Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Karen Quintiliani (California State University Long Beach)
The terms "justice" and "healing" are often associated with survivors of genocide, however as has been well documented in anthropological literature, the meanings and actions associated with these concepts are not shared across cultures, times, or circumstances. In this paper we discuss an alternative Cambodian strategy for truth seeking that grew out of a project spanning more than a decade and leading to a historic video conference between three former Khmer Rouge soldiers in Bangkok and survivors in Long Beach, California. The video conference was inspired by the work of Thet Sambath, a Cambodian journalist and genocide survivor, who set out on a ten-year journey to discover the truth of why the Khmer Rouge killed. In 2006, Thet met filmmaker Lemkin, whose documentary, Enemies of the People (EOTP), chronicles Thet's work. Although not the first post-Khmer Rouge era project to document the stories of former Khmer Rouge soldiers, EOTP provides a model for dialogue and transformation that Cambodian-American audiences responded to. In this paper we explore the motivations of Cambodian-American participants who, after seeing the film, chose to engage in dialogue with the perpetrators. Through audio and video recordings and follow up interviews with participants, our findings provide insights into the varied ways that Cambodians seek emotional release and the "truth" behind the genocide. Believing that healing is not possible, Cambodians in Long Beach sought the truth of what happened for the sake of history, to bring respect to those who were killed, and recognition of what they lived through.