Dear readers, today in my series of portraits of atypical khmers in the world, we stay in the USA to know better SOTHEARA LIM, the man behind KHMER RENAISSANCE, the Instagram page regerence of the moment for the Cambodian community worldwide.
You will discover behind this character, a native of Long Beach, a personal story rich in emotions, and supported by a combative and omnipresent family in his life and his thoughts. I wish you a great discovery!
You grew up in California and your early years felt totally American. Tell us about this feeling
My family was keen on my total integration and living as a full-fledged American, especially culturally speaking, initially seemed obvious. They believed that in order to be successful in this country and for a chance at survival, you have to assimilate. This is interesting because they were also adamant on teaching me what it means to be Khmer. So it was an interesting dynamic because they encourage both embracing being American while also embracing being Khmer at the same time.
Unlike you, your family and relatives are part of the wave of Thailand camp refugees who fled and settled in the USA. How did they experience their integration?
It was extremely difficult, compared to the exodus of course. My grandmother lost her husband and five of her children to the genocide, so she became the sole provider by working in garment factories under the table.
The Khmer culture therefore remains omnipresent in your home. However, your parents each had a specific role in this transmission. Can you explain them to us?
Indeed… My father taught us vehemently on our culture & history – from the Kingdom of Angkor to the Golden Age of the ’50s and ’60s. My mother taught us proper Khmer social etiquette, how to address older people, and how to carry ourselves as Khmer people.
Which do you think has had the most impact on your love of our culture?
My father, in particular by teaching me the history of the Khmer empire.
His words continue to inspire me to this day in my posts on KHMER RENAISSANCE.
You then have a click towards the high school days and no longer feel like just an American. What happened?
American society has a wrong perspective about us. The gap between how Asian Americans are viewed and the realities of the Khmer American community was by and far large.
The larger Asian American narrative is not consistent with the realities of being Khmer here. Our voices were silent and we were invisible – I wanted to make our voices heard.
This period also marked violence between the Asian community and other communities. Could you tell us some anecdotes?
Yes … in the ’80s the racial tensions were palpable. We had extremely hard times with other ethnic communities, who treated us harshly when we arrived. We responded to this by creating our own gangs as we felt it was the best response to the assaults. This answer seemed obvious because we were a people who had only known war and genocide. Eventually, we weren’t going to stand and allow this to happen to us after everything we’d been through prior to arriving here.
Your father then entrusts you with stories about the creation of Asian gangs to defend themselves. What was your reaction?
Honestly, I was born in the late ’80s, so they were in their early years during that time. Though it’s a sad reality, gangs are an integral part of the lifestyle in Long Beach. And I can’t judge the stories because I understand the pain of people who lose their loved ones; as well as the reactions that can result from it. I strongly feel I am in no position to judge that life; I’m in no place to have an opinion on it. I can only look at it from a place of compassion and understanding.
Is this one of the reasons that led you to unify our community?
In part, of course. But the main reason was my desire to have a platform bringing us together under the compassion, the exchange, and the sharing of our culture and our history.
Then comes the Covid period and you decide to create Khmer renaissance. How do you choose your subjects?
As I was observing our community around the world, I started to realize a collective of Khmer people reclaiming their identity and culture, whether it’s through arts, business, or thought leadership. I wanted to highlight that !
We began to heal from the genocide, and that resulted in many great things happening. VannDa’s song, “Time to Rise” is a big inspiration to the creation of Khmer Renaissance, and I wholeheartedly that that song singlehandedly sparked a fire in Khmer people worldwide.
How do you find companies or people to support?
Mainly through social media.
Some of your archives on the subject are exceptional. How did you discover them or have access to them?
I feel very committed to this cause and I write a lot. I take a lot of time to reflect on the subjects that I cover. Everything that I post is intentional and this is on purpose.
I want to be an example to Khmer people that if we want to create something or start a business, we have to put our best foot forward.
Today after 2 years of success on the subject, what would be your assessment?
I am still surprised by so much success and above all so fast! Above all, I feel honored and grateful.
So what are your future plans - personal or for the Khmer community?
I am starting a Creative and Production Agency called Donut Shop Creative. The goal of this agency is to provide creative and marketing services for Khmer brands and companies, and to do so in a way that elevates our brand identity.
Additionally, Donut Shop Creative will serve for my personal projects. I hope to create films and documentaries that matter to Khmer people through this platform.
By Chantha R ( Francoise Framboise )