Cambodia’s Past Shapes America’s Future – An Interview with Zaklin Phat

ZaklinMy grandmother talked about how peaceful life was before the genocide…
…after the Khmer Rouge, everything changed.

– Zaklin Phat

April 2014 Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month:
Remembering the Past toward Healing our Future

A six event commemorative film series featuring the stories of survivors and their children

Living Ubuntu, in collaboration with with Amnesty International – Irvine and six local academic institutions, presents a six-event commemorative film series featuring the stories of survivors and their children. April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, and each film commemorates a genocide that started during April. Living Ubuntu provides education about global traumas as part of its mission to heal trauma in order to promote peace. All films are free and open to the public.

Below is an interview with Zaklin Phat who will be a featured speaker at the Cambodia genocide event.

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An Interview with Zaklin Phat

Birth Place: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Age:  21
Occupation:  Student, University of CA-Irvine
Major:  International Studies

Q:  Do you have any memories of life in Cambodia as a child?

A:   Actually, I only have happy memories of my childhood there.  I remember mostly playing hop-scotch and jumping rope with friends, and also teaching myself to ride a bike in alleyways and scraping up my hands and knees.  One of my favorite memories is of my birthdays.  My dad would always buy a piece of cake just for me, and we would spend time together,  just the two of us.

Q:  How were your school days?

A:   School there was very strict.   We had to have our hair pulled back and wear uniforms. Our skirts had to be at least knee-length.  The teachers used rulers or a metal stick to hit our hands or behinds if we didn’t do our homework, misbehaved or even if our fingernails were too long.

Q:   How did you come to live in the U.S.?

A:   When I was nine years old, my father asked my older sister and I if we wanted to come stay with an aunt and uncle who had moved here a year or two before.  Because I was so young, I thought at first he just meant to visit.  It wasn’t until I got here that I realized he meant for us to stay.  My sister came here with a relative, and then I came with my Godfather about a month later. Read more of this post

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Good books and films about the Cambodian Genocide

A Khmer Rouge soldier waves his pistol and orders store owners to abandon their shops in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 17, 1975 as the capital fell to the communist forces. A large portion of the city's population was reportedly forced to evacuate. Photo from West German television film. (AP Photo/Christoph Froehder)

April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. In honor of this, we have compiled a Resource List of books and films themed around each of the past genocides that have commemorative dates in April, plus the areas that we cover.

We hope you will make use of this list as a way to both remember these genocides, and learn more about them.  This is our third entry, the Cambodian Genocide.

Recommended Books:

After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson
How did the Khmer Rouge get away with genocide?  Craig Etcheson’s After the Killing Fields answers this deceptively simple question.  Etcheson has mapped killing fields, interviewed the killers themselves, and his decades of empirical research in Cambodia have endowed him with refreshing common sense.

Alive in the Killing Fields: Surviving the Khmer Rouge Genocide, by Nawuth Keat and Martha Kendall
Alive in the Killing Fields is the real-life memoir of Nawuth Keat, a man who survived the horrors of war-torn Cambodia. He has now broken a longtime silence in the hope that telling the truth about what happened to his people and his country will spare future  generations from similar tragedy.

Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors, by Dith Pran
Dith Pran, the Cambodian photojournalist portrayed by Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields, compiled this collection of eyewitness accounts to the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot’s regime from 1975 to 1979.  All of the survivors who recount their stories here were children when the Khmer Rouge took power.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Lung Ung
Covering the years from 1975 to 1979, the story moves from the deaths of multiple family  members to the forced separation of the survivors, leading ultimately to the reuniting of much of the family, followed by marriages and immigrations.

Getting Away with Genocide: Cambodia’s Long Struggle Against Khmer Rouge, by Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis
This book covers the history of Cambodia since 1979 and the various attempts by the US and China to stop the Cambodian people from bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice.  Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis reveal why it took 18 years for the UN to recognise the mass murder and crimes against humanity that took place under the Killing Fields regime.

Survival in the Killing Fields, by Haing Ngor
In Haing Ngor’s memoir, Survival in the Killing Fields, he tells the gripping and frequently terrifying story of his term in the hell created by the communist Khmer Rouge.  Like Dith Pran, the Cambodian doctor and interpreter whom Ngor played in an Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields, Ngor lived through the atrocities that the 1984 film portrayed.

The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79, by Ben Kiernan
Offering an account of the Cambodian revolution and genocide, this book includes a preface that takes the story up to 2008 and the UN-sponsored Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Recommended Films:

Cambodia: The Betrayal
The world was horrified to learn of the holocaust which had taken place in Cambodia at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  This film exposes the hypocrisy of the Western nations which continue to support Pol Pot, despite the atrocities of his regime.

Enemies of the People
The Khmer Rouge ran what is regarded as one of the twentieth century’s most brutal regimes.  In Enemies of the People the men and women who perpetrated the massacres – from the foot-soldiers who slit throats to the party’s ideological leader, Nuon Chea aka Brother Number Two – break a 30-year silence to give testimony never before heard or seen.

New Year Baby
As a child in the United States, filmmaker Socheata Poeuv knew that her parents had survived oppression and genocide under the Khmer Rouge, but they never spoke of it aloud.  After a startling admission from her parents, Socheata travels to Cambodia to unravel the mystery shrouding her family’s survival and eventual escape.

Return To The Killing Fields-Investigative Reports
Bill Kurtis takes a trip back to the “killing fields” of Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot ordered the torture and murder of millions of peasants, business people, army officers, and the educated in a cruel social experiment to create a pure Communist society during the years 1975-79.

Small Voices: The Stories of Cambodia’s Children *favorite
The film looks at the children born to the uneducated, poverty-stricken survivors of the Khmer Rouge and the reality of their day-to-day lives.

The Killing Fields
This 1984 drama concerns the real-life relationship between New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), the latter left at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge after Schanberg–who chose to stay after American evacuation but was booted out–failed to get him safe passage.

Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia
John Pilger vividly reveals the brutality and murderous political ambitions of the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge totalitarian regime which bought genocide and despair to the people of Cambodia while neighboring countries, including Australia, shamefully ignored the immense human suffering and unspeakable crimes that bloodied this once beautiful country.

Background on the Cambodian Genocide: When the Khmer Rouge took control of the Cambodian government in 1975, they declared the beginning of a new age dedicated to a peasant-oriented society. After outlawing education, religion, healthcare and technology, the Khmer Rouge ordered the evacuation of Cambodia’s cities and forced these residents to labor without adequate food or rest. At the same time as summarily executing those who were unable to keep up, the Khmer Rouge began to target suspected political dissidents. These citizens, including doctors, teachers and those suspected of being educated were singled out for torture at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison. In four years, between 1.7 and 2 million Cambodians died in the Khmer Rouge’s ‘Killing Fields’.

– From GI-Net / Save Darfur Coalition (link)

Compiled by Paulina Robles and Barbara English of Orange County for Darfur and Martina Knee of the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition.