context of unstable or "marginal" employment. Their low levels of education, and their typically rural backgrounds, handicap them in terms of adjustment to life in the U.S. The severity of the Cambodian refugee experience has created a number of special social/psychological issues faced by members of this community as well. Upon arrival in the U.S., Cambodian refugees tend to concentrate and reside in ethnic communities in urban areas. Although each individual refugee has to work through his own process of adjustment to a new life in a new culture, this tendency toward concentration can be thought of as resulting in a "concentration of the issues" as well, and creates the need for a community strategy of adjustment and development.
Section II takes a look at two other Asian communities in the U.S.: the Korean immigrant community, and the Hmong refugee community. The purpose of this section is to draw upon some lessons from the experiences of these Asian ethnic groups, and to test whether these principles apply to the Cambodian refugee population in Colorado.
The Korean section focuses on one strategy (small-scale entrepreneur-ship) and one institution (the church) as the pillars of Korean adjustment to life in the U.S. The Hmong section focuses on the Hmong resettlement and development experience from a project perspective,
based on information from the Hmong Resettlement Study. Section II ends with a brief review of community development theory, as a prelude to the recomendations in Section III.
Section III attempts to suggest a set of activities/strategies that Colorados Cambodian community might adopt in order to answer some of the concerns expressed by community members. The section begins with a review of the communitys most pressing needs, and the services already available to the refugee community in Colorado. Next, four primary components of a community development plan are suggested.
These four components are the authors opinion of a course of action the community should take, and are given with the realization that the community may identify a completely different set of needs, strategies, and activities if it were to begin some form of community development activity.
Because of the current lack of any kind of purposeful community development activity in Colorados Cambodian community, Section III suggests that the greatest need is for cultivating a "vision" for the communitys future, and an orientation toward community development activity among the communitys leadership. Borrowing from the Korean model, the suggestion is also made that the institution with the best potential for success in this area is the Cambodian Christian church. Section III ends with a justification of this assertion, and some recomendations for how the church can cultivate their role as catalysts "of community development in the Cambodian community.
Finally, a large annotated bibliography has been included as an aid to future research on these topics. Colorados libraries did not prove to be particularly good sources of information about some of these topics, which made the research slow at times. For that reason, this bibliography could be a valuable resource for anyone engaging in further study of Southeast Asian refugee communities in the U.S.
The information in Section I is drawn from the growing body of literature about the Southeast Asian refugee experience, from interviews with Southeast Asian refugees (primarily Cambodian), and from the authors familiarity with Cambodian refugees based on his experience as a refugee sponsor. The result is a picture of the Cambodian community in the U.S., and in Colorado in particular.
Section II draws upon the literature to suggest a set of principles based on the resettlement experience of other Asian ethnic groups. Section III suggests a set of community development principles based on the literature in that field. The result of the combination of these three topics is a methodology of community development for Colorados Cambodian community (as displayed graphically on the next page).
-Literature Literature Literature
Colorados Cambodian community
Principles from other Asian communities.
A community development methodology for the Cambodian community in Colorado.
Historical Background ............................... 1
Migration, Resettlement, and Demographics ........... 15
Issues and Concerns for Southeast Asians in the U.S. 27
The Cambodian Community in the U.S./ Colorado ....... 42
Cambodia. The name of that troubled nation, once considered to be a tropical paradise, a land of peaceful and prosperous farmers, attractive people with a rich culture and history, has now become synonymous with suffering. The story of modern Cambodia has become a story of genocide and "holocaust," often compared to the experience of the Jews in Nazi Germany, but perhaps even more tragic because it was a self-inflicted holocaust. The American involvement in the Cambodian story has been the subject of much bitterness and controversy, and a point of division in both nations.
The relocation of thousands of Cambodian "survivors" (refugees) in the United States makes it impossible for us to ignore the painful story of Cambodia. Any attempt to understand these new residents in America, or to suggest a direction for their future, must be rooted in a study of their past. To understand Cambodian-Americans we must understand their culture, the long and rich historical tradition behind that culture, and the recent historical experience that has had such a powerful impact on the Cambodian people. This paper, then, begins with a look at Cambodian history as the necessary foundation for an analysis of the Cambodian community in the U.S.
Pre-Modern Cambodia. The history of Cambodia*, and the Cambodian people, is essentially the history of the Khmer people, which comprise 85 percent of the population of Cambodia (the remainder being ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese). While Cambodian recorded history dates as far back as the first century A.D., when it was
*This paper will refer to Cambodia by that name, rather than as Kampuchea. The latter may be more accurate (Kampuchia being the current name for the nation), but the former will be more familiar for most readers of this paper. The terms Cambodian and Khmer are used interchangeably and have, for the most part, the same meaning.
known as Funan, the focus of pre-modern history is on the period of the Khmer empire of Angkor (802 1432 A.D.). During this time, the Khmer empire covered much of southeast Asia, from the Annamite chain in south Vietnam to the Gulf of Thailand (Center for Applied Linguistics, 1981).
The center and capital of this empire was the temple complex at Angkor, which is still the focal point for Cambodian history and ethnic identity.** From Angkor, the Khmers built a civilization marked by marvelous accomplishements in architecture and irrigation. Borrowing heavily from Indian culture transported to Cambodia by Hindu priests and merchants, the Khmers created a cosmology, and a set of basic institutions that have survived into the modern era.
The most important of these were the dominance of the "deva-raj" (god-king), and a belief in Cambodias cultural superiority (Becker, 1986).
These ancient institutions have contemporary significance. Older, traditional Khmer, even many in the U.S., still look to the modern version of a deva-raj, Norodom Sihanouk, as their god-king. Their view of his authority has had strong implications on their political outlook during the 1970s, their attitude toward the Khmer Rouge, anticipation about the future of Cambodia and Cambodians living overseas, and the general concept of heierarchical authority structures that is so central to their culture (with important ramifications for Cambodians living in the U.S.). Elizabeth Becker, in her book When the War Was Over (1986), argues that the belief in Khmer cultural superiority was a foundational concept for the Khmer
**As a personal note, I have yet to enter a Cambodian home in Denver that did not prominently display a large photograph or poster of Angkor Wat, and I have been frequently reminded of its status as one of the "Wonders of the World."
purges", used to purify the nation of non-Khmer influences, leading to the intense persecution of ethnic minorities (Becker,1986). It might also be argued that reliance on the king, who was at once political ruler, the center of religious life, and director of public worka (an important component of Angkor civilization), developed into a pattern of submission to centralized authority, and active involvement of the state in the daily affairs of the people.
Becker also claims that in spite of the Cambodian reputation as a gentle and peaceful people, the Angkor period demonstrates a violent side to Khmer culture and history. The system of justice, as well as a large part of the ritual life of Angkor royalty, was often barbaric and violent, as well as exploitive of the poor. Becker points out that during the period of war in the 1970s, the most popular Cambodian movies were about Angkor deva-rajs, and their violent exploits (Becker, 1986).
Feuds over royal succession contributed to the collapse of Angkor in the 15th century. For the next four centuries, subsequent kingdoms fought a series of territorial wars with the rival kingdoms of Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam, contributing to the history of ethnic animosity among those groups, while the magnificent temples of Angkor languished, forgotten in the jungle. Only the institutions and worldview remained, however altered, to influence modern Cambodian history.
Early Modern Cambodia. The period following the decline of Angkor has been labelled the "Cambodian Dark Ages(c.l350 1560 A.D.); a period during which Cambodian strength and size deteriorated as the Thais and Vietnamese gained control over large sections of Cambodian territory. During this time the capital moved from Angkor to Phnom
Penh. Historical perspective suggests an almost inevitable clash between Cambodia and European civilization, as Cambodia experienced its period of decline at the same time that European empires were expanding and beginning their period of exploration and colonialism.
The Vietnamese strengthened their influence over Cambodia, both through war and through playing an active role in influencing the outcome of Cambodian civil conflicts. By the early 19th century Cambodias relationship to Vietnam was similar to Vietnams relationship with China; one of suzereignty and reluctant submission. This situation lasted until the middle of the century, when Cambodia was able to reassert its independence. The attempted "Vietnamiza-tion of Cambodia through forcing changes in important cultural characteristics and institutions left a legacy of hostility between the two nations, with important ramifications on the contemporary politics of the region. "The two peoples lived on different sides of a deep cultural divide..., was to be savagely exploited in the 1970s, first by Lon Nol and later by Pol Pot and his xenophobic armies" (Chandler, 1983).
Unfortunately, independence for Cambodia was short-lived. French imperial power in southeast Asia had been growing for 200 years, particularly since 1627, when French missionaries adapted the Vietnamese language to the Roman alphabet paving the way for future French influence in the area, as well as the spread of Catholicism (Karnow, 1983). France sought an Indochinese power base as a counter to growing British influence in Asia, and as a backdoor to the anticipated wealth of China, with the Mekong River serving as a highway to Chinese markets. In the typical pattern of the era, the missionaries were followed by the merchants, and finally by the military, who sought to ensure the free activity of both. By 1862 the French
ruled south Vietnam, and control over the rest of Vietnam (at that time three separate entities; Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin) was only a few years away. French control of Cambodia came in 1863, when King Norodom (grandfather of Norodom Sihanouk) signed a series of treaties with the French granting them effective, if not official. control of the nation in exchange for protection from pretenders to the throne, as well as from Vietnamese and Thai aggression. This pattern would be repeated by Norodoms grandson nearly a century later.
The French saw Vietnam, not Cambodia, as the key nation in the area, and thus focused most of their attention on Vietnam. Consequently, Norodom was allowed "limited sovereignty" in governing Cambodia. Nevertheless, taxes were increased and the revenues were siphoned off to Hanoi, Saigon, and Paris, with Cambodia receiving very little in return. Vietnamese were brought in to help the French administer Cambodia (as in the 1980s), and Vietnamese settlers migrated to Cambodia in significant numbers, where they bought land and established farms. "The French had decided that the Vietnamese were the industrious race of the future and the Khmer a lazy, doomed people grown decadent on Buddhism and the rule of their opulent monarchs. The Vietnamese accepted modernity and seemed unfettered by a demanding, all-consuming faith; Taoism seemed an athiests philosophy compared to what the French saw as the peculiar, otherworldly Buddhism of the Cambodians" (Becker, 1986).
One positive contribution of the French rule was an increase in the study of Khmer history and culture, and a consequent surge in national and ethnic pride, along with the rediscovery of the ancient treasures of Angkor. Perhaps the most ardent Khmer nationalists of
this time were the Khmer Krom, ethnic Khmer living in a part of south Vietnam that had once been Khmer territory. The Khmer Krom became favorite recruits of the American CIA, and remain fiercely nationalistic opponents of Vietnams current occupation of Cambodia. This group is active in Cambodian communities here in the U.S. today, even in the Denver area.
The French made little effort to modernize the Cambodian economy,
create an industrial infrastructure, or encourage modern education.
All such efforts focused on Vietnam. French schools, such as those long active in Vietnam, were not established until the 1930s, and even then most students were French and Vietnamese. Cambodia entered the modern era a large step behind its neighbor to the east.
World War II. and Independence. After Frances surrender to Germany early in the war, The French colonial government in Indochina was forced to cooperate with Germanys ally, the Japanese, who entered Phnom Penh in 1941. The Thais used this period to attack and, with Japanese approval, annex over one-third of Cambodias territory (in the northwest part of the country) (Chandler, 1983). In the meantime, with the death of King Sisowath Monivong, eighteen-year-old Prince Sihanouk, a carefree student in Saigon, became the modern "deva-raj", and the man who would dominate, in one form or another,
Cambodian politics for the next three or four decades.
Following Japans defeat in 1945, the French were quick to regain control of Cambodia. Sihanouk, in a now typical pattern, curried French support in exchange for protection from the Thais and Vietnamese. With the First Indochina War against Ho Chi Minhs Vietminh demanding concentrated attention by the French, Sihanouk was able to win limited independence from France by 1953. With the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and the end of the
French presence in the region, Cambodias independence was complete. The French departure left in its place a weak economy, and an inexperienced and corrupt bureaucracy. For the next fifteen years, a period of constant political upheaval and growing communist influence, Sihanouk walked a tightrope between the far left and the far right, both domestically and internationally. Consequently, while he managed to retain a good deal of popular support, he alienated both extremes, planting the seeds for his own ultimate defeat.
War, and the Khmer Republic. The Geneva accords that ended the First Indochina War in 1954 created a divided Vietnam, pending nationwide elections. Those elections were never held, and the nation was polarized into a communist north and a pro-U.S. republic in the south, leading to the Second Indochina War (which Americans refer to as the "Vietnam War") beginning in the early 1960s.
Prince Sihanouk, who in the mid-1950s abdicated the throne (in favor of his father) in order to run and be elected as prime minister, was determined not to take sides in the war erupting around his nation. Sihanouk detested communism, which was opposed to the existance of a monarchy in Cambodia. But he also feared the growing power of those on the far right, whose priority was on modernizing and industrializing the nation. Their ideas were in conflict with Sihanouks notion of preserving traditional Cambodia as a quiet, pastoral land, whose people viewed themselves as a family with Sihanouk as their father. Consequently, while Sihanouk became a worldwide symbol of neutrality and non-alignment, Cambodias economy stagnated and challenges from both the left and the right grew more intense.
The war in Vietnam expanded rapidly in the early 1960s, with U.S. infantry entering the war in 1965. By 1967, the U.S. had 500,000
troops in Vietnam. In 1965/1966, Sihanouk broke off relations with the U.S., and allowed Vietnamese communists the use of border areas and seaports. These moves were calculated to quiet the opposition to Sihanouk from Cambodian communists, but their effect was very shortlived. By 1967 open warfare between Sihanouk and the communists had begun in response to spontaneous peasant uprisings in the northwest against the government rice tax. For the next three years Sihanouk was occupied with an effort to wipe out the small (5,000), but growing Khmer Rouge ("Red Cambodians") army (Becker, 1986).
In March of 1968 Richard Nixon ordered the secret bombing of Vietnamese installations in Cambodia, and in April of 1970 he announced the attack of communist bases in Cambodia by American ground forces, prompting an eruption of protest in the U.S. (Karnow, 1983). The American involvement with Cambodia had begun.
By 1969 Sihanouk realized that during his preoccupation with his war against the communists, opposition from the right had grown dramatically. He began to make gestures in their direction, but it was too late. On March 18, 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol, prime minister and defense minister of Cambodia. Lon Nol eventually declared the creation of the Khmer Republic, and turned his attention to fighting the communists. Lon Nol declared a goal of "purifying" the nation of foreign influences (e.g. communism and the Vietnamese), although he was relying heavily on anticipated aid from another foreign source the United States which never reached the amount he had hoped for. It is interesting to note that the most devout followers of Lon Nol in this period were the Khmer Krom, who enlisted en masse into his armies (Becker, 1986). Within a month of being overthrown, Sihanouk had forged an alliance born of desparation (the National United Front of Kampuchea) with the Khmer Rouge in hopes of
regaining control over Cambodia. For their part, the communists were happy to use their old enemy as a tool to attract the many Cambodians whose patriotic sympathy was still with their god-king Sihanouk.
Lon Nols war against the communists went poorly from the start. Vietnamese armies did most of the fighting for the Khmer Rouge at first, giving the Cambodian communists time to gather their strength. After the Paris cease-fire agreement with Vietnam in 1973 (forbidding the U.S. from bombing Vietnam), the U.S. focused its air-war on Cambodia. During seven months of illegal bombing (eventually ordered halted by Congress), the U.S. dropped over 250,000 tons of explosives on the Khmer countryside (one and one-half times as many tons as were dropped on Japan during World War II). The U.S. bombed its ally in order to help it, by attempting to destroy the communists forces in the countryside. The effect was devastating for the Cambodian people, if not for the communists. It was unsafe to work or to travel, and the amount of land under cultivation dropped to one-sixth its former amount. At the same time, Phnom Penh was flooded with refugees fleeing the bombing and communist advances. Phnom Penh was a city of 452,000 in 1962, 1.3 million in 1971, and 2.5 3 million by 1975 (Price, 1981)i Food and shelter were scarce, and the communists were drawing closer to the capital daily. Lon Nols military strategies were inept, and the morale of his army was low, with the result being repeated defeats by the communists and large numbers of soldiers joining the communists.
Finally, on April 17, 1975 Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, beginning what is perhaps one of the most tragic periods in human
Year Zero:___Cambodia _1975_.-.:_1979 During the last half of the
1970s, the United States worked to put the tragedy of the war in Southeast Asia behind it. With a celebration of its bicentennial, pardons for Vietnam-war draft resistors, the beginning of talks with Vietnam about normalizing relations, and a focus on domestic issues, the American people were trying to "get-over the war. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the worst had just begun.
When Saigon fell to the communists (two weeks after the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh), many observers expected a bloodbath; but it never came (at least not with anything like the intensity expected). On the other hand, few expected that such a bloodbath would come in Cambodia, with its peaceful, pastoral reputation.
The Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Solath Sar (later known by his "nomme de guerre" Pol Pot) and Ieng Sary, spent the next four years destroying the old Cambodia, in order to build an entirely new one. They even declared the date to be "Year Zero," and "outlawed" all history of Cambodia, until it could be rewritten from a Khmer Rouge perspective. Pol Pot inherited a devastated country (which he did very little to rebuild). The fighting of the previous five years had left 1.1 million dead (of a total population of less than 8 million), over 3 million homeless, and countless others wounded and disabled. Half the farmland was going uncultivated, and the nations industrial and communications networks were almost nonexistant, due to physical destruction and the lack of materials for production (Becker, 1986). Immediately (and once again in 1978) Pol Pot ordered Phnom Penh completely emptied; the people "relocated" to the countryside in order both to prevent organized resistance, and to force the city people to become peasants the ideal citizen of Pol Pots
Cambodia. For many Cambodians, who had welcomed the Khmer Rouge victory as an end to years of war, this was the first hint of what lay ahead. As they left the city, under the assumption that they were fleeing an imminent American air attack, they passed mounds of civilian corpses along the roads, and observed gravely injured hospital patients being force to walk (or crawl) out of the city.
Like Lon Nol before him, Pol Pot placed a high priority on purifying Cambodia, although Pol Pot was much more vicious and thorough in his drive to cleanse Cambodia of "reactionary" influences. The most important of these were the monarchy and Buddhism. The Communist Party, under its nickname "Angka" (meaning "organization"), attempted to take the place of the god-king, and to rule with the same absolute power. Angka came to take on an almost mystical personal existance of its own, until people began to believe in it the way they might believe in God a very harsh and merciless God (Sheehy, 1986). Buddhism (which is such a strong part of Cambodian culture that the two are often almost indistinguishable) was the object of tremendous Khmer Rouge fury. Priests were murdered in large numbers, pagodas were destroyed (and often used as prisons and torture centers), and the "words of Angka" were forcedly replacing Buddhist teachings. The Khmer Rouge taught the people to suspect everyone, and to be willing to kill (or at least turn-in) all suspected opponents of Angka. Angkas slogans were memorized:
"Intellectuals are evil.
"Bonzes [priests] are bloodsuckers."
"Whatever is impure must be cut out." (Sheehy, 1986)
The family was replaced by "solidarity groups" as the basic unit of society, both through massive propaganda efforts (particularly among the children, who were taught to suspect their parents, and rely only on Angka), and through physical separation, as family
members were sent to work in opposite ends of the country. Along
with Buddhist monks, military people, businessmen and bureaucrats,
and ethnic minorities were the objects of Khmer Rouge pogroms. The
Khmer Rouge fury even turned on itself, with frequent purifying
purges of any cadre with the slightest blemish on his record, such as
being the relative of a "suspected intellectual." Khmer Rouge songs
extolled this lust for blood:
"Glittering red blood blankets the earth blood given up to liberate the people: blood of workers, peasants, and intellectuals: blood of young men, Buddhist monks and girls.
The blood swirls away, and flows upward, gently, into the sky, turning into a red, revolutionary flag." (Sheehy, 1986)
The following story, borrowed from Gail Sheehys Spirit of Survival (1986) perhaps the best book I have encountered on understanding the personal side of the Cambodian tragedy recounts the experience of one survivor from the city of Battambang. His "killing fields" experience is similar to many of the stories told by Cambodian survivors, including many I have heard from refugees in Denver. I include it to illustrate both the barbarity of the Khmer Rouge, and the kind of traumatic situations encountered by many Cambodian refugees:
Every day they take people to the square at five-thirty and tell them to dig their graves. At six oclock they killed them. Most of the time by the axe, hitting on the back of the head. It sounds like banging a coconut, but harder.
Sometimes they hit a person once, they not die. Okay, they bury them anyway. Children, too. Bloody everywhere.
Fifteen thousand people they say they kill in that place.
The children, they live in fear all day, all night.
Screaming in the darkness from nightmare. No sleep, even though they work very hard, carrying soil and rocks....
The Khmer Rouge in my district play games. Two of them toss a baby back and forth until they drop it. A lot of time, they make the children watch the killing. You could not speak, not cry out. Just watch. The killing was right in front of me. My eyes saw, but my mind somewhere else.
I didnt feel anything. Everybody else was probably the same. My mind just worried about food. Sometimes I think,
"If you give me one big bowl of rice, then you can kill me. "
The Khmer Rouge were able to keep the people from resisting through the same tools they used to create a glorious new Kampuchea": torture, fear, extremely long hours of exhausting labor, starvation (or, at best, very poor diet), relocation and separation from friends and family, and endless hours of political indoctrination. Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 was probably as close as the world has known to being a land without joy, without expressions of emotion (since such expressions were punishable by death), and without hope. "People were terrified and soon became too weak to attack. They knew they were going to be killed, and hoped only to die easily. So we just let them lead us by the nose, day by day, in hope we would die without torture (Sheehy, 1986)". Even the lowest estimates of lives lost due to executions and starvation during this period are one million. Other estimates are as high as three million, with the truth probably somewhere in between.
Although the Vietnamese had been instrumental in helping the Khmer Rouge to achieve their victory in the early 1970s, by 1977 serious trouble had erupted between these old enemies, perhaps demonstrating the dominance of ethnic and historical forces over political ideology. The two nations engaged in a border war in 1977 and 1978, and on January 7, 1979 Phnom Penh fell once again, this time to the Vietnamese, who established a puppet government under Heng Samrin.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreated to the Thai/Cambodian border, where they still wage a guerilla war, in alliance with Sihanouk and several other political groups, against the Vietnamese occupation and domination of Cambodia.
The chaos created by the Vietnamese-Cambodian war (the Third
Indochina War, some have called it) forced (or enabled) thousands of Cambodians to flee into refugee camps along the Thai border. And in the following months, until early 1980 when the Thais attempted to close their border, there was a constant flow of Cambodians fleeing war, famine, foreign rule and fear of the Vietnamese. In April of 1980 there were nearly 200,000 Cambodians refugees in camps in Thailand, with many more in camps along the border, the latter often controlled by Khmer Rouge guerilla forces who used the refugee camps as a place to blend-in and hide from the Vietnamese.
In 1979 the world became aware of the plight of the refugees, and of the suffering of the Cambodian people under Pol Pot. A television documentary (sponsored by the Vietnamese) by Australian journalist John Pilger, and a visit to refugee camps in Thailand by Rosalynn Carter, awakened worldwide public interest in Cambodian refugees. Voluntary agencies from around the world mobilized resources, and created the machinery necessary for enabling the refugees to leave the camps and be resettled in other countries. The next section of this paper will focus on this migration of Cambodians, along with other Southeast Asians, to the United States, their patterns of settlement in the U.S., and the special needs and opportunities presented by the presence of these people in the western world.
MIGRATION, RESETTLEMENT,AND DEMOGRAPHICS
The historical context presented in the last few pages should make it clear whv so many Cambodians have left their country, and sought asylum in the U.S. and other nations. Similar (although not identical) stories could be told for the refugees leaving Vietnam and Laos during the same period. The flow of refugees from Southeast Asia to the United States is divided into two "waves."* The first wave consisted largely of American dependents or Indochinese supporters of U.S. policy, whose leaving was necessitated by the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh in 1975. Consequently, many of these "first-wave" refugees were government officials, military officers, intellectuals, businessmen, and their families. This group (numbering approximately 130,000) was comparatively more educated, and wealthier than the "second-wave" refugees of the 1980s, with a good number bringing moderate-to-large sums of money with them, as well as having a number of American contacts in some cases (Strand, 1985).
*It should be pointed out that there are still over 130,000 refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in camps in Thailand, as well as over 230,000 Cambodians in camps along the Cambodia/Thai border (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1986). The status, safety and future of these victims of war all remain in doubt; as resettlement countries decrease the number of refugees they will accept, international support for these refugees is declining, and the guerilla war being carried out by the Sihanouk/Khmer Rouge forces (along with the Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front) against the Vietnamese-backed government in Cambodia is intensifying. Also, the Thai government is becoming less willing to permit the existance of large camps within its border, blaming western governments for being unwilling to process refugees for relocation. There are those who suggest that the Thais prefer to have a large number of Cambodians along the border (but within Cambodian territory) to act as a buffer against the possibility of Vietnamese aggression. At any rate, Thailand has closed Khao I Dang camp, the largest and most famous camp (and the setting for the final scenes of the movie "The Killing Fields"). The 26,000 residents of Khao I Dang (which at one time housed 140,000) will lose their legal status as refugees, and become "displaced persons," who can then be returned to Cambodia.
The first wave of educated, middle-class refugees played an important role in establishing a base community in asylum countries, preparing for the massive onslaught of second-wave refugees. Cambodians did not flee their country in large numbers during this time probably because they believed (or at least hoped) that the Khmer Rouge victory would finally end the years of fighting and bring peace. They did not anticipate what life under the Khmer Rouge would be like.
The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 forced (or enabled)
100,000 Cambodians to flee across the border and into Thailand. By 1980 famine had caused over 150,000 Cambodians to seek refuge in Thailand. During the same period, 85,000 refugees left Vietnam in small, overloaded boats not built for the open seas. Sixty percent of these "boat people" were ethnic Chinese fleeing racial persecution. (The Chinese in Vietnam, as in Cambodia, were the merchant class, and were thus the object of communist persecution, which was exacerbated by racial tensions due to the Sino-Vietnamese border war in 1979. Their entrepreneurial background is evident in the commercial activity of Chinese refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia when they reach the U.S., where they frequently start their own small businesses). The "boat people" were also escaping bad weather (and the consequent drop in food availability) as well as a rapidly deteriorating economy (Strand, 1985). With the exception of the Chinese merchant class, the second wave of refugees contained mostly farmers and fishermen, who were generally younger, poorer,and less well-educated than their firstwave counterparts.
In 1978 Congress authorized the admission of 53,000 Southeast Asian refugees, and planned to allow 25,000 per year for the next few years.
But the deluge of "boat people," many of whom were being turned away from camps in Malaysia due to racial conflict, along with the extremely
rapid expansion of the number of Khmer and Laotians in refugee camps in Thailand (and the inadequacy of facilities to handle them, as documented in William Shawcrosss book The Quality of Mercy ), made a change in those numbers imperative. By September of 1979, efforts to arrange for sponsorship had intensified, and over 14,000 refugees per month were being settled in the U.S. (170,000 per year) (Strand, 1985). Refugees continue to come to the U.S. from Southeast Asia today, but at a much slower rate. In 1985, 49,853 Southeast Asian refugees were settled in the U.S.; 19,237 from Cambodia, 5,233 from Laos, and 25,383 from Vietnam. By the end of FY 1985, approximately 761,000 Southeast Asians had been resettled in the U.S., with about 39 percent of those arriving in the 1980-1981 period (U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services,1986).
Demographic Profile. Vietnamese represent the majority of Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. (approximately 64 percent), although the ethnic composition is becoming more diverse over time, as the numbers of Khmer and Laotian relative to the number of Vietnamese entering the country is increasing. Currently Laotians make up 19 percent of the Southeast Asian refugee population (with almost 40 percent of these being culturally distinct groups, such as the Hmong or Mien from the highlands of Laos), and Cambodians account for 17 percent. The Southeast Asian population in the U.S. is young compared with the general U.S. population, with a median age of 24.6 (compared to a figure of 30.5 for the U.S.). School-age children (aged 6-17) comprise almost 30 percent of the total, and 19 percent are young adults (aged 18-24). Fifty-five percent of the population are working-age (18-44) adults, with less than 3 percent over 65 years old (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1986).
The Federal Resettlement Program under which the Southeast Asian
refugees came to the U.S. had a major goal of spreading the social and economic impact of the refugees as evenly as possible throughout the nation. This goal was a response to conventional adaptation theories suggesting that geographic dispersion reduces intra-group contact and promotes contact with "native-born" Americans, stimulating social and economic adaptation. In addition, the presence of an economic recession in the U.S. made the need for dispersal more imperative, in order to avoid placing a disproportionate economic burden on any one state (Desbarats, 1983). However, since there are no legal restrictions to prevent refugees from moving, the Southeast Asian population has become increasingly concentrated in several urban areas in the South and West. Refugees seem to engage in this "secondary migration" for several reasons: the pull of an established ethnic community, more generous welfare benifits in states (California) other than that of their initial resettlement, reunification with relatives, or a more congenial climate. Tables 1, 2 and 3 show state populations of Southeast Asian refugees in 1985, which is the most current data.
Tables 2 and 3 clearly show the dominance of California as an attraction for Asian refugees. The California Department of Social Services estimates that one out of four refugees initially settled elsewhere had moved to California, although this process seems to be slowing. Even within states (as in Colorado), refugee populations tend to concentrate in a limited number of urban areas. Orange County, on southern fringe of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, contains 75,000 Southeast Asian refugees one-ninth of the nations total (Desbarats, 1983). Such areas often represent a "little Saigon" or "little Phnom
Penh" to Asian residents.
Table 1 Estimated Southeast Asian Refugee Population by State:
9/30/1984 and 9/30/1985 (U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services,1986
State 9/30/84 9/30/85 Percent
Alabama 2,600 3,000 0.4X
Alaska 200 200
Arizona 4,300 5,000 0.7
Arkansas 2,300 2,500 0.3
CalIfornia 285,100 303,100 39.8
Colorado 10,700 10,500 1.4
Connecticut 6,600 7,000 0.9
Delaware 300 200
District of Columbia 1,400 1,600 0.2
Florida 11,500 12,700 1.7
Georgia 8,300 9,700 1.3
Hawai i 6,200 6,600 0.9
Idaho 1,300 1,600 0.2
Illinois 23,400 25,300 3.3
Indiana 3,800 3,900 0.5
Iowa 8,300 8,800 1.2
Kansas 9,400 10,000 1.3
Kentucky 2,000 2,200 0.3
Louisiana 13,500 14,100 1.8.
Maine 1,600 1,700 0.2
Maryland 8,500 9,300 1.2
Massachusetts 19,300 22,500 3.0
Michigan 10,000 10,400 1.4
Minnesota 22,600 24,100 3.2
Mississippi 1,700 1,800 0.2
Missouri 6,200 6,900 0.9
Montana 800 800 0.1
Nebraska 1,900 2,000 0.3
Nevada 1,900 2,000 0.3
New Hampshire 700 800 0.1
New Jersey 6,300 6,800 0.9
New Mexico 1,800 2,000 0.3
New York 24,800 28,600 3.8
North Carolina 5,000 5,200 0.7
North Daxota 800 900 0.1
Ohio 9,600 10,300 1.4
Oklahoma 8,200 8,600 1.1
Oregap 17,200 17,400 2.3
Pennsylvania 23,900 25,400 3.3
Rhode Island 5,100 5,800 0.8
South Carolina 2,100 2,100 0.3
South Dakota 900 1,000 0.1
Tennessee 4,500 4,900 0.6
Texas 51,300 57,200 7.5
Utah 7,800 7,900 1.0
Vermont 600 600
Virginia 21,000 20,700 2.7
Washington 32,600 34,200 4.5
West Virginia 400 400
Wisconsin 10,300 10,000 1.3
Wyoming 200 200
Guam 200 300
TOTAL 711,000 760,900 100.OX
Table 2 Secondary Migration Data, June 30, 1985
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Non- Out- In- Net
State Movers Mlqrants Mlqrants Mlqratlcn
Alabama 189 633 444
Alaska 0 170 0 -170
Arizona 1,991 731 243 -488
Arkansas 664 164 533 369
CalIfornla 42.973 1,799 14,533 12,734
Colorado 1,097 372 329 -43
Connecticut 430 274 136 -138
Delaware 4 27 0 -27
District of Columbia 39 1,009 24 -985
Florida 800 743 103 -640
Georgia 1,091 617 294 -323
Hawaii 601 176 41 -135
Idaho 171 173 12 -161
Illinois 2,411 1,388 300 -1,088
Indiana 234 268 0 -268
Iowa 647 325 103 -222
Kansas 703 502 198 -304
Kentucky 256 359 9 -350
Louisiana 443 700 358 -350
Maine 340 120 24 -96
Maryland 1,296 484 1,023 539
Massachusetts 4,542 427 1,270 843
Michigan 979 481 75 -406
Minnesota 2,709 665 419 -246
Mississippi 59 184 37 -147
Missouri 523 536 86 -450
Montana 26 42 0 -42
Nebraska 90 225 20 -205
Nevada 131 256 25 -231
New Hampshire 83 56 2 -54
New Jersey 776 360 142 -218
New Mexico 185 423 26 -397
New Vork 3,094 1,398 1,376 -22
North CarolIna 149 503 27 -476
North Dakota 210 180 11 -169
Ohio 1,145 623 109 -514
Oklahoma 199 579 100 -479
Oregon 1,067 843 273 -570
Pennsylvania 3,603 933 546 -387
Rhode Island 373 176 152 -24
South CarolIna 53 163 5 -158
South Oakota 78 5 -73
Tennessee 241 404 12 -392
Texas 7,040 3,697 2,227 -1,470
Utah 755 706 32 -674
Vermont 77 72 2 -70
Virginia 1,429 996 340 -656
Washington 1,922 1,107 653 -454'
West Virginia 9 35 1 -34
Wisconsin 512 169 289 120
Wyoming 0 29 0 -29
Guam 21 0 0 0
Other 0 214 0 -214
TOTAL (39.873 27,158 37,150 0
Table 3 States with the Largest Southeast Asian Populations
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
State Number Percent
California 303,100 39.8%
Texas 57,200 7.5
Washington 34,300 4. 5
New York 28,600 3.8
Pennsylvania 25,400 3.3
Illinois 25,300 3.3
Minnesota 24,100 3.2
Mas s achus etts 22,500 3.0
Virginia 20,700 2.7
Oregon 17,400 2.3
Louis ianna 14,100 1.8
Florida 12,700 1.7
Colorado 10,500 1.4
Michigan 10.400 JL_4
TOTAL 606,300 79.7%
Economic Ad.iustment. The economic adjustment of Southeast Asian refugees has been fairly rapid and successful, considering the conditions of their arrival in the U.S. According to Nathan Caplan, coauthor of an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) study on Southeast Asian refugees, most refugees arrived with little or no savings, little or no English ability, and few transferable labor market skills, in addition to arriving in a depressed national economy. Only 26 percent had completed a high school education, with over half having only primary school education. Only one in one hundred spoke English fluently upon arrival, with two-thirds having no knowledge of the language. Yet Caplans study suggested that by 1982 25 percent of the families had achieved economic independence, although the large majority were still living at or below the national poverty range (Caplan,1985b).
