Ethnic Enclave Tour: In 2007 a stretch of Anaheim Street in Long Beach was designated by the City Council as Cambodia Town. The area is home to the largest population of Cambodians outside Cambodia. They are also a fairly young enclave that was created due to the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime.
A ruthless dictator who, for the sake of building a new communist agrarian utopia, killed hundreds of thousands of people, their bodies were often dumped in mass graves. He came to power in 1975 and at that time 4,500 Cambodians fled to the U.S. Two military bases processed the evacuees. One was Camp Pendleton, about seventy miles from Long Beach.
Only four years later, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and a brutal war began. From 1979 to 1986, about 130,000 Cambodians came to the United States as refugees. Most had lost at least one family member or even their entire families. Most of these Cambodians settled in Long Beach for a variety of reasons. Many say that the region’s climate reminded them of home.
Cambodians began to make a new life for themselves in America, first establishing their Theravadan Buddhist Temples. With a rich two thousand year history, they also began to bring their memory of cultural comforts to Long Beach. Today, you can walk along the very long street or drive to see an incredibly diverse number of businesses with a distinct Cambodian flair.
There seem to be a large number of jewelry stores, including Khmer Sarmey Jewelry, Vi Mean Chey Jewelry, and Kompoul Pich Jewelry (to name a few). Sarika Entertainment rents videos, Kinh Do does hair and nails (it seems every ethnic enclave needs its own hair salon), and Cambodian/English signs are also available for Auto parts and Auto repair stores.
The Vietnamese are welcome here, and have established Pho restaurants. Tam’s Burgers has clearly integrated into American life, while Phuong VY Cafe brings in a French flair.
The Mekong Mart is named after the 2,703 mile long river that runs through many countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Little Phnom Pehn boasts Karaoke Nights. The Khmer Wellness Center is operated by an M.D. and the Golden Villa has Cambodian-Thai Cuisine. A little further on, the Siem Reap has authentic Cambodian food that includes Quail and Amok.
The K-H Supermarket has rice cookers, pickled mustard, sticky rice, fish sauce, salted soybeans, the pigeon brand of fermented acrid sweet mustard greens and a Chinese imported Big Bird Pork Fu.
My favorite: Paradise Restaurant, which has a jaw dropping mural on its side called “At the Close of the Day.”
Interestingly, even as I write this post, the community is changing. The mural Community Pride attests to how many other groups find Cambodia Town welcoming and they’re moving into the area as well.
Also, if you want to learn more about Cambodians in Long Beach, check out these resources:
Susan Needham and Karen Quintiani’s Cambodians in Long Beach