American Education and Advancement

Journal of Southeast Asian American Education & Advancement, Vol. 7 (2012)
All four teachers shared that there was a need for more training on how to serve the Cambodian
American student population. In addition, English language programs were currently geared to
Spanish-speaking students and the teachers felt that it should also address the needs of a growing
Asian student population (including Cambodians).
Ethnicity and Peer Relationships
From the student interviews, it was apparent that the issue of ethnicity also influenced their
interactions with their peers. On the surface, the students generally did not view being
misidentified as another Asian ethnicity as a significant problem. One female student, Lisa, who
reported being mixed Chinese and Cambodian, went on to share that she liked being referred to
as Chinese:
I think more people think highly of Chinese students than Cambodians, so I don’t mind if
the teacher calls me Chinese. People know more about Chinese than Cambodian culture,
and people view the Chinese culture and people, especially girls as beautiful, and exotic.
When people think of Cambodian, they say, “Where?” or “What’s that?” or “What kind
of food is that?” People say nothing beautiful about the Cambodian culture or the country
or even the people. If they say anything at all, it’s about the civil war or Pol Pot and
nothing else.
One disturbing finding was that many of the Cambodian American students were
marginalized by other students—particularly those of other Asian ethnicities. The students
shared that Cambodians were viewed negatively by students of other racial/ethnic groups, based
largely on stereotypes (e.g. perceptions of Cambodians as being poor). For example, students of
other Asian ethnicities did not like being identified as Cambodians. Michael explained:
…they (students of other Asian ethnicities) are offended when someone thinks that they
are Cambodian and they are not. They would say really fast, and in a mad voice, [and]
sometimes, they would yell, “Hey, I’m not Cambodian, I’m Chinese or Vietnamese or
Japanese” or whatever they are…Koreans especially don’t like to be called Cambodians,
but more so they hate being called Chinese.

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