From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Cambodian American)
Cambodian Americans
Cambodian American women at a Cambodian New Year celebration in Lithonia, Georgia, 2010
Total population
(ancestry or ethnic origin, 2017) [1]
(0.1% of the U.S. population)
Regions with significant populations
Khmer, American English, Cham, French
Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Khmers, Vietnamese Cambodians, Chinese Cambodians, Asian Americans

Cambodian Americans, [a] also Khmer Americans, are Americans of Cambodian or Khmer ancestry. In addition, Cambodian Americans are also Americans with ancestry of other ethnic groups of Cambodia, such as the Chams and Chinese Cambodians.

According to the 2010 US Census, an estimated 276,667 people of Cambodian descent reside in the United States, with most of the population concentrated in California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. [3]

After the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975, few Cambodians were able to escape; it was not until after the regime was overthrown in 1979 did large waves of Cambodians begin immigrating to the US as refugees. Between 1975 and 1994, nearly 158,000 Cambodians were admitted. About 149,000 of them entered the country as refugees, and 6,000 entered as immigrants and 2,500 as humanitarian and public interest parolees. [4] To encourage rapid cultural assimilation and to spread the economic impact, the US government dispersed the refugees into various cities and states throughout the country. However, once established enough to be able to communicate and travel, many Cambodians began migrating to certain places where the climate was more like home, they knew friends and relatives had been sent, or there were rumored to be familiar jobs or higher government benefits. Consequently, large communities of Cambodians took root in cities such as Long Beach, Fresno and Stockton in California; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia; Cleveland, Ohio; Lynn and Lowell in Massachusetts; and Seattle and Portland in the Pacific Northwest.

Since 1994, Cambodians admitted into the United States have entered the country as immigrants and not as refugees, but the number per year is small. Most of the increase in the ethnic Cambodian population can be attributed to American-born children of Cambodian immigrants or of newer people of Cambodian descent. Although the Cambodians were spared from the destruction of their home country, whose tragedies maintained a lasting impact into the 21st century, they would come to face newer adversities and hardships in America.

The 2010 census counted 276,667 persons of Cambodian descent in the United States, up from 206,052 in 2000. Of them, 231,616 (84%) are all-Cambodian and 45,051 part-Cambodian. [5]


The states with the highest concentration of Cambodian American residents are Rhode Island (0.5%; 5,176), Massachusetts (0.4%; 25,387), Washington (0.3%; 19,101), California (0.2%; 86,244), and Minnesota (0.2%; 7,850). [5]

West Coast

In Southern California, there is a large Cambodian population in Long Beach, and smaller yet significant communities of Cambodians are present in Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. Four percent of Long Beach's population is of Cambodian descent, mainly concentrated on the city's east section, where there is a Cambodia Town neighborhood. [6] Long Beach, California, has the highest population of people of Cambodian ancestry outside of Cambodia itself. [4] The Pueblo Del Rio housing projects in South Los Angeles were home to around 200 Cambodian families in the 1980s, and as of 2010, remains a smaller but sizable Cambodian American community. [7] The Los Angeles Chinatown has more than 600 Cambodian residents. Santa Ana, California, is 0.5% Cambodian American. The City Heights neighborhood in eastern San Diego has a large concentration of Cambodians. [8] [9]

In Northern California, Stockton, Modesto, and Oakland have significant Cambodian populations, while San Jose, Santa Rosa and Sacramento have sizable communities as well. Outside of California, the Pacific Northwest is home to another large Cambodian settlement, specifically in cities such as Tacoma, where Cambodians enumerate at thousands, or 1.6% of the population. [5] [10] There are also growing Cambodian American communities in Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Denver, Colorado. In Utah, there is a community of Cambodians in West Valley City.

East Coast

Glory Buddhist Temple, one of many examples of Cambodian-American culture in Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell, Massachusetts, has the second highest population of Cambodian Americans in the U.S., and is a center of Cambodian population on the east coast. 13% of its population is of Cambodian descent. Cambodian immigrants settled in Lowell during the mid-1980s, where they opened dozens of small businesses. [11] [12] Lynn, Massachusetts, which is nearby Lowell, has the third largest Cambodian American population. Within New England, Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine (647 residents; 1%), also contain sizable Cambodian American populations. Outside of New England, New York City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area have many residents of Cambodian descent. 480 people of Cambodian descent reside in Utica, New York. [5]


