CSM screening of "First They Killed My Father"

College of San Mateo (CSM) screened Angelina Jolie’s film “First They Killed My Father” last night. This film is an adaptation of Luong Ung’s book by the same name about her experiences surviving Cambodia’s communist revolution and subsequent war with Vietnam.

Lewis Kawahara, founder of CSM’s Asian Pacific American film festival, introduced Christine Su, a member of CSM’s International Education Program, who partnered with Netflix to show the film in areas of the US with large Cambodian populations.

Three survivors of the revolution and war, Chen Kong-Wick, Kenya Prach and Chenda Chhi, participated in a panel moderated by Ms Su. Education and inter-generational trauma were themes.

Ms Kong-Wick highlighted the fact that ICE is deporting Cambodian immigrants with criminal records, even if they’ve completed their sentences. (I see this isn’t unique to the current state of US government, and others have also highlighted this issue and the need for better integration.)

Ms Chhi, founder of the Coral Tree Education Foundation, stressed that education is vital for peace. She noted Pol Pot was embraced by the uneducated peasant class, and then called for anyone with an education to be murdered, to eradicate critical thinking skills. Twenty percent of the population died, including most of her high school class. Reading is still largely shunned by the generation.

(Given their actions, and depiction in the film, the peasant class would seem to have been extremely resentful of the educated class. I wonder if there was something that could’ve been done to address their concerns and avoid violence. Ms Chhi focuses on education. I’m also reminded of Farnham Street Blog’s note that inequality will always lead to redistribution, but that redistribution can happen via progressive politics or violent revolution.)

Former congressional representative Mike Honda spoke briefly after the panel concluded, acknowledging the efforts of CSM and the panelists to raise awareness of Cambodia’s experience and the trauma refugees carry, and calling on everyone in the audience as citizens to use what we learn from history to improve our democracy, to form a more perfect union.

Ms Su closed the event by presenting survivors and their children and grandchildren with pink roses, symbolizing the pink water lilies found in Cambodia.

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