ORR figures for 1985 suggest that approximately 83 percent of Southeast Asians defined as being in the work force were employed, compared to 93 percent for the U.S. population (U.S. Dept, of Health and
Human Services, 1986). Caplans study showed an average hourly wage of $5.20, and a large majority (69 percent) of refugees working in "low status" jobs (as defined in the Duncan Socio-Economic Index). In addition, more than half held jobs in peripheral sectors of the labor market, where jobs tend to be unstable, seasonal, and part-time.
Table 4 shows the kind of changes in occupation experienced by Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. A large number of refugees have been shifted out of white-collar and into blue-collar jobs, while others were forced to leave their jobs and lifestyles as farmers and fishermen in Southeast Asia.
Table 4 Current and Previous Occupational Status
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Occupation In Country of Origin In U.S.
Professional/Managerial 10.2% Sales/Clerical 28.5% (Total White Collar) (38.7%)
2.6% 13.8% (16.4%)
(Total Blue Collar)
6. 1% 1.3% (20.5%)
19.9% 27.8% 13. 6% (61.3%)
Service Workers Farmers and Fishers
Caplan suggests that the chief predictors of progress toward economic self-sufficiency are: length of time in the U.S., fluency in English,
number of employable adults in the household, education, and past occupation. Only one predictor not representing a personal characteristic site of resettlement showed any significance.
Caplan suggests that Southeast Asians are making tremendous progress towards self-sufficiency due to "an impressive demonstration of hard work and initiative." "The success these people have realized is almost entirely a result of their own resourcefulness." Caplan also suggests that refugee resettlement agencies and programs appear to have been of limited help, with the attainment of self-sufficiency being very weakly related to the type of volunteer agency or sponsorship for the refugee. For example, 60 percent of the respondents to Caplan's survey found their jobs exclusively through friends or relatives.
Caplans studies have also pointed to the academic achievements of Southeast Asian children. On national standardized tests, 27 percent of the refugee children scored in the 90th percentile on math achievement -three times better than the national average. Although they scored low on English language proficiency (most of them had spoken no English three to four years earlier), they outperformed their peers on general grade-point average, with 27 percent earning an A or A-minus. "The highest-achieving children were from families that embodied what are traditional Confucian cultural values, emphasizing the family as a cohesive unit working to achieve shared goals, and encouraging a strong respect for education and for the family's cultural traditions and history" (Caplan, 1985b).
Tables 5, 6, and 7 illustrate some of the other economic characteristics of refugees, with breakdowns by length-of-time in the U.S., and by families receiving public assistance versus those not receiving such assistance.
Table 5 Patterns in the Adjustment of Refugees Age 16 and Over
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Length of Residence In Months
0-6 7-12 13-18 19-24 25-30 31-36 37-60
Labor force participation 24.7X 38.5X 40.6X' 41.9X 45.5X 42.9X 41.6X
Unemployment 42.5X 24.4X 13.3X 12.2X 15.IX 18.7X 16.4X
Weekly Income of employed persons (161.72 $170.18 $171.47 $185.15 $191.30 $208.56 $243.09
Percent in English training 38.3X 25.8% 23.7X 17.IX 19.7X 15.2X 34.8X
Percent 1n other training or schooling 29. OX 31.5X 27.4X 31.6X 35.6X 34. IX 19.6X
Percent speaking English well or fluently 28.2X 33. ax 37.4X 42.7X 46.5X 43. ax 34.2X
Percent speaking no English 14.6X 13.3X 13.2X 13.7X 7.8X 10.ox 13.6X
Percent in households receiving cash assistance* 61.4X 49.2X 54.5X 62.8X 56.3X 51.4X 50.3X
This item Includes refugees of all ages.
Table 6 Characteristics of Households Containing Cash Assistance Recipients, and No Cash Assistance Recipients
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Households With Recipients Households With No Recipients
Average household size 5. 7 3.8
Average # of wage earners per household 1.6 2.4
Percent of household members:
Under the age of 6 26.4 31.6
Under the age of 16 50. 0 46.3
Percent of households with at least one fluent English speaker 2.4 5.0
Percent of sampled households 56.6 43.4
Table 7 Median Adjusted Gross Income of Tax Filing Units, Southeast Asian Refugees, 1982-1983
(U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Tax Year Cohorts
.Arrivals $13,962 $14,533
All U.S. Tax Units
We have now examined the history of Cambodia and Southeast Asia, the migration and resettlement of refugees from that part of the world to the U.S., and a brief demographic profile of those refugees. I should point out here that demographic/economic data specifically for Cambodian-Americans is virtually non-existant, which is the reason the demographic analysis dealt with Southeast Asians in general.
The next section of this paper will look at the major issues and concerns of Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S., with an emphasis on the unique attributes of Cambodians in America.
ISSUES AND .CONCERNS... FOR SOU THE AST. ..AS.IANS._Ijj. ..THE ...U. S_..
Southeast Asian refugees living in the U.S. are faced with a number of needs and concerns (as well as some unique opportunities). These issues are relevant to this paper in that it is this set of needs that community development efforts are to address. Based on a review of the literature, I have broken the list of issues into several groups; acculturation and assimilation, health, employment and economics, family life, education and language, and community and inter-ethnic relationships. Before looking at these issue areas individually, it will be useful to review briefly some of the key cultural characteristics of Southeast Asians as background for understanding their behavior. Specific Khmer (Cambodian) cultural characteristics will be examined later.
***Cultural Characteristics. The various ethnic groups from Southeast Asia (Vietnamese, Khmer, Laotian, Hmong, etc...) are certainly distinct groups, with a distinct set of characteristics. There is, therefore, a danger in generalizing. However, at the risk of oversimplifying a complex mosaic of cultural traditions, there are some cultural traits that are characteristic of most Southeast Asian ethnic groups.
For all Southeast Asians groups, the family, not the individual, is the basis of society a characteristic constantly in conflict with the American emphasis on individualism. It is common for three or four generations to live together in one home, with the elderly supported by their children until death. Individual roles within the family tend to be well defined, so that each person knows his/her place and function. For example, within the family the wife deals with all household matters, while the husband deals with the outside world. Marriages generally take place at a younger age than for Americans, with the
parents playing a strong role (varying by ethnic group) in planning the marriage (Vandeusen, 1981a).
Because of a strong sense of "propriety", Southeast Asians seldom express emotions openly. Feelings such as anger or frustration are expressed indirectly (or supressed) in order to avoid confrontation or disrespect. Relationships tend to be very hierarchical, with respect for superiors being shown through language, ritual, and even physical posture. Age is highly respected in all relationships, and men are still considered [slightly] superior to women. Male children are pre-fered to female children. As mentioned earlier, the family operates (plans, earns and spends money, disciplines, etc...) as a unit.
While the religious heritage of Southeast Asia is quite rich, certainly Buddhism has been the primary religious and cultural contributor, with Confucianism playing an important role for the Vietnamese. (Approximately half the Hmong are Christians, due to active Protestant missionary efforts in the 1950s and 1960s). Although this is an oversimplification, in general Buddhism tends to create a society that is very "spiritualistic," as opposed to materialistic. Buddhism teaches that the cycle of life and rebirth for an individual will only cease when he is finally able to get rid of earthly desires and achieve a state of spiritual liberation (Whitmore, 1979).
Again, these are very simplified views of Asian culture. So much has been left out (in interest of space). After all, how much space would be required to adequately describe Western culture? The point of this brief analysis is to demonstrate that there is a set of strong cultural characteristics held by refugees in the U.S. that often run counter to the flow of life in America. Some of these cultural traits may have to change (certainly all of them are being challenged, to some degree, as Southeast Asians work and go to school in American cultural settings).
The experience of previous refugee groups has taught us that when the old ways are arbitrarily supressed, the fabric of family and community life can be severely damaged, creating interpersonal conflict and making community cooperation and adjustment more difficult (Vandeusen, 1981a).
*** Acculturation and Assimilation. The ultimate aim of refugee resettlement is assimilation, or the integration of the refugees into the cultural fabric of the U.S., and a socialization of refugees into American social norms (at least the most positive of these norms). Assimilation is here defined as the process of adjustment and adaptation to life in a new cultural environment. Acculturation is defined as the process of adopting the cultural traits of the host society, and should be considered a part of the assimilation process. In successful assimilation, the refugee community and the host society develop a set of common goals and characteristics. In this sense, assimilation does not imply the kind of melting pot" process thought to characterize the American experience.
In other words, assimilation need not result in a sacrifice of cultural identity, accompanied by a process of "Americanization." While a melting pot perspective on assimilation requires an abandonment of previous cultural loyalties, assimilation in its most "positive" sense requires only the addition of loyalty and commitment to the host society.
The issues are not merely academic or theoretical. They are a very real part of the process of adjustment experienced by Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. One Laotian man told me of his dispute with fellow Laotians, who insist on an emphasis on loyalty to Laos, both in culture and politics. My Laotian friends attitude is: "Laos was my country. America is my country." Emotions run high on both sides of the issue. Southeast Asian converts to Christianity experience this conflict as they attempt to be loyal to their cultural roots (many of which have religious origins) and yet practice their new "Western"
religion. School children face these issues when, for example, teachers encourage them to speak-up, while at home they are told to bow) keep their eyes down, speak only when spoken to, respect authority, and behave in accordance with their well-defined place in the family.
A study conducted in the large Southeast Asian population in San Diego (Strand, 1985) illustrates the importance of these issues of assimilation. Respondents were asked to give a "degree of seriousness" to twenty problems facing refugees. Among the most serious issues were (some will be mentioned later as separate issue areas): difficulty in understanding the American way of life, separation from family members, war memories and departure from home, and difficulty with American agencies. Lack of English skills was the most serious problem, and certainly represents a major impediment to the kind of social interaction necessary for learning new culturally appropriate behavior. Because a high percentage of refugees receive public assistance upon arrival, the complicated bureaucracy of the social service delivery system can be an intimidating introduction to American government and society. The moral standards of Americans, particularly as presented in the media, stand in sharp contrast to the "higher" Southeast Asian standards. These and other issues serve as impediments to assimilation.
One explanation for the historical assimilation experience of Asian Americans is the "ethnic enclave" model. Chinese and Japanese-Americans have shown a heavy reliance on ethnic group solidarity as a source of social support and as a bridge between the old and new cultures. Ethnic enclaves (e.g. Chinatown, or even the "little Saigons" throughout the country) also provide economic submarkets, which can translate into an avenue of economic development and employment for members of the ethnic group (Strand, 1985). The ethnic enclave model certainly fits the pattern of secondary migration and geographical concentration of South-
east Asian refugees in the U.S. Certainly assimilation vs. segregation and "cultural-seclusion" constitutes an important issue to be addressed by community development models for Southeast Asian refugees.
*** Health Issues. Research has shown refugee populations to exhibit a high degree of health problems during migration and resettlement (Owan, 1985). The tremendous stress of war, separation from loved ones, the move from familiar surroundings to a foreign environment, and harsh living conditions during the war, during their escape (whether through jungles, while pursued by hostile armies or by small, overcrowded and unsafe boats), and during their time in refugee camps (poor diet, dirty water, lack of medicines) combine to create an environment ideal for the deterioration of good health. Consequently, health needs constitute an important issue for Southeast Asian refugees. And while there are a number of concerns in the area of physical health, I want to focus on issues of refugee mental health, which is increasingly being recognized as one of the key issues in terms of service provision for refugees.
One need not be a mental health professional to recognize that the refugee experience can be expected to create a large amount of stress.
In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of war and migration, refugees are subjected to a number of other stress-producing factors upon resettlement in a host country. Two important problems in this vein are the condition of "marginality" experienced by refugees (separation from the old culture, and yet no sense of belonging to the new culture either), and a feeling of helplessness as forces beyond the refugees control (even benevolent forces, such as sponsoring agencies) determine his/her circumstances in the new environment (Nicassio,1983). Add to that separation from family, grief for lost loved-ones, loss of economic and social status in some cases, instant urbanization for
rural people, values conflicts with the host society, and any number of other issues associated with the refugee experience, and you have a situation contrary to the experience of "mental health.
This situation can (and does) lead to actual clinical diagnoses. Refugees can display symptoms of depression resembling a prolonged experience of bereavement associated with death, or severe anxiety (exacerbated by the language barrier, and the consequent lack of comforting "social cues"), both of which can halt the refugee's process of adjustment, as well as personal growth (Suh, in Tepper,1980). In addition to clinical psychological issues, there are sociological issues concerned with the refugee experience. Refugees exhibit high levels of "alienation", which sociologists define as the separation between the individual and his environment, which produces social estrangement, a sense of hopelessness, stress and anxiety (Nicassio, 1983).
There are a number of barriers to refugees utilizing existing mental health services in the U.S.: lack of awareness of the resources available, language barriers, cultural issues and the difference in world view between refugees and service providers, lack of "psychological mindedness" (mental health is a new concept to most Southeast Asians, who have typically thought of those seeking help from mental health professionals as "crazy"), transportation problems, unwillingness to express emotions, etc...(Tung; Carlin; in Owan, 1985). The relevant question for this paper is whether there are some community development efforts that can help to address some of these issues.
*** Employment and Economics. Economic issues can be expected to be a primary concern for refugees. There is a real paradox in the Southeast Asian refugee experience in that, on the one hand, most refugees are economically "disadvantaged" compared to the general U.S. population and
may have experienced a considerable loss of economic or occupational
status. On the other hand, many refugees have experienced some dramatic improvements in economic conditions. For example, owning a car was an elite privilege in Vietnam or Cambodia, while it is commonplace for refugees in the U.S.
"Virtually all Southeast Asians begin their American lives on welfare. For most, getting off welfare is a gradual process that is greatly dependent on the general state of the economy into which they have been thrust, because most refugees get low-paying, low-status jobs sensitive to changes in the general economy and effected by last hired first fired' forces of the labor market" (Caplan,1985a). Nevertheless, Southeast Asian refugees have shown remarkable progress in achieving economic self-suffeciency, as Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate.
Figure 1 Households Receiving Cash Assistance (Caplan, 1985a).
Figure 2 Income Source by Months in the O.S. (Caplan, 1985a).
Tr ono f or
1 i.J Cooblno d yl! Earned
Both Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the success of Southeast Asians in getting jobs, earning an income, and decreasing dependence on public assistance. The evidence indicates that most of their progress in this area is a result of their own effort and initiative. For example, the refugees in Caplans study who had jobs found them largely through friends, or through their own efforts, as demonstrated by Table 8.
Table 8 Primary Assistance in Finding Refugees First Job in U.S.
Volag (Voluntary Agency) 15%
Employment Programs 5%
State Employment Services 3%
Miscellaneous Other 4%
However, while time is bringing steady improvements to Southeast Asian refugees economic conditions, there are still areas of real concern. There are a number of constraints on the long-term economic progress of refugees. The mere fact of having a job does not tell the whole story, and may cover widespread conditions of "marginal employment", job insecurity, and low pay. Much of their economic progress also is due to extensive efforts at frugality (e.g. lowering living costs by putting more than one family in a home). There is a considerable burden on some refugees to send goods or cash to relatives back home or in refugee camps. The strong sense of duty and community obligates some to offer financial assistance to other community members (a cultural trait with some obvious advantages and possibilities for community development). "In these regards, refugees are caught up between two rather different economic systems our 'free
market system and an older, paternalistic, kin-based system where interpersonal duties and obligations played an important role" (Buch-ignani, in Tepper, 1980). Consequently, there is a need for stable income sources, and opportunities for upward mobility in terms of income.