In the South, there is a sizable community of Cambodian Americans in Jacksonville, Florida. 1,700 people of Cambodian descent live in Jacksonville. In Spartanburg County, South Carolina, there are 1,123 Cambodian Americans (0.4% of the county). There are very sizable Cambodian American communities in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Atlanta metropolitan area. There is a Cambodian community in the New Orleans metropolitan area, especially in the town of Buras, Louisiana, which is 9% Cambodian. Many Cambodian immigrants in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, are employed as shrimpers and fishermen. [5] [13] There are some Cambodian Americans in Marietta, Georgia, Stone Mountain, Georgia and in Riverdale, Georgia. In Riverdale, Georgia they have a Cambodia Town. There is a nonprofit organization in Georgia called the Cambodian American Association of Georgia.


The Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, metropolitan area has been a home to many Southeast Asian refugees, mainly Hmong, but also have thousands of Cambodian American residents. Denver, Colorado, has a growing population of Cambodian Americans with a population of 2,399 and growing as of 2016. Rochester, Minnesota, is 1.2% Cambodian American. As of 2010, there were 1,600 Cambodian Americans living in Columbus, Ohio (0.2%), many of whom live in the Hilltop neighborhood. In Chicago, Illinois, there is a Cambodian community in the Albany Park neighborhood.

Academic study of the community

Aside from personal memoirs of coming to America, such as those by Loung Ung, a few books have been dedicated to studying the Cambodian American population, such as Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner. [14] The book is an anthropological study of Khmer refugee families, largely from the perspective of the parental generation, residing in metropolitan Boston and eastern Massachusetts. This book was one of the early books among the few circulating that talks about this diasporic community. It exhibits some understanding of both traditional Khmer culture and contemporary American society, but it is not a historical study of Khmer Americans.

A more recent book is Buddha Is Hiding, written by Aiwha Ong, an ethnographic study that tells the story of Cambodian Americans and their experiences of American citizenship. [15] The study primarily investigated Khmer refugees in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area. The experiences portrayed in the book exemplify what most Cambodian refugees face when dealing with American institutions such as health care systems, welfare, law, police force, church, and school. The book reveals, through extensive ethnographic dialogues, how Cambodian refugees interpret and negotiate American culture, often at the expense of their own Theravada Buddhist cultural upbringing.

Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States, written by Sucheng Chan, is a multidisciplinary study of Cambodian Americans drawing on interviews with community leaders, government officials, and staff members in community agencies as well as average Cambodian Americans to capture perspectives from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. [16]

Not Just Victims: Conversations with Cambodian Community Leaders in the United States, by Sucheng Chan, is a collection of oral history interviews. The interviews, mostly collected in the 1990s, describe the challenges faced by the Cambodian community, and the various organizational efforts to assist with refugee resettlement, cultural assimilation, and social services. It also provides a brief history of the Cambodian genocide and diaspora, and a chapter about the Khmer Krom in the United States. [17]


Lack of education

According to the 2000 census, Cambodian American populations had a lower level of education compared to other populations in the United States, with 53.4% of Cambodian Americans over the age of 25 not possessing a high school diploma, compared to 19.6% of all Americans. [18]


In 2000, Cambodian American families reported a median household income of $36,152. [18] A 2008 NYU study reported that 29.3% of the Cambodian American community lived under the poverty line. [19] That was higher than the American average of people living below the poverty line, which, in 2011, was recorded as 16% of all Americans. [20]

In 2014, it was reported that Cambodia Town, Long Beach, California, the only officially recognized ethnic enclave of Cambodian Americans, had a poverty rate of 32.4%. [21] That was a little over twice the average of America society as a whole, which was 16% according to a 2011 study by the government. [20]

In 2014, a factfinder census, with Americans' per capita income being divided by ethnic groups, Cambodian Americans were revealed to have a per capita income of only $20,182, below the American average of $25,825. [22]

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, resulted in many legal immigrants losing the federal aid that they had been receiving from the Social Security Administration. That especially affected Cambodian immigrants and other Southeast Asians, who were the largest per capita race or ethnic group receiving public assistance in the United States. Under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975, many Southeast Asian refugees were placed on federal welfare rolls. That was intended as a temporary measure until they integrated, but by 1996, they had been stripped of their refugee status. However, nearly 80 percent of California's Southeast Asian population was living in poverty and/or welfare-dependent. That made the law have a large impact on Cambodian Americans and other citizens of Southeast Asian descent. That is a contributing factor to the high poverty rates of Cambodian Americans since the first major wave of Cambodian refugees emigrated to the United States in 1975. [23]


Cambodians faced many difficulties upon settling in the United States, such as having few transferable job skills, lack of English, and having experienced trauma as refugees and genocide survivors. The factors greatly impacted overall household income after resettlement. Many refugees arrived without formal education since the educated and professional classes were targeted during the genocide. That contributed to the difficulty in learning to speak English and in assimilating to the American educational system. [24]

Another common phenomenon experienced by some Cambodian American refugees is a lack of familiarity with the history of their homeland. That is prevalent among refugees who were young children when they emigrated to the US and are now adults. Because of their age, they are not able to remember or understand the history of Cambodia that led to their family's migration. Cambodian history is only rarely taught in American public schools which contributes to that unfamiliarity, which is worsened by the resistance of older refugees to discuss the horrors that they witnessed in Cambodia. [25] Their racial and ethnic identity has also provoked social barriers between them and other immigrant groups and American ethnic groups.

Poor mental health

It was estimated in 1990, five years after most arrived to the US, [26] nearly 81% of Cambodians in America met the criteria for major affective disorder, which encompasses depression and generalized anxiety, accounting for the largest subgroup of Southeast Asians afflicted by mental health problems at the time. [27]

Physical health

One study conducted among Cambodian Americans residing in Long Beach, California, found that 13.0% of the adult respondents were current cigarette smokers. When the study was broken down by gender, 24.4% of men included in the study were smokers, and 5.4% of women included in the study were smokers. The prevalence of smoking was found to be higher in Cambodian American males than in other males residing in California. Additionally, smoking rates are estimated to be higher among Cambodian Americans than among other Asian American groups, with the prevalence of cigarette smoking among the aggregate Asian population in the US around 9.6%, with men and women combined. [28]



Cambodia Towns

Cambodian culture is preserved in the various Cambodia Towns throughout the United States, in Cambodian owned restaurants, businesses, and pharmacies. [29] In Cambodia Town in Long Beach, California, the Homeland Cultural Center offers classes in Khmer martial arts. [30] Khmer language classes are offered at the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library. [31] Smot, a traditional form of Buddhist chanting, has been taught at The Khmer Arts Academy. [32]


Two museums in the US are devoted to the story of Cambodians in America: the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Seattle and the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, both founded in 2004. The Seattle museum was founded by Dara Duong, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. [33]


In 2012, 62% of registered Cambodian Americans voted in the presidential election, of which 75% voted for Barack Obama. [34] In the 2016 presidential election, 78% of Cambodian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. [35]

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ Khmer: ជនជាតិខ្មែរអាមេរិកាំង, romanizedChônchéatĕ Khmêr Amérĭkăng; Khmer pronunciation: [cɔnciət kʰmae ʔaːmeːrikaŋ]


