Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
What does “justice” mean for Cambodian American refugees deported to Cambodia, forty years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and decades after their lawful, permanent relocation to the United States? As of April 5, 2019, 701 Cambodian American refugees who were legal permanent residents of the United States were deported to Cambodia following conviction of crimes. Many of these individuals attest that, for various reasons, their deportations were unjust. Furthermore, all Cambodian American refugees deported to Cambodia attest that they have experienced some form of trauma—personal, transgenerational, or both—related to the Khmer Rouge. With this in mind, this paper asks what justice looks like for these individuals in Cambodia. Is justice possible, and, if so, what might it look like? In this paper, I will argue that there are three, sometimes overlapping avenues through which individuals deported to Cambodia seek justice there. For some, justice means pursuing legal recourse to try to return to the United States. For others, justice is rooted in establishing a life worth living in Cambodia—by securing meaningful employment and financial independence, starting a family and owning land, and participating in civil society. Finally, for some who have experienced extreme violence, justice means navigating Cambodia’s complex, often opaque judicial system to seek legal recourse. In this paper, I argue that what unites these paths to justice are the ways in which the individuals who pursue them relate their present-day experiences to traumas experienced during the Khmer Rouge era.