In addition, there are impediments to this progress even once a refugee has a job. It almost goes without saying that language ability serves as a major constraint on promotion for many refugees. Intercul-tural differences may cause problems as well. For example, one refugee whom I helped place in a job was suprised at his supervisors impatience with him for being late to work (an issue that was much less important in Southeast Asian job settings), and for not calling-in when taking a sick-day. Having been a self-employed farmer most of his life, this refugee has a great deal to learn about the cultural tools necessary for success in the American job market, and his poor English skills prevented him from communicating his confusion to his supervisor. ***
*** Family Life. There are a number of differences in the family structures of the various Southeast Asian ethnic groups. And yet concerns about family life, particularly in contrast to perceived differences with American family life, are perhaps the dominant issues for many refugees in the U.S. I am personally familiar with a number of cases that illustrate the conflict between the American and Southeast Asian experiences of family and kinship. For example, the growing tendency of Southeast Asian youth to adopt American patterns of dating and romance are challenging traditional practices of family-arranged marriages. Nearly every Southeast Asian I have questioned on these issues has mentioned some variation on a typical scenario in which the male head of a family (in a strong patrilineal society, such as the Vietnamese) experiences a loss of control as his childrens
English skills grow faster than his own and he is forced to rely on their help for translation; as he experiences a loss in occupational or social status at the same time that his wife begins to work outside the home and earn a wage comparable to (or greater than) his own; and as he
continues to observe behavior patterns in his children (learned in their contact with Americans, which he may not have) that are uncharacteristic for the culture, and may be interpreted as rebellion against his authority. Family life is probably the most important manifestation of cultural conflict between Southeast Asian refugees and their host society.
Haines (1982) suggests that family issues are relevant to refugee policy in three areas: First, there are economic issues. While larger family size may necessitate a longer period of dependence on public assistance (and research indicates that it does), extended family relationships serve as the basic units of production, earning and spending for Southeast Asians. Triple-earner (or more) households, and family-based entrepreneurial endeavors are key factors in Asian refugee economic success. Second, family ties determine refugee geographic location, as well as residential distribution within a metropolitan area, as we have already seen. The third area of relevance is in ethnic community organization. Ethnic organizations, which serve both practical (e.g. job access and translation services) and socio-psych-ological purposes, are likely to vary in structure and function depending on the kinship structure of the ethnic group. For example, in the Hmong community, kinship ties may extend from the household to family alliances and clans, while for Khmer the kinship and community relationships may focus more on the nuclear family, and on ties of culture and locality. These family issues will play important roles in organizing for community development.
***Education and Language. Research has shown that English language skills are a dominant factor in the successful assimilation, as well as economic progress, of refugees. Refugees themselves also recognize this to be a crucial issue. In Strand's San Diego study (1985), almost 75% of the refugees interviewed identified English skills to be a "very serious" problem for themselves and their community:
Table 9 Perception of English Language Problem (Strand, 1985).
Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Overal1
Very Serious 65.8% 82.5% 95.0% 73.6% 73.9%
Somewhat Serious 16.5 12.5 4. 0 19. 1 14. 5
Not Very Serious 17.2 4. 4 1.0 7.3 11.3
Total N = 430 160 100 110 800
The issue is especially important for the Hmong, whose lack
native written language until the 1950s impedes their progress in learning English. Studies also show a very high correlation between past educational experience and ability to acquire English skills, which makes the information in Table 10 important:
Table 10 Education by Ethnicity and Year of Arrival (Strand, 1985).
Educ. Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Early Recent
None/elem. 26.4% 52.5% 81.0% 43. 6% 28.8% 47.4%
Some high school 33.6 31.3 18.0 52.7 34. 0 33.8
H.S. or trade
school grad. 12. 1 11.9 1.0 2.9 11.6 8.3
Beyong H.S. 27.8 4. 4 0. 0 0. 9 26.5 10. 6
N = Table 428 160 100 11 Level of Literacy 110 (Strand, 268 1985). 530 Arrival
Language Overall Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Early Recent
able to read/write 44. 0% 52. 6% 42.8% 31.0% 24. 5% 68.4% 31.6%
unable read/write 56.0 47.4 57.2 69.0 75.5 31.6 68.4
able to read/write 85.6 93.0 91.3 54. 0 77. 3 93.7 81.5
unable read/write 14. 4 7.0 8.8 46.0 22.7 6.3 18.5
Tables 10 and 11 give us an indication of the typical educational experiences of Southeast Asian refugees, and some of the differences among ethnic groups. The Cambodians in this study had the least background in English, and the second-lowest educational background (after the Hmong). These tables also illustrate the idea suggested earlier that the second-wave refugees tend to be less educated than their predecessors. Also, because the more recent refugees arrive, in many cases, to a fairly established ethnic community, they may not have the same motivation to acquire English skills. Finally, Table 12 illustrates the close correlation between English skills and labor force participation. For those refugees in the sample who were fluent in English, the labor force participation rate was similar to that for the general U.S. population.
Table 12 Effects of English Language Profeciency on Labor
Force Participation (U.S. Dept, of Health and Human Services, 1986).
Ability to speak and understand English Labor Force Participation Unemployment * Average Weekly Wages*
Not at all 14. 6% 41.4% $187.49
A little 41.6% 19.0% $200.74
Well 53.3% 13.0% $218.67
Fluently 62.3% 20. 2% $243.39
*0f surveyed refugees 16 years of age and above who were employed.
Strands research shows a strong correlation between English ability and economic progress. For example, for heads of households not seeking employment, nearly half the reasons given for not being in the job market were a lack of English skills. Strand found that those refugees who can
read and write in English tend to be employed (61%), while those who cannot read or write tend not even to be seeking employment (about 57%) (Strand, 1985). While ESL (English as a Second Language) classes make an important contribution in alleviating these problems, we also know that refugees with the least educational background (who need ESL most) are the least likely to afford the luxury of postponing entering the workforce in order to pursue English (or vocational) training. These least-educated refugees also tend to have the least contact with Americans, by which to learn in an informal way these English skills. It is clear that English skills are an important predictor of refugee success, and must have an important place in related community development programs.
*** Community and Inter-Ethnic Relationships. A final area of concern in the resettlement and assimilation of Southeast Asian refugees is that of ethnic identity, which is certainly the most important principle in refugee community organization. Although many Americans (even sponsors, government and service providers) may not make much distinction among the various ethnic groups, refugees are very aware of the differences.
The long history of contact among these ethnic groups in their homeland has created strong prejudicial stereotypes, which serve to separate the groups in spite of the commonality of the shared refugee experience. (Of course, stereotypes such as these are part of the experience of all ethnic groups, not just Southeast Asians. Nevertheless, these issues must be kept in mind when organizing for community development).
In the last few pages we have examined some of the key issues pertaining to Southeast Asian resettlement. These issues will, in effect, provide the framework for the "problem" to be "solved" by
community development efforts. In suggesting these issue areas, it has been necessary to make some generalized statements about the Southeast Asian refugee community. In the next few pages, we will examine some of the unique attributes of the Cambodian refugee community, and some of the specifics of the situation facing the Cambodian community in Colorado.
TEE.CAMBODIAN COMMUNITY IN THE U.S./COLORADO
Because the purpose of this paper is to suggest a community development methodology for a Cambodian community, we need to attempt to draw out some of the unique attributes of that community, the refugee experience of its members, their culture, and their prospects here in the U.S. It is difficult to find statistics in which Cambodians have been separated from the larger Southeast Asian refugee population. Strands San Diego study (1985) provides almost the only useful statistical evidence in this way, and those figures will be used in this section. Aside from Strands statistics and some other background literature, much of the information for this section came from interviews with Southeast Asians (mostly Cambodian) in the Denver area, as well as a few written and phone interviews with Cambodians in other parts of the U.S. The information from these interviews is the product of personal evaluations of the Khmer refugee experience, and deals with issues highly controversial in the Cambodian community. Consequently, many of those I interviewed (particularly non-Khmer service providers who work with Cambodians as well as other Asian groups) prefered to remain anonymous.
In the course of gathering information for this section, approximately 21 interviews were conducted with people familiar with the Southeast Asian refugee community, and with the Cambodian community in particular. Five of those interviewed were acknowledged leaders (government service providers, elected community officials, or frequently identified "informal" leaders) in Colorados Cambodian community; three were Cambodian leaders in other states; three were Southeast Asians (non-Khmer) working as service-providers in Colorado; and ten were non-Asian service providers (local and state government,
voluntary agencies, private educational institutions). These interviews typically lasted about one hour, with the main topics being: "1) What are the primary differences between Cambodians and other refugee groups? 2) What are the most important needs of the Cambodian community in Colorado? and 3) Is the current system of services for refugees adequate to meet those needs, and what changes should be made?" Interviews were informal in structure, with the result being different points of emphasis in each conversation, depending on the perspective and position of the one being interviewed. In addition to these interviews, I have gleaned comments from countless conversations with Cambodian refugees in Denver over the last four years.
*** Cultural Issues. All of the Cambodians and service providers I spoke with suggested that there are important cultural/historical factors distinguishing the Cambodian refugee experience from that of other ethnic groups, particularly the Vietnamese. Cambodians tend to be more rural in background than their Vietnamese counterparts (Table 13). Cambodia also experienced less "westernisation" under the French and Americans than did Vietnam. The consequent lack of "cultural capital" makes understanding American behavior and systems particularly difficult for Cambodians. For example, one Cambodian man told me how difficult it was to get used to getting bills in the mail, and then putting hard-earned dollars into an envelope and sending them away, rather than paying for all purchases in person to someone you know. Community development work should aim at alleviating this cultural gap.
Table 13 Community Size in Home Country (Strand, 1985).
Community Sise Viet. Lao Hmong Â£arob. Overall
Less than 500 0, 0% 1.9% 40. 0% 2.7% 5.8%
500 1,500 0. 2% 8. 1% 21.0% 29. 1% 8. 4%
1,500 10,000 0. 9% 8.8% 11.0% 30. 0% 7.8%
10,000 100,00 11.6% 15. 6% 27.0% 18.2% 15.3%
100,000 + 82.6% 43.8% 0. 0% 19. 1% 55.8%
Dont know 4. 7% 21.9% 1.0% 0. 9% 7. 1%
*** Education and Language. Although both Vietnamese and Cambodian cultures place a high value on education, Cambodian refugees tend to be less educated than their Vietnamese counterparts, as demonstrated in Tables 14 and 11 (page 37) from Strands study.
Table 14 Home Country Education by Ethnicity (Strand, 1985).
Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Overall
No formal education 14. 0% 13.8% 41.0% 11.8% 17.0%
Elem. or less 12.3 38.8 40. 0 31.8 23.8
Some high school 33.5 31.3 18.0 52.7 33.8
High school grad. 12. 1 11.9 1.0 2.7 9.4
Beyond high school 27.7 4. 4 0. 0 0.9 15.9
Dont know/no answer 0. 5 0. 0 0. 0 0.0 0. 3
N = 430 160 100 110 800
There are several important reasons for these differences in education and literacy. As mentioned earlier, the French put more resources into developing the educational system in Vietnam than in Cambodia. Because the Vietnamese use basically the same Roman alphabet as English (while the Cambodian script resembles Indian Sanskrit), it is much easier for Vietnamese to learn to read and write in English. Add to this the Cambodian experience under the Khmer Rouge, in which hundreds of thousands of educated people were killed because of their education.
There were no schools in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, robbing children of important academic training during important learning years.
Children who should have been worried about math and reading were instead forced to concern themselves with simple survival. It is small wonder that more Cambodian refugees consider English language problems to be very serious than do Vietnamese refugees (although not as many as do the highly-rural Hmong).
*** Employment and Economics. The information in Tables 15 and 16 is gleaned from Strands statistics, and demonstrates some of the differences in the economic experiences of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees.
Table 15 Monthly Household Income by Ethnic Group (Strand, 1985)
Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Overall
$0 700 21.9% 20. 0% 17.0% 29. 1% 21.9%
$700 1, 000 29.5 34. 4 34. 0 34.5 31.8
$1,000 - 1,300 14. 4 21.9 28.0 18.2 18. 1
$1, 300 - 1,600 11.4 12.5 15.0 8. 2 11.6
$1,600 - 1,900 6.0 8.8 3.0 7.3 6.4
$1, 900 + 14. 1 1.9 3. 0 2.7 8.8
Table 16 Employment Status (Strand, 1985).
Viet. Lao Hmong Camb. Overall
Seeking Employment 27.5% 39. 1% 35.4% 61.1% 34. 8%
Employed 72.5 60. 9 64. 6 38.9 65.2
Each of these tables shows discrepencies in the economic experience of the various ethnic groups. Strands study also shows almost 11 percent of the Vietnamese owning their homes, as opposed to less than two percent of Cambodians, which closely resembles estimates given to me by Southeast Asians in Denver. What are the reasons for these differences?
While a good number of Vietnamese (there are no statistics on this matter) brought some money or posessions with them to the U.S., according to Cambodians I interviewed, most Cambodian refugees arrived
with "empty hands and pockets." The Vietnamese have pooled their resources, and begun to establish a pattern of successful entrepreneurial activity not yet experienced by the Cambodians. This may be because the Cambodians lacked the capital necessary to start a business, or lacked the background (merchants accounted for 10% of the Vietnamese, in terms of occupational background, and less than two percent of the Cambodians in Strands study sample), or lacked the population size necessary for maintaining community-based business activity. And, once again, exposure to the western "style" of business is probably an important factor. Whatever the reasons, there is certainly a need for community development efforts in the Cambodian community to focus on equiping the community for economic development. *** Mental Health. There are those who suggest that the most important difference between Cambodians and other refugee groups is the amount of suffering and trauma endured by the Cambodian people in the late 1970s. While others argue that being a refugee is a traumatic experience for people of any nationality, certainly the Cambodians view themselves (based on Strands data and on personal interviews) as being more "traumatized" than other refugee groups. Even the Vietnamese and Laotians I spoke with agreed, although they have all endured tremendous suffering. While the Hmong and Vietnamese in Strands study listed '
"not enough money" as their #1 problem in America, money was #10 for Cambodians, with "war memories" and "separation from family members" being their most important problems (Strand, 1985).
This should not be suprising, considering what we know about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Anyone with a close relationship with a Cambodian has probably heard them relate experiences that sound more like scenes from a horror movie than reality. A friend of mine recently
told me about the time he asked a Cambodian man, in a casual conversation about Halloween, if they had pumpkins in Cambodia. The Cambodian man responded by telling him about the time he and his village were forced by the Khmer Rouge to watch the brutal murder of a friend who stole a pumpkin to feed his sick and starving wife. After the murder, his disfigured body hung in the village for three days as a reminder of the consequences of "selfish behavior."
Mohm, the Cambodian girl whose story is told in Sheehys Spirit of Survival (1986). who was six years old when Pol Pot came to power, and whose entire family was killed by the Khmer Rouge, tells about learning to repress all emotion in the midst of this tragedy. One story takes place in a work camp, shortly after seeing her mother led away to be killed:
"The woman who work with my mother before, she sees me that night in the eating place. Not eating, laughing and crying at the same time...She comes over to my table and points at me.
'Must not cry for your mother! She is not loyal to Angka.
Shes a criminal. Must be punished. You cannot have any feeling for her.
'Youre right. I have to pretend to accept what she says. I put my head down on the table. Dont want her to see...Nothing in my stomach but still I vomit up...
I dont cry very often after that. Sometimes, though, when I bend over in the fields, water drops down from my eyes."
And, on another occasion, while Mohm was living with her grandmother, and working in the fields:
"...Very sudden the Pol Pot girl leader shouts, 'Nobody look!
Lie down! Lie down, but I put my head up. I see about twenty
people in a line with hands tie behind them. I see my grandmother
in that line. Five soldier pointing their guns. Nobody talking. Nobody smiling. People tie to people like cows...
My heart beating really fast. I dont believe it. I think if I dont go to her, maybe she will not get killed... My grandmother, a minute ago she was with me! Tell myself dont look, bend down, dont cry. Dont let the other children know its part of my family.
I know right away they going to kill her."
Cambodian friends of mine have told me similar stories. And while I leave it to psychologists or sociologists to theorize about the impact of such experiences on the human psyche, certainly the trauma of experiences such as these will influence the refugees adjustment after arrival in the U.S. Perhaps it is no wonder that one Cambodian man told me that, while he was starving in Cambodia in 1978, he prayed: "If I could even go be the dog of an American, at least I would get to eat a bone." Today that man is a productive member of society, and a leader in his community.
