Braving a New World: Cambodian (Khmer) Refugees in an American City

Braving a New World: Cambodian (Khmer) Refugees in an American City

Braving a New World: Cambodian (Khmer) Refugees in an American City

Braving a New World: Cambodian (Khmer) Refugees in an American City

Synopsis

This ethnography, based on a five-year field study, presents a holistic view of a nearly invisible ethnic minority in the urban Midwest, Cambodian refugees. Hopkins begins with a brief look at Cambodian history and the reign which led these farmers to flee their homeland, and then presents an intimate portrait of ordinary family life and also of Buddhist ceremonial life. The book details their struggles to adjust in the face of the many barriers presented by American urban life, such as poverty, dangerous neighborhoods, and unemployment, and also by the conflict between their particular needs and American institutions such as schools, health care, law, and even the agencies intended to help them.

Excerpt

Braving a New World is a holistic ethnographic account of a small community of Cambodian (Khmer) refugees in a medium-size city in the Midwestern United States. It is particularly a study of cultural continuity and change. For anthropologists, it is axiomatic that culture is learned throughout the lifespan and in a great variety of informal settings. To this end, I have examined the changing patterns of technology, kinship, age, gender and class relations, community organization, religion, and aesthetics in the lives of these Cambodians within the various contexts of their families, their community, their rituals, and their institutions.

The research upon which this work is based was conducted during the years 1987 through 1995 using classic ethnographic methods, primarily participant observation and extended informal interviewing. Although all anthropologists intend to produce a "true" account of the cultures they study, inevitably our research comes to reflect the interests and experiences of those informants more interested in or more able to participate in our work, as well as our own skills in interacting with a broad range of personalities. Although my work necessarily is colored by my greater access to women, the young, and those who had more time to spend, I have attempted here to convey the broadest possible understanding of the vibrant, multifaceted, polyvocal, and rapidly evolving nature of this community of individuals whose adjustments to life in the United States vary widely according to origins, recent experience, age, gender, class, health, family, individual personality, and present situation. At best an ethnography can only be a still photo of an opera.

I've been most fortunate to have had the friendship and assistance of many Cambodians. In order to respect the wish of some to remain anonymous, I have identified neither the city nor individuals by name and thus cannot here give specific credit to those who so generously took me into their homes and lives, but my gratitude is heartfelt. Several Cambodians have read parts of this, but no one all of it; despite so much help, there may be inaccuracies or misunderstandings, and I of course claim all responsibility for such errors. I hope you will all find something of yourselves and something of truth in this book. I know it is not the book any of you . . .

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