My modern Cambodian family lives in a land blindly obsessed with preserving its centuries old and long dead culture, while simultaneously and flagrantly appropriating anything innovative it can get its hands on. This counterproductive pursuit is coupled with the myopic insistence that all of modern Cambodia’s problems are direct results of efforts to destroy Cambodia by a monolithic and singular “foreign culture.”
At almost no point in one’s analytical exploration of contemporary Cambodian society is one likely to encounter any Cambodian citizen who has not been actively discouraged from pursuing any line of critical thought. To propose or even dare suspect that Cambodians, if not directly responsible for the development of their problems, are at least certainly responsible for the eventual solutions to the vast ecological, economic, and political problems that have beleaguered these people for the greater part of 50 years would be an anathema to the nationalist myths that have been used to placate and enthrall Cambodians for ages.
I am such a fierce proponent of autonomous and collaborative creativity, innovation, and intellectual integrity that anytime a Cambodian parent, teacher, or student dismisses my constitutional humanism as “untraditional” and “against Khmer culture,” I am quick to wave my hand across the horizon and assert, “Look at what Khmer culture has given you.”
It used to bewilder me how Cambodian people reach out to touch and sometimes embrace my little girl, Leni, and incredulously ask me in Khmer, “Does she speak Khmer?” Now it saddens me.
From the day Leni entered the world, her parents & I not only have spoken both English and Khmer with her but have given her something no Cambodian parent would dare imagine a child should have; the right and responsibility to hold and support her own opinions.
The results speak for themselves. At four months shy of six years old, Leni carries herself with certainty and confidence achingly never seen in most Cambodians of any age.
We are determined to nurture Leni’s creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, and independent spirit for no better reason than other Cambodian children may learn from and be encouraged by her. Selflessly of course, we want Leni to have choices & opportunities her parents, and most Cambodians, have been denied.