Nicassios study (1983) of alienation in Southeast Asian refugees found that Cambodians had the worst "self-perception" of all Southeast Asian ethnic groups, the second worst language problems (next to the Hraong), they perceived themselves as being the most different from Americans, had the lowest soci-economic status, and were (with the Hmong) the "most-alienated" from American society.
*** Community and inter-ethnic relationships. Ethnic issues, both within and outside the Cambodian community, provide important concerns for community development. Within the community there is division based on ethnic origin, rural versus urban background, regional rivalries carried over from Cambodia, socio-economic differences (in a very statusconscious society), and political differences. These all serve as impediments to cooperation within the community. Within the broader refugee community, the tradition of hostility between Cambodians and the Vietnamese did not die when the refugees arrived in the U.S., although it may be "on hold" because of common concerns between the groups. The groups have a "cordial" relationship in most cases, albeit with a strong sense of rivalry. Most of the Cambodians I spoke with complained that
"the system" (of refugee services) is dominated by the Vietnamese, and consequently works to the advantage of the Vietnamese, while ignoring the smaller Cambodian community.
*** Assimilation and Acculturation. One of the best clues to understanding the differences between Cambodians and other refugee groups (in terms of resettlement issues) is to look at the different responses to the 20 problem areas presented in Strands study. For Cambodians, the most important issues (in order) were: war memories, separation from family members, English language problems, difficulty with American agencies, and a lack of job skills training. While some of these concerns are shared by all refugee groups, Vietnamese concerns concentrated on economic issues, such as "not enough money" or "lack of help in getting a job." Cambodians also gave high scores to "difficulty in understanding the American way of life" and "difficulty in getting information on daily living. When I put a very similar set of questions to Cambodians in Denver and around the country, several issues emerged as the dominant concerns. Once again, memories of war, separation from family, and English language problems were the most important issues. But five other issues also received consistently high values: (1) difficulty in understanding the American way of life,
(2) problems raising children in American culture, (3) difficulty in dealing with government agencies, (4) not enough contact with Americans, and (5) lack of Cambodian support groups. This list of concerns, as identified by Cambodians, will be useful in establishing direction for a community development methodology for the Cambodian community in Colorado.
As of 1985, there were approximately 13,000 refugees living in Colorado, mostly in the Denver area. Of this 13,000, over 11,000 are Southeast Asians: 5,000 Vietnamese, 2,100 Cambodians, 2,000 Laotians, and 2,000 Hmong (Colorado Refugee Service Program, 1986). Of the 2,100 Cambodians in Colorado, probably 1,600 are in the metro-Denver area, with approximately 350 in Boulder county, and 150 in Colorado Springs (based on estimates by leaders in the Cambodian community). In the Denver area the Southeast Asian population is concentrated in several locations. The largest concentration is in northwest Denver, in the area near the intersection of Colfax Ave. and Federal Blvd. Approximately 1,000 (again, based on estimates provided by leaders in the community) Southeast Asians live in this area. The other significant concentrations are along south Federal Blvd., and in Montbello. There are a number of scattered pockets of refugees throughout the city. For example, there are 8-10 Cambodian families living near 6th Ave. and Santa Fe. Such small pockets are typically relatives, or a group with some common association (e.g. from the same village or region in Cambodia).
The most visible geographical focus of the Southeast Asian community is along a strip of south Federal Blvd., which is becoming known as "Vietnamese City." This strip, between west Alameda and west Florida (approximately 12 blocks), supports over two dozen Southeast Asian-owned businesses: grocery markets, restaurants, video stores, travel agencies, hair salons, clothing stores, etc... Most of the businesses are Vietnamese-owned. There are 4-6 Cambodian-owned businesses in Denver (the variation lying in the fact that at least three of these businesses are owned by ethnic Chinese from Cambodia). A large number of Southeast
Asians (concrete data is not available) live within five blocks of Federal along this strip, and the thriving business center can be expected to attract more Asians to live in the area.
Because there is very little data available on the Cambodian community, I spoke with a number of Cambodians in order to compile a brief profile of the community in Colorado. In addition to the geographical information already presented, the following picture of the community emerged: While there are some exceptions (e.g. a handful of those working for city/state agencies as service-providers for refugees, as well as a few professionals and self-employed businessmen), most Cambodians in Denver work as laborers or operatives in entry-level positions. Estimates put the typical hourly wage at between $4.00 and $5.50, and the typical family monthly income between $800 and $1,000. Estimates of the number of Cambodians who own their own homes ranged between 4% and 10%, and the typical monthly housing cost is between $300 and $450 for a two-bedroom apartment, housing an average of 7 people. The community leaders I spoke with estimated that 30%-50% of the Cambodian families in Colorado receive some sort of public assistance (welfare, food stamps, etc...).
There are a number of community organizations in Colorados Cambodian community, with varying degrees of formal organization (mostly very informal), and varying degrees of inter-group mixing. The largest group (and the only one with a formal structure, elected officers, and a con-stitution/bylaws), which serves as an informal umbrella organization over the other groups is the Colorado Cambodian Community (CCC), which can be classified as a Mutual Assistance Association (MAA). (MAAs are refugee organizations set up around the country with a variety of purposes: resettlement services, economic development, political advoc-
acy, cultural preservation, etc...). The CCC serves a largely "social" role; sponsoring community celebrations, and dispensing information to the community. The activity of the CCC, and the degree of participation in its programs by Cambodians, seems to be very dependent upon the current leadership (the president serves a one year term, and is elected at-large by the community). The CCC, in coalition with the Vietnamese Volunteer Group and several other refugees associations, sponsors the International Refugee Center of Colorado (a non-profit organization serving the refugee community with translator and transportation services, and a refugee newsletter the New Citizen). In addition to the CCC, there are several smaller groups whose purposes are more issue-specific. The Cambodian Relief Association is concerned primarily with providing relief to families experiencing a death in the family. The Cambodian Buddhist-Christian Society of Colorado offers assistance (on a very informal basis) in a variety of resettlement issues. The Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front is very active (some would say "militant") in raising funds to send to the guerilla forces fighting the Vietnamese in Cambodia. The Colorado Cambodian Fine Arts Preservation Group performs traditional Khmer music and dance.
The Buddhist Association of Colorado maintains the Buddhist "pagoda" (temple) in Aurora. There are several Cambodian Christian churches, loosely associated with different denominations or national church organizations.
Most of the Khmer leaders I spoke with suggested that disunity" within the community prevents the CCC from playing a significant role in community life. This disunity is, to some degree, a function of personality conflicts. But, more important, there are conflicts based on political, regional and religous differences that have, thus far,
prevented the community from organizing for cooperative efforts, and from rallying behind a strong leader(s). Several Cambodian leaders articulated the need for "team-building," and increasing the level of trust within the community. They explained that Cambodians have historically relied on centralized decision-making (as opposed to consensus building and group decision making), which may not be appropriate given their new environment.
Several Cambodian leaders also expressed a sense of frustration with their perception that it is Vietnamese refugees (who typically are more educated and have been in the U.S. longer) who dominate the agencies providing services for Southeast Asians (Colorado Refugee Service Program and the International Refugee Center). Obviously this is a sensitive area, particularly for those whose supervisors or coworkers are Vietnamese, since there are few comparable options for employment for those few Cambodians fortunate enough to have jobs other than as laborers. Nevertheless, the concern is that the system is run by and for Vietnamese an extension of an old tradition of ethnic rivalry.
We have now examined the history, migration and resettlement of Southeast Asians/Cambodians in the U.S., and some of the more important issues facing their communities. We have also looked briefly at the nature of the Cambodian community in Colorado, as the specific community of concern for this paper. These issues have been presented in such a way as to beg the question": Is there a community development methodology, or some set of development techniques/processes that can be used to address the concerns and meet the needs of the Cambodian refugee community in the U.S., and in Colorado in particular? This paper will suggest an answer to that question in Section III.
First, however, Section II will present some of the theories concerning the experience of ethnic communities in the U.S., and explore briefly the examples presented by two Asian ethnic groups in the U.S.
Asian American Communities in the U.S............. 56
The Korean Community ................................ 58
The Hmong Community ................................. 64
Community Development Theory ........................ 78
ETHNIC MODELS: ASIAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITIES IN THE U.S.
The role of ethnicity in adjustment and development:
Ours is a nation of tremendous ethnic diversity. The role of ethnicity in business, politics, education, and community life has been the subject of much research and speculation. Issues of immigration and resettlement will continue to be important in the U.S. (witness the current concern with the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico), particularly in light of the growing problems facing people living in the less-developed world, and the increasing internationalization" of world political and business systems. The United States role as a 'refuge of last resort is likely to be increasingly challenged in the near future. Nevertheless, both our nations history and its likely future are replete with issues pertaining to the resettlement of ethnic groups from other parts of the world.
There are several important questions arising from these issues that have a particular relevence to this paper: Are the members of ethnic communities in the U.S. "better-off" being assimilated into the larger American society, or segregated into an environment where they can live, to a large degree, within the cultural context they were accustomed to? (A practical example of this question would be the current debate in Colorado concerning adopting English as the states "official language", and the ramifications of such a measure on the states ethnic communities). Which ethnic groups have had the most "successful adjustment and development experiences in the U.S., and what were the major factors in their success? Do any of these ethnic groups operate under a kind of strategy or plan of development, or have a unified methodology/program for meeting their specific development needs? These "big issues" are beyond the scope of this paper.
However, we will undertake a brief analysis of two Asian ethnic communities in the U.S., to see how their experience might answer these questions and what lessons from their experience can be applied to the case of the Cambodian refugee community in the U.S.
Asian-Amerjeans: The "model minority"?
Since the mid-19th century, Asian immigrants have been the subject of dehumanising stereotypes and we11-documented racism. Fear of the "yellow peril" has led U.S. policy, at times, to shameful acts of discrimination (e.g. immigration quotas, and relocation camps for Japan-nese Americans during World War II). The public image of Asian Americans has undergone an amasingly rapid transformation in the last three decades, creating the current image of Asians as the "model minority. This popular perception of Asian success first surfaced during the mid-1960s, and presented a sharp contrast to the growing discontent among blacks and other minorities. The New York Times quotes one American: "Thank God for Asians. Theyre bringing back standards to our schools. And theyre so successful in small businesses. Its all happened overnight. How do you explain it?" (Oxnam, 1986). That quote typifies the common perception that Asian immigrants are accomplishing, in terms of adjustment and economic progress, in one generation what once took European immigrants three generations.
Do this nations five million Asian residents (five times the number in 1965) "succeed" more frequently than other immigrant groups? Of course the answer depends to a large degree on the definition of success. According to the 1980 census, the median income of Asian American families is $23,600 (compared to $20,800 for white American families). And the academic achievements of Asian students have become legendary. However, statistics like those on median family
income can overlook the fact that 63% of Asian-American families have two or more wage earners (compared to 55% for white American families), indicating that individual returns for Asian labor may be quite low (Oxnam, 1986). While economic data is an important measure of success, it falls short as an overall measure of the level of the adjustment of immigrants, since it cannot deal with the "unquantifi-ables, such as the stress of living at the "pressure point" between two cultures. Nevertheless, Asian-Americans do seem to be quite successful in terms of economics and academics. One of the reasons for this is the Confucian heritage of most Asian-Americans. Confucianism is not a religion, but rather an ethical system emphasizing discipline, hard work, heierarchical relationships, and, above all, education. In many respects Confucian teaching resembles the secularized "protestant ethic" found in western societies. This Confucian ethical system is the dominant force in shaping the values of Asian society (in most Asian nations), and has been carried over to the U.S. by Asian immigrants. Another reason for the Asian-American success image is the large numbers of upper class, educated immigrants entering the country since 1965, when immigration laws were liberalized. These "elite immigrants" have brought with them college degrees and career experience. Research has shown that many native-born Asian Americans have not assimilated into American society to the point of having the necessary "cultural capital" to be successful in the business world. When foreign-born Asians arrive in the U.S.
(many with degrees and entrepreneurial experience), they may lack the language skills necessary to compete in job markets, but these language deficits do not seem to serve as a constraint to entrepreneurial endeavors. Consequently, these newest Asian-Americans are typically the most successful in business (Office of Minority Business Enter-
Research seems to support the impression that Asian-Americans have enjoyed success in small business ventures, but it also suggests that Asians who are not self-employed are not so successful in the job market. Indications are that business ventures in enclave economies (where the ethnic group, rather than the larger society, serves as the market) tend to earn less than their counterparts outside the enclave, although they serve as a beachhead, providing the stability and resources which enable the second generation to get more education than typical white Americans (and far more than other minority groups) (Alba, 1985). We will see this model in practice with the Korean community.
The importance of Asian-Americans in our nations economic and social systems will certainly increase through the remainder of this century. It is estimated that by the year 2000 there will be a doubling in the Asian-American population, to 10 million. It is
important, therefore that we begin to understand Asian culture and history. According to I.M. Pei, the renowned Chinese-American architect: "People must realize that there really isnt such a thing as
an Asian-American. There are Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indians and so forth. So many different cultures. So many different experiences. We need to understand the differences and complexities. The first priority for Americans is to learn more about Asia" (Oxnam, 1986).
Korean Americans;, Adjustment through Small Business:
Korean and Japanese immigrants are perceived to be among the most successful ethnic groups in the U.S., in spite of tremendous obstacles
of prejudice they have had (and perhaps still have) to overcome.
Korean immigrants have been inclined to retain a strong sense of "Korean-ness", and build very strong ethnic community ties in the U.S. And yet they also have gained a reputation for being quick to learn the "rules of the game" necessary for success in a new land. While the Koreans in the U.S. have retained strong community ties, they have not been prone to create territorial enclaves for their communities. Instead, Korean immigrants have used one process (entrepreneurship) as the basis of their strategy of adjustment, and one institution (churches) as the basis of their community (Kim, 1981). (According to the 1980 census, there were 354,329 Koreans in the United States).
Korean immigrants have, in recent years, taken advantage of socioeconomic changes in the U.S. to create a strategy of economic adjustment through entrepreneurship. One of these changes has been the development of economic interdependence between South Korea and the U.S., which Korean entrepreneurs in the U.S. have facilitated. The other change is the decline of the urban core of American cities. Korean immigrants have capitalized on this trend by taking over small businesses in the urban core (at low prices) from white businessmen desiring to move to the suburbs, or opening businesses to take their place. While Korean entrepreneurial activity has entered many types of sub-markets, the most common small business endeavor for Koreans
has been small, local grocery stores, and "greengrocer" (fruit and
vegetable) markets. Small business in America is on the defensive in the face of competition from suburban shopping centers and franchised chain stores, but Korean immigrants have attempted to combat this trend through aggressive commercial activities (e.g. being open long hours) and, most important, through utilizing cheap family labor. By using family labor, Korean shopkeepers can keep long store hours
without paying overtime wages. Korean small businesses also serve as an important source of employment for new immigrants who lack capital or specific job skills. However, as one Korean shopkeeper put it:
"As soon as we have trained them how to manage a business, they quit to start their own" (Kim, 1981; Young, 1983).
The most well-known type of Korean entrepreneurial activity is that of the "greengrocer." In New York City alone (where there are 34,157 Koreans), there are over 600 fruit and vegetable stores owned by Koreans, accounting for about 25% of the produce sold in the city (Young, 1983). Surveys of these entrepreneurs indicate that the large majority have college educations (but poor English skills), work extremely long hours (an average of 16 hours per day, 6 days a week), and rely heavily on family labor. On a yearly basis, these Korean businessmen work three and a half times the hours of the average "nine-to-fiver". Contrary to typical answers from non-Korean entrepreneurs (of any ethnic origin), the Korean immigrants indicate that independence and the desire to "be my own boss" were not nearly as important in the decision to go into business for themselves as was the simple fact that they believed they could make more money working for themselves. The opportunity costs of this strategy of economic adjustment are pretty obvious: the loss of leisure time, the stress of extremely long working hours, and the loss of time with children (to which Koreans counter that they spend all day with their children working in the store). Nevertheless, the Korean pattern of economic adjustment through small business enterprises seems to be successful, and provides an economic beachhead for the cultural adjustment of their families, and the capital for financing their children's education. Says Kyu-Sung Choi, a New York greengrocer;
"We are somewhat overqualified for what we do, since I have a B.A.
and my wife an M.A." But, his wife adds; "...we see ourselves as successful. We are working for the dream of our childrens generation. Other things must wait" (Oxnara, 1986).
Is the Korean pattern a planned strategy, or just the result of circumstances? There are structural reasons for the Korean propensity toward entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. The ability of ethnic entrepreneurs to raise money to start and operate their businesses often comes from family and ethnic community sources (the percentage of Koreans who financed through a bank, as opposed to going through friends and family, is very small), which necessitates a high level of community trust and unified direction (which is uncharacteristic of most minority groups in the U.S.). Some researchers have suggested that Korean (and Japanese) entrepreneurship was a response to prejudice that prevented them from entering established job markets (Stolarik, 1986). Korean immigrants often are not immediately capable, due to language deficiencies or inaproppriate job skills, of entering the American job market even in the absence of prejudice.
This makes entrepreneurship a important option for members of this tightknit ethnic community. The Korean pattern of economic adjustment is probably, therefore, a "strategic response" to the conditions encountered upon arrival in the U.S. Nevertheless, it does indicate an awareness of socioeconomic conditions in the U.S., and a willingness to adapt behavior in order to meet an established priority.
Illsoo Kim (1981) has made the interesting suggestion that Christian churches serve as the institutional basis of the Korean community in the U.S., and that church activities constitute the most important facet of day-to-day community life. Although less than 40 percent of Korean immigrants (in Kims study in New York City) participate directly in church activities, most "secular" community activities
take place in and through churches. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. In the absence of other community organizations (except businessmens associations, which function like a Korean chamber of commerce) churches have provided an institution reinforcing the traditional culture of Korea, and even Korean nationalism. In the absence of territorial enclaves, Korean churches provide a geographical focal point for the community. They also serve as a ,surrogate' for the extended family, whose generational and local ties may have been severed by immigration. It is perhaps for this reason that Korean immigrants have tended not to form large churches, prefering the family atmosphere of smaller churches (fewer than 200 members). Finally, the Korean churches offer the community a psychological refuge" from what the Koreans perceive as a hostile American society. Church-centered activities with a strong Korean flavor help members of the community cope with their overwhelming sense of alienation from society, and from their own cultural roots.
Because the church plays these important secular roles in the life of the Korean community, congregations tend to judge their pastors effectiveness primarily on the basis of his "nonreligious" activities. The pastors "secular" activities place him at the center of the surrogate extended family: matchmaking, performing wedding ceremonies, visiting the sick, making airport pick-ups of new immigrant families, rendering job-referral services, interpreting for non-English speaking members, and serving as a "broker" or liason between immigrants and American institutions (e.g. social services, or other government functions). To perform these services effectively, pastors
are expected to know a great deal about American society. Consequently, English fluency and degrees from American seminaries are important credentials for these key members of Korean society in the
U.S. Because nonbelievers constitute more than half the Korean community, and a good number of these are unwilling to engage in activities associated with Christian churches, a number of what Kim calls secondary associations" have been created. These associations are typically issue-specific (political groups, business or professional associations, etc...), and have not solicited the kind of community involvement that has made Christian churches the most important grass-roots community organization.
One final issue that has become important for the Korean community in the U.S. is conflict with other ethnic groups, particularly with blacks who live in the neighborhoods where Koreans have been taking over or opening businesses. This problem, which has been gaining increased notoriety in recent months, is essentially tied to the strategy of economic adjustment employed by Korean immigrants. The ability of these seemingly destitute immigrants to raise the capital necessary to start a small business (which they do through pooling family resources) has fueled black suspicions that Koreans receive government assistance not available to blacks. There have also been complaints that these new inner-city businesses do not employ local residents, which is a result of the family-labor approach to business that is central to the Korean strategy. The Koreans are thought of as the classic absentee landlords, siphoning the communitys resources off to the suburbs (Simpson, 1987).
Cultural differences also contribute to the problem. Korean businesspeople are often accused of being arrogant or rude. Henry Shin, president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce, attributes much of the problem to the language gap between members of the black and Korean communities: In the United States, if you make a mistake, you look straight in their face and say, Im sorry. But in the Korean
culture, if you know you made a mistake, you put your head down, because that means, 'Im sorry. But you dont say anything" (Simpson, 1987). Black leaders attribute the problem to competiton for extremely limited resources in inner-city communities, and suggest that there just isnt room for both groups. But researchers suggest that Asian business activity has not displaced blacks from business opportunities; that Koreans have typically taken over empty businesses, or businesses owned by non-blacks, and that Korean entrepreneurs are filling a role that blacks have shown little inclination to fill. At any rate, the problem of ethnic group conflict illustrates an unanticipated side effect of a very effective economic development strategy employed by one ethnic group. Efforts at understanding one anothers cultures will probably help somewhat to lessen the extent of the problem. But the ultimate solution is certainly tied to structural poverty in the nations inner-city ethnic communities, and the effectiveness of strategies of economic development in those communities.
-The. JBlBOia JZogBBMDj-.^.. AO. the ..SUL.;... .A Project. Perspective.
Although there are important cultural and historical differences between the Hmong and Khmer peoples, the Hmong experience can serve as a useful model for our analysis, particularly as a compliment to the model provided by the Korean American community. The Korean community is composed of immigrants, who have come to the U.S. under very different conditions than did the Hmong and Khmer refugees. Their educational and economic backgrounds make the Koreans more suited for adaptation to life in the U.S. The Korean model was useful, however, in that it dealt with an Asian ethnic group with a number of cultural
similarities to the Khmer, and who have encountered many of the same prejudices faced by Asian refugees in the U.S. The Korean model also offers the dimension of time; the majority of the Koreans in the U.S. arrived during the 1970-1980 period, whereas the Hmong model deals with a refugee group whose adjustment to life in the U.S. is taking place simultaneously with that of the Khmer refugees.
The Hmong show the most resemblance to the Khmer of any refugee group, in terms of rural background, educational and economic levels, and the range of concerns identified by their refugee communities.
What makes the Hmong model so useful is the existance of the extensive Hmong Resettlement Study [HES] (Office of Refugee Resettlement,
1985), and its emphasis on examining Hmong resettlement at the project level. Rather than reviewing Hmong resettlement in the abstract, in the next few pages we will review some of the projects from the HRS, and attempt to draw out some useful principles that may be applicable to a CD methodology for the Cambodian refugee community.
As a brief historical background, the Hmong are a distinct ethnic/cultural group from the uplands of Laos, whose culture was characterized by dependence on swidden (slash-and-burn) agriculture, and strong family and lineage group ties. The Hmong fled Laos in large numbers in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in response to persecution by the communist government and threats to the institutions mentioned above. We have already seen (in Section I) some of the resettlement issues/status of the 65,000 Hmong in the U.S. Let us turn to an analysis of projects designed to serve the resettlement/development needs of the Hmong refugee community. For each issue area, we will focus on one "exemplary project" from the
*** Employment: The HRS identifies job creation (and security) as the most common method of promoting Hmong self-sufficiency. Project RISE:
Refugees in Search of Employment (Minneapolis-St. Paul) is a job
placement program, with a secondary purpose of training refugee staff as professionals in employment services. RISE (a federally funded Catholic church initiative) is staffed mostly by Southeast Asians, who serve as employer relations representatives. RISE attempts to establish ongoing relationships in the business community, and use these contacts as a base for job placement, based on an assessment of English and job skills. Participating refugees are required to attend work orientation and intercultural communication workshops. The cost of job pacement in Project RISE is approximately $550 per placement (compared to an average of $426 for Minnesota state programs, and $640 for Colorado state programs). The percentage of clients placed (in a recessed economic climate) has been about 53% (compared to about 40% for Colorado state programs).
Since 1981 RISE has served 1,550 refugees, of which a very small percentage have been women. RISE initiated a 9-week training course for women in house-cleaning and English language in order to rectify this situation, but objections have been raised that this program will only lead to low-pay, part-time work.
RISE places refugees with low English skill levels in work settings in which they work with other members of their ethnic group (one of whom must have higher language abilities), under the assumption that English can be learned on the job more efficiently than in the classroom. Employers of RISE clients have countered that the English skills of refugees in these situations do not improve, creating a barrier to advancement beyond entry-level positions.
RISE serves as a model of employment services for Asian refugees.
On the positive side, RISE couples its placement service with training
in skills necessary in the working world (e.g. communication skills), and seeks to give refugees professional job-placement skills (making self-help job programs possible). RISE illustrates the essential difficulty in adapting refugees to the American job market, since opportunities for jobs fitting refugee skills may be rare, particularly in the case of the Hmong (and Khmer) whose background and experience are in tropical farming (HRS, vol. 3, pp. 8-11).
*** Economic Development (ED). While employment programs for the Hmong focus on fitting the refugee to the job market, many of the ED projects attempt to take advantage of existing Hmong skills. For example, the Indochinese Farm Project (IFP) in Seattle, an outreach of Bethany United Presbyterian Church, was created in response to Hmong initiative concerning opportunities for establishing farming activities. IFP mobilised volunteers (farmers, a lawyer, an accountant, etc...) to rent unused farm land within commuting distance of Seattle, adapt Hmong farming abilities to the agricultural environment, and raise and market a crop. The product is sold (along with Hmong handicrafts) at a local farmers market, to wholesalers, and at church "Sunday markets. The project has been successful in providing employment and raising incomes for a dozen refugee families, who are independent operators working cooperatively and sharing resources. The project has also enabled the refugees to establish relationships with Americans throughout the process, learn new farming skills, as well as marketing skills, and consequently fostered the development of improved English levels. But perhaps most important, the IFP utilized existing refugee skills, and probably had positive "psychological" effects by enabling the participants to retain a tie to their agricultural past (HRS, vol. 2, pp.
63-79). Similar initiatives on a smaller (garden co-op) scale have been successful in meeting this last need, as well as providing food for refugee consumptions and/or income supplements.
Other Hmong ED projects have taken advantage of Hmong handicraft skills. Hmong women have demonstrated considerable skill in intricate needlework, and projects have been created to capitalize on these skills. Southeast Asian Design (SEAD) was created in cooperation with the IFP in Seattle to market Hmong needlework. American volunteers taught Hmong women marketing skills, with the result being a good source of supplemental income for home-making women. SEAD has had to adapt to meet its twin goals of cultural preservation and income generation: variations on traditional themes have been created to
adapt to consumer demand, and SEAD is expanding its focus into "fashion design" and new product lines. In this sense, these Hmong entrepreneurs are acquiring some of the skills and characteristics required of anyone doing business in the U.S. (HRS, vol. 2, pp. 15-24).
Other ED projects have been built around special characteristics and needs of the Hmong community. A Hmong credit union was formed in Minneapolis in response to concern about refugees keeping all their money in cash and at home, and hoping to capitalize on the current system of family capital accumulation and lending (HRS, vol. 3, pp. 50-52). The success of this project will depend on the willingness of the Hmong to learn a new system for handling money, and their willingness to trust depositing money in an institution. This change in behavior is seen as an essential step for economic progress in the U.S.
Immigrant groups to the U.S. have displayed a consistent pattern of investment in food distribution enterprises (i.e. ethnic grocery stores), and the Hmong are no exception. The majority of the approximately 30 Hmong-owned grocery stores in the U.S. are food-
cooperatives in which, even if the store loses money on its books, participating member families still save money on their grocery bills, and have access to desired ethnic foods. Consequently, although Hmong grocery stores do not provide many models of income-enhancing activity, they do serve to lower family expenditures, which is an important aspect of ED (HRS, vol. 2, pp.135-141).
One final ED initiative is worth mentioning: the United Lao Development Corn. (ULDC) is a profit-oriented enterprise that has aided refugees in the purchase of low-cost housing, financed wholesale and retail food distribution, and established an agricultural project. ULDC is a national endeavor, initially capitalized ($140,000) by 11 priciple shareholders plus contributions from 200 families. The primary goal of ULDC is to raise capital to finance (for profit) Lao/Hmong entrepreneurial endeavors, and provide (hire) technical assistance for such endeavors. While the ULDC is too young to evaluate (except in its housing initiatives, in which it has assisted over 50 families in purchasing homes), it shows an aggressive approach to organization, cooperative efforts, and a desire to become involved in enterprises whose market is not restricted only to the refugee community (HRS, vol. 2, pp. 161-168).
*** Education. Clearly the primary concerns for the Hmong (and Khmer) in terms of education are in the areas of English/literacy skills, and job-skills training (which is typically reliant upon a certain minimum level of English). The Lao Family Vocational Training Center (LFVTC) in Santa Ana, California, is one example of an institution created to respond to those concerns. The LFVTC provides vocational training in a bilingual setting, in order to work around the typical language barriers to vocational training for refugees. While this idea sounds good, I should add that the LFVTC has one
shortcoming typical of refugee vocational training programs: it is not closely tied to a job placement service. Consequently, the record of graduates finding jobs utilizing their new skills is poor.
In a different vein, there have been several Hmong student associations formed across the country, both for social/recreational purposes, and to provide academic assistance. These organizations are typically comprised of college students teaching ESL classes for high school students. What I found particularly interesting about these organizations was their "western flavor": "We try hard to help individuals become more dedicated toward their own goals to help people become more self-motivated. What the organization wants is for everyone to graduate from college" (HRS, vol. 3, pp. 18-27).
*** Housing. Hmong housing initiatives have had three areas of focus:
1) MAAs can act as intermediary between tenants and landlords. For example, the Southeast Asian Federation in Portland leases apartment buildings and guarantees full occupancy in exchange for lower rates.
2) A church in Providence, Rhode Island, has a program in which Hmong families receive free advice on real estate purchases, especially for larger homes suited to large families. 3) Hmong families in Dallas-Fort Worth have developed the practice of pooling their resources in order to make a large downpayment on a house, enabling them to take over old mortgages at low interest rates. These kinds of housing programs are possible in refugee communities because of their willingness (inclination) to share resources and make collective decisions (HRS, vol. 3, p.59).
*** Legal Services. It is not uncommon for Hmong, or other Southeast Asian refugee groups, to encounter legal problems during their adjustment to life in the U.S., such as the loss of SSI benefits due to incorrectly reporting information on applications, or problems with
family court systems due to cultural differences in handling problems like divorce, young marriages, or child discipline. An attorney in Fresno, California (not a Hmong) has opened a legal assistance center for Hmong staffed by Hmong assistants to meet these needs. Clients pay by taking a membership in the service for $35, and are thereby entitled to low cost legal services. The office has gained expertise by specializing only in Hmong-related cases. The program has also been able to lobby for changes in local law to accept some traditional Hmong practices, such as allowing for the strong parental role in arranging Hmong marriages. Several hundred families have enrolled as members, and utilized the service (there are 8,000 Hmong in the Fresno area) (HRS, vol. 3, pp.76-78).
*** National Hmong Organization. The strong family ties of the Hmong tend to encourage secondary migration and residential concentration. However, they also serve to enable cooperation (under common leadership) between groups living in separate states. Many Hmong MAAs are affiliated with a national organization called Lao Family Community. Inc.. which was organized by General Vang Pao, head of the Hmong military forces in Laos, whose leadership role remains strong here in the U.S. Several of the projects we have mentioned were done in conjunction with Lao Family Community, which enables a sharing of resources on a national level (e.g. the United Lao Development Corp.), or can at least provide credibility to a local Hmong initiative. The existence of a national organization has probably made Hmong development efforts more successful, by making research easier, sharing resources, and gathering national publicity. One wonders whether a project as sweeping as the HRS would be conducted for an ethnic group without this level of national organization.
*** Patterns, and lessons from.the. Hmopg model One of the most valuable aspects of the HRS is the inclusion of an evaluation section after most projects, outlining some of the lessons learned through their experiences. The following principles emerge rather frequently in these analyses, and provide some appropriate direction for future projects: Most of the projects worked to balance the competing inter-
ests of cultural preservation and some other resettlement/development need (e.g. income enhancement). It has been suggested that Hmong respond to adversity in resettlement through a heightened sense of ethnicity and community. In other words, they become "more Hmong" rather than less so. And while this may well serve the goal of cultural preservation, it may create barriers to other objectives. The most successful projects worked within the context of existing Hmong characteristics, resources and interests. For example, the SEAD program began with an emphasis on both cultural preservation and income generation. Over time, some of the Hmong women realized that significant income generation required moving outside of the more traditional patterns into producing innovative designs and products (which was unacceptable to some of the women). This process took place slowly, and at Hmong initiative (rather than at the insistence of American advisors, who diagnosed the need for such change much earlier). Several project evaluations highlighted the potential for conflict between the goals of Hmong participants and American advisors or service providers.
In citing the lessons learned from their experience, directors of the IFP cited the need for involving the Hmong in all stages of the operation from the very beginning. They pointed to problems caused by inadvertantly overlooking traditional leadership patterns in the Hmong community, even though working through those patterns may run against
American inclinations toward giving project authority to young, aggressive participants. IFPs success is attributed largely to a foundation in Hmong initiative (rather than American), and to building on a base of existing Hmong skills (farming). While cash donations (grants) and American technical advice were crucial to IFPs success, the technical assistance was only accepted in accordance with the level of trust established through ongoing relationships between the Hmong and American volunteer (or paid) advisors.
The issue of trust has become recognized as an important concern in development work with refugees. Investing in economic development projects, or even making a downpayment on a house requires a certain level of trust in the stability of the economic environment, and in the individuals who handle the transaction. While these kinds of decisions may seem natural to Americans, the experience of Southeast Asians makes it difficult for them to develop this kind of trust.
Trust in the system, and in the service providers, is essential for encouraging Hmong (or Khmer) refugees to put their money in a bank or credit union, or to invest in projects like the ULDC. Community control of the service will increase the level of trust. But another component of trust in the system is exposure to Americans, and American institutions. For example, marketing their own produce taught the Hmong farmers in the IFP that there is some method to the madness of American business practices. These projects can be considered successful in at least one sense if they foster increased contact between Hmong and Americans, creating an environment for increased understanding of each others culture, an important component of refugee assimilation.
Earlier in this paper we examined some of the important issues and concerns facing Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. By taking a closer look at two Asian communities in the U.S., we have been able to identify a list of basic needs facing Asian ethnic groups undergoing the process of adjustment to life in the U.S. We have also seen some of the tools and strategies employed by those groups in an effort to meet their particular needs. In the next few pages we will attempt to outline those basic needs and tools. The outline suggested here will provide the basic framework for the CD methodology that will be presented in the next chapter.
*** Issues (needs) of new members of Asian ethnic groups in the U.S.
The following is a list of some of the important needs facing new Asian residents in the U.S., whether they come as immigrants or as refugees. It should be clear, however, that different ethnic communities (and individuals within those communities) will experience these needs to differing degrees.
A: Physical Needs: There are a number of needs that we can classify as physical (as opposed to mental or cultural). I have broken these needs down into subcategories of 1) economic needs,
2) housing needs, and 3) physical health needs. In terms of economics, immigrants are faced with adjustment to an economic system often very different from the one they had been used to, and are often overwhelmed by high prices and the amount of paperwork involved with participation in the American economy. There is a need for strategies both to increase (or create, as in the case of Korean entrepreneurs) income, and to decrease expenditures. Housing needs are related to economic issues, but may create some unique issues due to cultural practices, such as the need to house a large extended family, or the desire to live near members of the ethnic community. Physical health needs typically manifest themselves in the inaccessibility (both for cultural and economic reasons) of health services (particularly for refugees).
B: Cultural/Social-Psyehological Needs: I have put social-psychological needs and cultural needs together because of the conviction that many of the mental and emotional issues faced by refugees and immigrants come as a consequence of the experience of living, to some degree, in two cultures, and the occasional conflict between those cultures. The subcategories used here are 1) Adjustment to the new cultural environment. This involves developing a familiarity (a "working knowledge")of American systems (e.g. government, economics,
education); understanding the traditions, moral standards and values of the new society; and developing the language skills necessary for this adjustment. 2) Preservation of ties to the native culture. It was mentioned in Section I that the premature loss of ties to the immigrants native culture can create a sense of alienation for immigrants not yet comfortable with the new cultural environment. A strong sense of ethnic identity has served as an emotional base for members of both the Korean and Hmong communities in the U. S. In fact, some of the most successful projects mentioned in the Hmong Resettlement Study were those that capitalized on (rather than ignoring) the cultural characteristics and values of the Hmong (e.g. the IFP, and the Hmong credit union). Refugee groups have a need to present their culture (and history) to members of the host society, in order to solicit understanding of the attributes and behavior of the community. This point was stressed over and over by refugees I interviewed, most of whom encouraged me to include a strong historical section in this paper. 3) Mental health issues. These issues were covered in some length in Section I. The point to emphasize here is the strong ties between mental health needs and the cultural values of refugee and immigrant groups.
Figure 3 Needs of Asian Immigrant and Refugee Groups in the O.S.
Needs associated with the adjustment to life in a new culture.
Physical Needs Cultural/Mental Needs
increased income reduced expenditures
Adjustment to Preservation of
new cultural enviro. ties to native culture
Language skills Familiarity with
systems and institutions
There is one final point that should be made about this list of needs. It has been mentioned that these needs may, at times, be in competition with one another. This was the case, for example, in the SEAD program in Seattle (see page 68), when there was a conflict be-
tween the need for cultural preservation and the need for increased income. These occasional conflicts point to perhaps the most important need for refugee communities in the U.S.: the need for a community strategy of adjustment and development, particularly at the local level.
*** TqpJs pf ,adjustment .fQr Asiaa eÂ£hnlg..QQfflBlUQitjugg. The purpose here
is to offer an outline of broadly defined tools available to Asian refugee/immigrant communities for use in the process of adjustment to life in the U.S.
A: Physical Tools: Once again we are using the subcategories of economic tools, housing tools, and tools for health issues. The most important strategies for this paper are in the area of economics. From the Hmong and Korean models we can see several strategies from which our CD methodology may borrow. In terms of increasing income, we have seen projects utilizing vocational training, job placement services,and educational programs, as well as economic projects suited to the particular skills and interests of the ethnic community (e.g. the Hmong farming or handicraft programs). And of course the Korean model offers the strategy of income creation through entrepreneurship. The Hmong and Korean models offer strategies for reducing expenditures also, including shared housing among families, pooling community resources in order to open a food cooperative, and utilizing family labor in entrepreneurial endeavors. The tools for housing issues were offered by the Hmong model, and involved pooling resources, and assistance in understanding real estate procedures. In terms of health issues, strategies should focus on increasing access to existing services.
B: Cultural Tools: Similar to the discussion on cultural needs, the cultural tools of adjustment deal with adjustment to the new cultural environment, and preservation of ties to the native culture.
The most important tools for meeting the first set of needs are ESL and literacy training, and increased contact with Americans and American institutions. In terms of cultural preservation, strategies of adjustment in other areas (e.g. economics) should work to capitalize on existing cultural characteristics. The existence of national ethnic organizations has been helpful for the Hmong. And local ethnic organizations (e.g. MAAs and ethnic churches) are the natural vehicle for developing and facilitating a community strategy of adjustment and development. Ethnic churches offer the additional benefit of contact with Americans in a relatively non-threatening environment,assuming the ethnic church has some ties to the larger church community.
Figure 4 Tools Available to Asian Immigrant and Befugee Communities.
Tools Suggested by the Korean and Haong Models
Increased Income Reduced Expenditures cooperative housing ventures
\ education about real estate and finance
\ v V
\ tnglish/literacy training national organizations
increased contact with Americans local ethnic organizati
Entrepreneurship Cooperative ventures
Vocational training Extended family residences
Job placement educational programs
The purpose of Figures 3 and 4 is to illustrate the fact that there is a broad range of needs facing refugee and immigrant communities in the U.S., and a broad range of tools available to address those needs. The Korean and Hmong models have been used to illustrate how strategies and projects can be designed to match the available tools with the identified needs. The next section of this paper will present a brief overview of community development theory (since many of the readers of this paper will be unfamiliar with the field), and then will suggest a group of community development strategies and tools (i.e. a methodology) that can be applied to the context of the Khmer community in Colorado.
community development theory
Before suggesting an actual community development (CD) methodology for Colorado's Khmer community, it would be useful to provide a brief overview of community development theory. It is likely that most of the potential readers/users of this methodololgy will not be CD professionals, and may not be familiar with the terminology, or some of the objectives of the field of community development. This overview will be very brief and basic, intending primarily to communicate a definition of community development, and some of the important guiding principles of CD practice.
*** Definitions. We must begin this discussion with the essential definitions of community and development. For the purposes of this paper, community will be defined as: "people within some geographically defined area involved in social interaction, and with psychological ties with each other and with the place they live (Christenson and Robinson, 1980). There are a number of other definitions that stress different aspects of community. For example, Warren (1978) points to the fact that rural sociology has tended to stress a geographical definition of community, whereas urban sociology defines community much more in terms of "human ecology" (e.g. shared values and institutions, levels of interaction, and social systems). Thus the object community of this paper is one defined by ethnic -.background and a set of common cultural characteristics, rather than by geography.
In reference to communities, the term development has typically been used to refer to either improvement or growth, the former implying social transformation resulting in a more egalitarian distribution of social goods (housing, education, political influence, etc...), and the latter suggesting increased economic prosperity (Christenson and Robinson, 1980). Development as social change is the
process of putting a particular ideology into action to restructure the social systems and/or the economy of the community.
The literature on CD is full of varying definitions of community development. The synthesized definition of CD upon which this paper is based is: The process of members of a community initiating a plan of deliberate intervention in the life of their community in order to change their economic or social environment. The field or discipline of CD might be thought of simply as a set of techniques used to guide community members through this process. Several words in the above definition have been highlighted for emphasis: process implies that the means of change may be of equal importance to the ends. Perhaps I can illustrate by pointing to the next highlighted word initiating (or initiate). The CD definition of this paper assumes that community initiative and leadership are key elements to the success of a given project, since one of the goals of the process is to enable the community members to have more control over the decisions that effect them, rather than having changes imposed upon them. In other words, the kind of CD activity advocated here stresses the importance of enabling the community to define its own goals and objectives, to create and implement a plan for meeting them, and to thereby become able to carry out the same process as new goals and objectives arise. "Community development is not in business to diagnose a communitys ills and write prescriptions for the cure. It hopes to enable the citizens to define their own problems and to systematically search for and discover acceptable courses of action which may be put into effect (Littrell, 1980)." Finally, the word plan has been highlighted to emphasize that the CD process is an organized and deliberate endeavor. *** Community Organization. Rothman (in Cox, Erlich, Rothman, and Tropman, 1979) has suggested three models of community organization
practice: 1) Locality development attempts to effect community change
through encouraging broad participation by a wide spectrum of people at the local community level; 2) The social planning approach "emphasizes a technical process of problem-solving", and assumes that change in our complex "industrial environment" requires expert planners to guide the change process; 3) The social action approach presupposes the need to organize a "disadvantaged" segment of the population (a community defined by socio-economic circumstances) in order to make demands on the larger society (e.g. for increased resources, or changes in social institutions). Rothman paraphrased these three approaches as
1) "Lets all get together and talk this over"; 2) "Lets get the facts and take the logical next steps"; and 3) "Lets organize to overpower our oppressor". All three approaches are used in community development practice, and Rothman argues (and I agree) that each has a legitimate place and time, depending on the needs and characteristics of the community.
*** The.CD.Practitiooer. To continue with Rothmans model, the professional community development practitioner will have different roles in each of the above mentioned community organization schemes: 1) In locality development the practitioner will serve as an enabler, facilitator, or encourager (Biddle, 1965). His/her job is to facilitate the problem-solving process through a procedural focus on organization, emphasizing common objectives, and guiding small task-oriented groups.
2) The practitioner operating in the social planning mode serves as a technical expert, whose work focuses on data collection and analysis, and manipulation of formal organizations (bureaucracies and professionals of various disciplines). 3) The social action model calls upon the practitioner to be an activist, and a partisan advocate
on behalf of his client group. His/her activities focus on influencing
the political process through the creation and direction of mass organizations. All of this is to say that the professional CD practitioner, which is the professional label I would attach to myself, has a variety of roles/duties, depending on the community context. However, we can generalize his/her professional role as a being a facilitator of the above defined community development process.
"Since the community development worker does not focus on solutions but on human development, the burden of success of projects lies with the people. This approach increases the probability that he will be able to relate to a group over a longer period of time than one who proposes specific solutions (Littrell, 1980)." My own analysis of the field suggests that community development originated (in its modern, professional sense) in the locality planning mode; it was "popularized" (achieved its most visible successes) in the social action mode; but the current trend is toward practicing CD in the social planning mode, as the field seeks to establish its scientific and technical credibility.
*** Elements of the CD process. The community development process can be divided into four primary elements (Tropman, in Cox, Erlich, Rothman, and Tropman, 1977), each of which can be categorized into tasks and tools:
1.) Goal determination is the process undertaken by the community of identifying its current situation, creating a consensus about its desired future, and articulating that future in the form of goals.
This process has both technical and political aspects.
Assessment of needs and resources.
Social forecasting (predicting the likely future for the community).
Technical research methods, including the collection, analysis, synthesis, and presentation of data. This may involve the use of data banks and other information services, as well as computerized programs for social forecasting.
Methods for assessing needs (e.g. needs assessment surveys, and community self-studies). This includes gathering not just facts, but also information about attitudes and beliefs.
Public information hearings, forums, citizen participation, and committee management.
2. ) Program development involves the creation of alternative approaches for achieving the goals established by the community, evaluating those alternatives, and choosing the approporiate one.
Creation of alternatives through input by community members and (possibly) experts in relevant areas of concern.
Analysis of the estimated costs and outcomes of each approach.
Developing a community concensus about the best alternative.
Analytical methods (e.g. PERT, cost-benefit analysis, CPM).
Mobilization and utilization of community/local/state resources.
Methods for facilitating the group decision-making process (e.g. conflict resolution, negotiation, coalition management).
3. ) Program implementation involves the community taking the chosen alternative and putting the plan into action.
Developing a strategy of implementation, and coordinating the activity of various groups within the community.
Influencing public policy, and securing the support of public officials (government and informal leaders).
Securing funding, when necessary.
Proposal writing techniques.
4. ) Program evaluation is the final element, and involves the development of a process for checking the progress of the plan during and after its implementation, in order to make any necessary changes, and to learn for the future.
Creation of a system of public accountability for the CD process/project.
Assessment of program efficiency and effectiveness.
Distribution of information to the community.
Accounting, and financial and statistical reporting.
Community meetings for review and feedback on the program.
Tools for the measurement of impact.
Once again, the practicioners role in these four elements of the CD planning process is to enable (facilitate) the community to undertake these endeavors, and to guide them through the process based on his/her experience and expertise. These four elements imply the need for all three of Rothmans models of community organization and practicioner function organizing and a procedural focus, the provision of technical expertise, and political advocacy. Naturally, the need for each of these functions will vary greatly depending on the community and the specific objectives of the CD process.
The focus of this paper is practical, rather than theoretical. Consequently, this review of community development theory has been kept brief. In doing so, it must be acknowledged that a good many important issues have not been dealt with, and others have been oversimplified. Nevertheless, the review should provide readers with some idea of the basic purposes and methods of the community development process. The task for the remainder of this paper is to apply this theoretical foundation to the resettlement and development needs of the Khmer community in Colorado, and to simultaneously adapt the theory to fit the unique cultural context of this community.
Introduction .............................................. 84
Community Needs ........................................... 85
Services Available to the Community ..................... 86
Principles ................................................ 89
The Methodology ........................................... 90
A Personal Example of Efforts in the
Cambodian Community .................................. 104
A COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT METHODOLOGY FOR COLORADO *S CAMBODIAN COMMUNITY
Having reviewed the historical circumstances that brought Cambodian refugees to the U.S., a demographic profile of the the nations Southeast Asian refugee population and the critical issues facing that group of new Americans, the circumstances and issues facing Colorados Cambodian population, lessons from the experience of other Asian ethnic communities, and the basic theoretical foundation of the practice of community development, we have arrived at the appropriate point for suggesting a set of community development activities or strategies (i.e. a methodology) designed to meet the specific needs of the Cambodian refugee community in Colorado.
The purpose of this methodology is, of course, to meet the needs and goals of this refugee community as defined by the community itself. The difficulty in adhering to that objective is that Colorado's Cambodian community has no clearly defined goals or strategies of adjustment to its new life in Colorado. Consequently, perhaps the first objective of this CD methodology should be to assist the community in creating and articulating a set of goals and priorities relevant to its resettlement, adjustment, and development. In the absence of such a list of goals, we can infer some of the major needs and priorities based on information gathered through interviews with community members and leaders, as well as from trends suggested by the study of the larger refugee population in the U.S.* These needs can be generalized, and stated rather simply (the ordering does not necessarily
The Colorado Division of Mental Health is currently undertaking a needs assessment survey of Colorados refugee population, under the direction of Peter Van Arsdale, Ph.D. This promises to be a useful source of information (although the Cambodian sample used in the study was quite small).
imply rank or importance):
Need #1: Increase the level of purposive organization in the community. In my conversations with members of Colorados Khmer community, I frequently heard comments about the lack of organization and purpose in the Cambodian Community of Colorado (CCC), the most important and encompassing Khmer organization. Leaders in the CCC mentioned the need for "unity" and "teamwork", and Cambodian friends have told me that they are not even able to organize summer soccer leagues any more due to the disarray in the CCC. While no Cambodian I spoke with disputed these assertions, several suggested that it was a temporary circumstance, cause by a difficult change in leadership. At any rate, the community currently has little or no forum for discussing resettlement and development issues.
Need #2: Adaptation to the American cultural environment. We
observed earlier in this paper that Cambodians perceive themselves as having difficulty understanding the American way of life. Older Khmer find this to be particularly true, while these problems are not so great for school-aged children. I am aquainted with a number of Cambodians who have adjusted very well to life in the American cultural context, suggesting that the problem is not unavoidable. Nevertheless, it is a frequently identified area of concern.
Need #3: Preservation of ties to Cambodian culture and Khmer ethnic identity. Once again, this is an important concern for older members of the community, including the parents of school-aged children, who are perceived as losing their sense of Khmer identity. There is also a frequently expressed desire to increase the understanding of Cambodian history and culture on the part of non-Khmer Coloradoans.
