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Diaspora & Journey : Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''

Dear readers, in our series of portraits of atypical Khmers around the world, we return today to France to talk about journalist and TV presenter RAPHAL YEM. Known for his commitment against inequalities of all kinds, this Khmer from France with a solar personality does not hesitate to put himself on stage to denounce racism (especially during the national whistleblower ceremony Y’a Bon Awards ).

Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''
Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''

Previously on the radio (Radio Nova, France Culture, France Inter) but also TV presenter on MTV since 2011, we find him currently in the show Culturebox on France 4, in 2H2L on France 2 and on the France 3 network.

RAPHAL YEM is the ONLY KHMER representing our community on a national network.

Discover or rediscover this man with an extraordinary career and family.

With his daughter
With his daughter

Your family history is fascinating. Your late grandfather was a powerful man in Cambodia. Describe its activities in a few words

My grandfather was an entrepreneur, he owned rubber plantations. He wanted to stay in Cambodia with his workers when my parents left in a hurry. He thought he would join them, but that never happened: I obviously never knew him.

Your mother therefore grew up in a privileged environment. Can you tell us more about his duties at Srok?

Coming from the bourgeoisie, she was among other things an Apsara dancer of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. She was also a model, and above all, an air hostess.

The Khmer Rouge invade the capital. An incredible anecdote happens when she tries to reach your father, then a teacher, with a taxi: tell us about it

She saw that the air corridors were closing, since she worked for the national airline. It was the signal to flee the country urgently. His family joined him, but not my father, who was stranded on the other side of Phnom Penh. She then gave all the jewelry she had on her to a taxi driver to go and collect..."

Then comes their exodus to France and the installation in Normandy. How is their new life going?

It was a change that could be described as radical. My parents to survive became workers and had, like many, to adapt to local habits and customs, totally new to everyone, and of course to learn a new language.

Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''

Your parents through the fruits of their hard work, will become forerunners of certain businesses. Which ?

Not having stopped working, they then succeeded in setting up the first Asian grocery store in Caen, then later they opened the first Asian restaurant in the city, run by Cambodians.

For your part, you know a childhood mainly steeped in French culture. What are your main memories?

We communicated only in French, Khmer being reserved for my parents, rather during their arguments (laughs).

How will you find Khmer culture in your home?

Mainly in the presence of an altar dedicated to the memory of our ancestors, and in our plates.

You are told little about this dark period in Cambodia. When do your first questions arise on the subject?

The same questions come up repeatedly every summer, being curious to discover my roots, and motivated in particular by the examples of my friends returning to their respective countries of origin during the two months of vacation. And each time, the same answer : " next year ". My requests will never succeed... Reason why later, I will fly alone to Phnom Penh, in a backpack.

Later, you will come across hitherto rather secret letters of correspondence between your mother and people in Srok Khmer. Tell us about the incredible idea that came to your mind?

Probably dissatisfied with not being able to tread the soil of my ancestors, I decided in an adventurous way to go in search of the distant sender of his letters and to discover a face behind these signatures: the time to discovering the Khmer Srok had come.

Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''

When you land in the Kingdom, your body and your mind then feel a particular well-being. What is it?

"I step out of the plane, a first step on the steps of the metal staircase on the tarmac, and I am immediately enveloped by a familiar dampness, which I did not yet know. ''

What will be the highlights of your first stay?

Without hesitation being surrounded by people like mine and hearing Khmer spoken incessantly and for the first time in my life.

''It's a feeling that is both disturbing, for the Westerner that I am, and reassuring, for the Oriental that I find myself. ''

Your spearhead remains diversity, social inequalities but also living together. What are your most significant experiences?

“I grew up, in every sense of the word, in a working-class, suburban neighborhood. It is my strongest identity, so I am marked by the struggles it carries within it: social inequalities, discrimination, relegation. I have often been presented as a "Chinablack", a barbarism, as if to associate my asidentity, and everything else, from negrophobia to Islamophobia, against which I have always opposed. "

Your involvement for the Asian community will really solidify with a common project following a sad current event. Tell us about this project

This was following a call from the collective named Asians of France, to participate in a clip denouncing anti-Asian racism, and featuring media personalities from all over Asia.

Your notoriety now allows you to put forward a number of causes. Is there one in particular that you could put concerning Cambodia?

Possibly to use my experience in the media in the direction of young Khmers, on the spot. What's going on there in terms of culture, even pop culture, interests me and amazes me to the highest degree.

Raphal YEM, media man and Khmer from France committed to "asidentity''

Otherwise, when they ask me, I accompany the actions of associations like Samaki Kon Khmer or PSE here in France, at the service of the community.

Finally, a next return to Srok planned?

When my daughter is old enough, my wish would be to bring her: "trample the land of her grandmother, follow the Mekong or the Tonlé Sap, marvel at the magnificence of the temples of Angkor...

By Chantha R (Francoise Framboise)

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