  1. ^ "ASIAN ALONE OR IN COMBINATION WITH ONE OR MORE OTHER RACES, AND WITH ONE OR MORE ASIAN CATEGORIES FOR SELECTED GROUPS". United States Census Bureau. United States Department of Commerce. 2017. Archived from the original on 14 February 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas by Cambodian population, 2015". Pew Research. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  3. ^ Carl L. Bankston, III. "Cambodian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2014), pp. 381-393. Online [ dead link]
  4. ^ a b Chan, Sucheng (2015-09-03). "Cambodians in the United States: Refugees, Immigrants, American Ethnic Minority". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.317. ISBN  9780199329175. Archived from the original on 2016-11-23. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  5. ^ a b c d e "U.S. Census website". U.S. Census. 2011. Archived from the original on August 20, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  6. ^ "Cambodia Town Is Now Official! Ethnic district designation would honor refugees". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  7. ^ Chavez, Stephanie (May 14, 1988). "Housing Project Shooting Called 'an Isolated Act'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 18, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  8. ^ "The Vietnam War also brought Cambodian refugees to City Heights". City Heights Life. November 9, 2011. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
  9. ^ Florido, Adrian (January 7, 2010). "A Hole in San Diego's Cambodian Community". Voice of San Diego. Archived from the original on September 9, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  10. ^ Meas, Hay S. Not Just Victims: Conversations with Cambodian Community Leaders in the United States Archived 2016-04-27 at the Wayback Machine, 2003
  11. ^ "Eating in Lowell's Little Cambodia". 19 March 2014. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  12. ^ Plokhii, Olesia; Mashberg, Tom. Cambodian-Americans confronting deportation Archived 2018-03-25 at the Wayback Machine, The Boston Globe, January 27, 2013.
  13. ^ Sasser, Bill. Vietnamese, Cambodian fishermen among hardest hit by BP oil spill Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine, The Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2010.
  14. ^ Smith-Hefner, Nancy Joan (1999). Khmer American : identity and moral education in a diasporic community. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN  9780520920866. OCLC  45732193.
  15. ^ Aihwa, Ong (2003). Buddha is hiding : refugees, citizenship, the new America. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN  9780520937161. OCLC  55848036.
  16. ^ Sucheng, Chan (2004). Survivors : Cambodian refugees in the United States. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN  9780252050992. OCLC  607271231.
  17. ^ Chan, Sucheng (2003). Not just victims : conversations with Cambodian community leaders in the United States. Kim, Audrey U. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN  978-0252027994. OCLC  49942929.
  18. ^ a b Constitutional Rights Foundation (2012). "Refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia". CRF. Archived from the original on 2015-04-10. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  19. ^ "Critical Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders". Archived from the original on 2017-01-22. Retrieved 2017-11-22 – via National Archives.
  20. ^ a b "New poverty measure highlights positive effect of government assistance". Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  21. ^ "Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town - Episodes - America By The Numbers". Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town - Episodes - America By The Numbers. Archived from the original on 8 November 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  22. ^ "Median houseland income in the past 12 months (in 2014 inflation-adjusted dollars)". American Community Survey. United States Census Bureau. 2014. Archived from the original on 13 February 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  23. ^ Tang, Eric (March 2000). "Collateral Damage: Southeast Asian Poverty in the United States". Social Text. 18 (1): 55–79. doi: 10.1215/01642472-18-1_62-55. ISSN  1527-1951. S2CID  143089272. Archived from the original on 2016-11-23. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  24. ^ "Cambodian Americans : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues". Archived from the original on 2016-12-06. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  25. ^ Lee, Jonathan H. X. (2011-10-01). "Cambodian American Ethics of Identity". Peace Review. 23 (4): 476–483. doi: 10.1080/10402659.2011.625829. ISSN  1040-2659. S2CID  145131581.
  26. ^ "Cambodian Immigration to the United States". Energy of a Nation: Immigration Resources. The Advocates for Human Rights. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  27. ^ NAWHO. "Mental Health and Depression in Asian Americans" (PDF). National Asian Women's Health Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-01-21. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  28. ^ Friis, Robert H.; Garrido-Ortega, Claire; Safer, Alan M.; Wankie, Che; Griego, Paula A.; Forouzesh, Mohammed; Trefflich, Kirsten; Kuoch, Kimthai (2011-05-18). "Socioepidemiology of Cigarette Smoking Among Cambodian Americans in Long Beach, California". Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. 14 (2): 272–280. doi: 10.1007/s10903-011-9478-1. ISSN  1557-1912. PMID  21590336. S2CID  19850949.
  29. ^ Tran, M. (2009). Trying to get Cambodia Town off the ground Archived 2015-09-22 at the Wayback Machine. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  30. ^ Chan, F. H. (2011). Spaces of negotiation and engagement in multi-ethnic ethnoscapes: "Cambodia Town neighborhood" in central Long Beach, California. Transcultural Cities: Symposium Proceedings Archived 2018-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, 192-199.
  31. ^ Lee, J. S., & Wright, W. E. (2014). The rediscovery of heritage and community language education in the United States. Review of Research in Education, 38(1), 137-165.
  32. ^ "Smot Music in Long Beach". Webbed Feet, Web Log » Blog Archive » I’m with the band. 2009-04-18. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  33. ^ "The Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia". The Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  34. ^ Men, Kimseng (July 15, 2016). "Cambodian-Americans Look to Flex Political Muscle Ahead of US Election". Voice of America. Archived from the original on June 12, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  35. ^ "2016 Post-Election National Asian American Survey" (PDF). National Asian American Survey. 16 May 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2021.


  • Bankston, Carl L., III. "Cambodian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2014), pp. 381–393. Online
  • Chan, Sucheng. Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States (University of Illinois Press, 2004) online.
  • Kim, Audrey U. Not just victims: Conversations with Cambodian community leaders in the United States (University of Illinois Press, 2003) online.