Need #4: Increased economic security. As mentioned earlier, the Colorado Khmer refugee population does not seem to suffer from an unusually high degree of unemployment, but does seem to have a problem with "marginal employment" low paying jobs, seasonal and part-time employment, limited opportunities for advancement. There is a need for strategies designed to enhance income levels, job security, and opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavors by Cambodians.
In addition to these four primary needs, there are a number of what might be called secondary needs needs that are manifestations or symptoms of the four primary needs. Among these are concerns about housing for Cambodians (particularly opportunities for Cambodians to own their own homes), mental health needs (increasing Khmer awareness of, and access to existing services, and the ability of those services to understand unique Southeast Asian issues), and the need for training in specific skills that are useful, and perhaps even necessary for adjustment to life in the U.S. (e.g. establishing a
relationship with a bank, insurance, real estate, etc...).
*** Services available to the Khmer community. This paper certainly does not intend to suggest duplicating services already available to the refugee community, except in the event of the current service appearing to be unacceptable or inaccessible. The following is a brief review of the institutions currently serving Colorado's refugee community, and some of the services they offer:
Colorado Refugee Service Program is a federally funded state agency (administered by the Colorado Dept, of Social Services, funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement), whose job is to provide cash assistance, medical assistance, and "self-suffeciency services" to refugees in Colorado (CRSP Year End Statistical Report, 1985).
CRSP provides these services directly, and through service contracts, and has a staff of 18, 8 of whom are refugees. CRSP's basic services include:
Health services; administration of Medicaid services for refugees, TB and parasite treatment and bilingual access to health care (translator services for medical purposes) through a contract with the Colorado Dept, of Health.
ESL services through a contract with the Colorado Dept, of
Education; 727 refugees were provided with ESL training in 1985, at a cost to CRSP of $524 per student.
Job placement services (CRSP facilitated 348 placements in 1985, with approximately 45% of Southeast Asian refugees who utilized the service actually being placed, a 90 day retention rate of 77%, an average cost per placement of $640, and a resulting average hourly wage of $4.36). CRSP also offers referrals to orientation and translation assistance for employers of refugees.
CRSP also claims to offer support for capacity/leadership building, and for economic initiatives, but I have not seen the evidence of these services.
The Internatiopal Refugee Center of Colpradp is the project of a coalition of Colorado refugee organizations (MAAs) whose objectives are: to "help refugees attain early self-suffeciency", to "assist
refugees in using local helping agencies", to "help refugees overcome social adjustment problems", and to "promote a stronger refugee community" (IRCC brochure, 1987). IRCC employs 6 refugees. Services include:
Translation services for housing, health, job, and legal issues.
Information and referrals for ESL, vocational training, and other local resources.
24 hour crisis telephone line.
Bimonthly multi-lingual newsletter The New Citizen.
Meeting hall (with kitchen facilities) for refugee related organizations (at 4380 S. Federal Blvd.).
We have already covered (in Section I) the various purposes and services offered by existing Cambodian organizations in Colorado. Currently, the most visible activity of the largest group, the Cambodian Community of Colorado, is the Cambodian New Year celebration held in April of each year. Beyond that, the CCC is not very active.
The Asian Pacific Human Development Center is a mental health treatment facility specializing in the unique problems encountered by Asian Americans (not just refugees). The APHDC has one full-time Cambodian counselor, most of whose efforts are aimed at helping children who are having a difficult time adjusting in school. Typical of the pattern of mental health services for refugees throughout the U.S., mental health services in Colorado, including the APHDC, are underutilitzed considering the range of mental health concerns facing Southeast Asian refugees (Peter W. Van Arsdale and Laurel J. Bagan, in an unpublished manuscript entitled The Development of Refugee Policy and Mental Health Programming in Colorado, 1987).
There are three voluntary agencies (volags) operating in Colorados Southeast Asian refugee community: Ecumenical Refugee Services (an arm of Church World Service the World Council of Churches humanitarian agency), Lutheran Social Services, and Denver Catholic Community Services. The volags primary concern (due to the nature of their contract with the U.S. government) is with the initial resettlement of refugees, such as arranging for sponsorship, refugee legal status, and initial financial arrangements.
The Emily Griffith Opportunity School offers a wide range of classes at low or no cost. For example, courses are available on American citizenship, ESL, homemaking, money management, and vocational training. The Opportunity School has been an excellent educational resource for refugees in Denver.
The Spring Institute for International Studies has as its purpose the promotion of "intercultural sharing and communication among peoples as a contribution to a more peaceful world" (Spring Institute brochure, August 1986). The Institute offers a variety of training programs aimed at fostering cross-cultural communication and understanding, particularly in the context of the working world. The program that has the most relevance to the refugee community is the "Workstyles" career and personal effectiveness training system, offered to refugees through a contract with CRSP. Workstyles is a training system focusing on "employability skills" (e.g. interviewing, writing resumes, job retention skills, etc...).
Denver Public Schools has a number of programs for its Southeast Asian students, coordinated by the DPS Asian Education Advisory Council (AEAC). The AEAC serves as a liason and communication link between Asian Americans and DPS, identifies research which has application to Asian students and communities, and refers Asian students to available services (e.g. the services of APHDC, or DPSs Family English Literacy Program which offers literacy training services to the whole family). To this point, the refugee community has not participated heavily in the literacy program, which is perceived as being designed more for Hispanics than Asians.
There are a variety of other programs available to Southeast Asian refugees. Naturally, most of these services are located in the metro Denver area, where the bulk of the community lives. Community colleges and state universities have programs to meet the special academic needs of Asian students. City and county governments have some programs for Asian refugees. For example, the Denver Dept, of Social Services has a small group of case workers whose caseload consists primarily of Southeast Asian refugees, although this service has been cut back in recent years.
These are the most important services available to refugees in Colorado. There may be others that I am not aware of, but as an experienced sponsor of refugees, I have found these to be the most readily available and useful. It might appear, based on the size of this list, that most of the needs of Colorado's refugee population are already being met, and many of them are. Nevertheless, I would suggest four primary justifications for additional activities/services:
#1 Most of the existing programs are reliant upon shrinking Federal budgets, and will likely experience budget restrictions and service reductions over time, pointing to the need for privately-funded endeavors.
#2 With the exception of the IRCC (which is operating in a very unstable funding situation), none of these programs are community based initiatives. They are reliant upon "American" leadership, and frequently rely on decisions made outside of Colorado.
#3 The existing programs are formal in nature, and rarely foster refugee contact with non-refugee Americans in any kind of lasting or informal (non-institutional) context.
#4 These programs have done little (or at least not enough) to reduce the cultural gap between Southeast Asians and other Americans, particularly in relation to providing the broader community with exposure to Southeast Asian culture.
These four issues point to the need for additional "purposive activity" in the Cambodian community. And because they constitute important elements missing from the existing services available to the community, they will serve, along with the principles on the next page, as design criteria for the methodology suggested in this paper.
The methodology offered here is based upon a set of principles and assumtions that should be stated, in order to put the methodology in its proper context:
*** It has been suggested that the success of Asian youth in adapting to American life (compared to the rate of adaptation and adjustment for older refugees) proves that "time is the best healer, and that, if we are patient, we will see the next generation of Southeast Asian Americans become highly successful, although there is little such hope for today's adult refugees. This paper rejects that notion for two reasons: First, if the social and economic circumstances of the
current adult refugees do not improve, the next generation will grow up in an economic environment that handicaps them the same way that it does the youth of America's established poor urban communities.
Second, this paper assumes that the current generation of adult refugees is entitled to the opportunity to improve their economic and social environment for their own sake, as well as for their children.
*** In keeping with the CD theory presented earlier, CD activity in the Cambodian community must be based on Cambodian initiative, and guided by Cambodian leadership. The current "system" offers a number of valuable services, but the community has very little control over their content or availability. If this kind of community leadership does not exist, then it should be fostered (rather than going ahead with the same methodology under American leadership).
*** One of the most important needs I have identified in the Khmer community is the aquisition of "cultural capital"; in other words, the skills (e.g. communication, familiarity with government and business systems, understanding of the political process) necessary for meeting the community's goals, once they have been established. The term "cultural capital" has occasionally been given a negative connotation in in development literature (e.g. Swartz, 1977), but it is intended here to represent a positive set of cultural "tools". My contention is that
this "cultural capital" can best be aquired through positive and consistent relationships with Americans in a context of mutual trust and respect. This may sound a bit abstract, but while few refugees have this kind of relationship with Americans, most of them recognize the value of such relationships. ***
*** The Cambodian community in Colorado is small (approximately 2,100 members), which puts some restrictions on the range of options available to them. For example, such a small group by itself could not support some of the organizations covered in the Hmong Ressetlement Study, such as a vocational training center, or a legal services center. Consequently, many of the services available to the Cambodians are (and probably will continue to be) offered in conjunction with other refugee groups. On the other hand, the small community size should have some advantages for community organization, and for publicizing CD efforts in the community.
Throughout the course of writing this paper, I have tried to keep three questions before me: 1) Why is there a need for CD activity in this community; 2) What should be done (and, correspondingly, how should it be done); and 3) Who should do it? Section I of this paper attempted to answer the first question (why?). The next few pages will represent an attempt to answer the second question (how?), and will be followed by an answer to the third question (who?). The methodology suggested here will have four major components; community organization, ESL training, Khmer cultural preservation, and job placement services. I want to stress that the last three of these components must flow from the first, although the first may be the most difficult to implement in this particular community at this point in time:
* Community Organization.
In the course of researching this paper and becoming familiar with the Khmer community, I have become aware of the difficulty (and perhaps inappropriateness) of imposing a western notion of community organization upon the the cultural context of this community. Having learned the basics of the CD process in the context of local (geographically defined) communities, such as neighborhoods or small towns, I must adapt my understanding of the process for implementation in this setting.
The goals of the process are essentially the same in this cross-cultural context. The process should witness the Cambodian community establishing goals, developing a set of alternative programs for reaching those goals and choosing the best alternative, implementing the program, and evaluating the program, with representative input from a broad spectrum of the community at each of those stages.
My suspicion is that before the community (in a general sense, and specifically in terms of the CCC) is ready to undertake specific projects, it needs to engage in a process of "consensus-building" in order to solicit community involvement and cooperation. This process might involve, for example, a community meeting open to all members of the community, to discuss a particular issue (such as next year's New Year celebration, a Cambodian cultural fair, or even reviving the community soccer league). This meeting could serve as a forum for community members to express their desires about future community activities, and to encourage involvement in future sessions.
However, the CCC does not have the reputation of being an organization interested in this kind of process. Most of the leadership defines the CCC's role as being one of welcoming new members, and providing relief in times of distress. While several individuals seem to have a "development mindset" that is, an orientation towards organizing to effect change none seem to have developed a vision of how this can be done. And the disunity caused by the current "political" disruption in the CCC leadership (mostly revolving around personal conflicts) makes this an unlikely time for such activities to begin. This is where culture can be an impediment. Because of their strong sense of propriety, Cambodians may be reluctant to forgive in the event of a "loss of face", which makes it difficult to bring rival groups together to establish consensus. And the cultural differences make it unlikely for an outsider (a CD professional, for example) to come in and facilitate this process.
Consequently, at this point in time, the need is for individual Cambodian leaders to "catch a vision" about organizing the community for development purposes, either through the CCC or through some other institution within the community. Until that step is taken, it seems unlikely that the community will engage in any kind of organized, purposeful community development activity.
* English as a Second Language (ESL) Training.
In Section I of this paper we observed the importance of English language skills in the adjustment of Southeast Asian refugees in the U.S. English ability has been shown to be closely correlated to success in the job market, both in terms of finding a job and advancing within that job. English ability is perhaps the most important component of the "cultural capital" that I am suggesting is necessary for adjustment and development. Improved English skills increase the refugee's access to and understanding of American institutions and systems (e.g. health care systems, transportation systems, educational institutions, and local politics). Poor English ability is the single most important reason that refugees insulate themselves from the larger American society in ethnic enclaves, and are unable to establish relationships with Americans.
But this is not new information. Everyone acknowledges the need for improving refugee English skills. But, what I am suggesting, in terms of making ESL a component of this CD methodology, is that a network be established for teaching English to Cambodian refugees on a one-to-one basis in private homes. There are several reasons for this suggestion. First, the current government system of classroom-taught ESL had an average cost to the state (in 1985) of $524 per student (CRSP Year-end Statistical Report, 1985), for which budgets can be expected to decrease over time. Second, in a one-to-one teaching setting opportunities are created for establishing relationships between Americans and Cambodians. Cross-cultural friendships can develop in this context that institution-based ESL classes (and other refugee services) do not seem to foster. In other words, the relationships created by one-to-one English instruction provide the refugee with a
friendly contact in American society, to whom he can go for advice and information about the American way of life. It also provides Americans with exposure to Cambodian culture, particularly if the classes are taught in refugee homes. Finally, a good number of refugees are unable to leave their homes for ESL. This is especially true for women, who frequently have large families to care for, and who typically have poorer English skills than refugee men.
This strategy obviously requires a large pool of English-speaking volunteer teachers, to which the Cambodian refugee community has limited access. This situation suggests that the community needs to develop ties to American organizations from which teachers can be recruited. This issue will be addressed later in this paper.
* Khmer Cultural Preservation Program.
We have seen the importance of refugees maintaining ties to their native culture. These ties are important components of refugee mental health and a smooth adjustment to American life. This paper, therefore, suggests that the Cambodian community in Colorado put together a program of cultural preservation and performance. The program might have the following goals:
The creation of a Khmer cultural performance, including Cambodian dance, art, and history, to be presented for American schools, churches, and civic groups.
Periodic cultural celebrations (as is currently done for the Cambodian New Year), to which Americans can be invited.
Classes for Cambodian youth in Khmer writing. Few Cambodian refugee youth can write in the Khmer script, which is a very important concern of Cambodian adults.
There is a Cambodian Fine Arts Preservation Group in Denver, which performs Cambodian music and dance each year during the New Year celebration. The performance is beautiful, but it is not "packaged" in a way suited to performance before American audiences. The members of this groups have, by and large, poor English skills. Consequently, they are not able to explain the dances or the music to an American audience. And they have never put together an organized performance to replace their collection of dances with no narration. Nevertheless, the dances are exotic and beautiful, and have tremendous potential for performance before American audiences, particularly if packaged with some narration about Khmer culture and history.
There is great potential to involve Cambodian youth in this type of program. Several Cambodian young people have expressed to me a desire to teach their fellow students about what the Cambodian people have experienced in recent history. This would address some of the concerns of Cambodian adults about the youth losing their Khmer identity. Taking this kind of performance to American groups would also provide contacts for recruiting ESL teachers.
This is the kind of activity that can involve a large number of Cambodian community members, and can provide an opportunity for the type of unified effort that may be necessary for organizing the community for other efforts. There is also a need for some assistance by Americans in this project. For example, the Cambodian Fine Arts Preservation Group could solicit the assistance of American performing arts groups, who could help them package the Cambodian performance for American audiences, and could provide them with access to cultural programs throughout the city and state at which they could perform.
The Fine Arts Group should contact the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities (attn. Maryo Ewell) for assistance in this area.
* Job Placement Assistance.
Section I in this paper explained the need in the Southeast Asian refugee community for strategies to increase the "economic security" of refugees in the U.S., due to the number of low-paying, seasonal and part-time jobs held by refugees. I would suggest that there are three primary reasons for this situation: poor English skills, job skills that are not suited to the American job market, and a lack of the kind of "cultural capital" necessary for success in the job market. For example, I am aquainted with one refugee man who will not discuss problems at work with his boss, both because of his poor English skills and his desire to avoid any kind of open confrontation. Consequently, when he has encountered problems in the past, he has called his sponsor and asked him to talk to his supervisor, rather than going to the supervisor himself.
CRSP has a job placement service with a very capable Cambodian case worker. But, once again, the long term status of this service may be in jeopardy due to budget restrictions. Also, this service has been oriented primarily toward finding refugees a first job upon arrival in Colorado, and thus results in low paying jobs, and a large number of part-time positions. This service has been a valuable resource for some refugees. But, considering the low number of refugees now entering the state, it is perhaps nearing the end of its usefulness in its current form. Spring Institute's Workstyles class offers refugees some of the cultural skills necessary for getting and keeping a job, but these are very basic classes geared toward previously unemployed refugees.
What I am advocating is not an entirely new method of job placement for refugees, but rather two modifications to the current method:
First, there is a need to move the service outside the realm of government services, due to impending restictions on the budgets of refugee agencies. Second, the service should be expanded into the area of helping refugees to get better jobs, rather than just entry level jobs paying at or near the minimum wage level. This will require expanding the community's contacts in the city's business community.
There is one characteristic of the current system that should be maintained in the event of any modification of this service. That characteristic is the role of the Cambodian case worker, whose job is to make contacts in the business community who are willing to consider