Cambodian Americans

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Cambodian Americans
Khmer New Year GA2010-146.jpg
Cambodian Americans at a New Year celebration, 2010
Total population
0.09% of the U.S. population (2010))
Regions with significant populations
Khmer, American English, Cham
Dharma Wheel.svg Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Khmer people, Vietnamese Cambodians, Chinese Cambodians, Southeast Asian Americans, Asian Americans

Cambodian Americans are Americans born or raised in (or descended from those born or raised in) Cambodia, the majority of which are of Khmer descent. Other ethnicities in the US native to Cambodia, including Chinese Cambodians, Vietnamese Cambodians and Cham, are also Cambodian Americans.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 276,667 people of Cambodian descent living in the United States. The Cambodian population is concentrated in the states of California and Massachusetts.


Prior to 1975, most of the few Cambodians in the United States were children of upper income families or those having government-funded scholarships sent abroad to attend school. After the fall of Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975, a few Cambodians managed to escape, but not until the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979 did large waves of Cambodians began immigrating to the United States as refugees. In order to encourage rapid assimilation into American culture and to spread the economic impact, the U.S. government settled the 150,000 refugees in various towns and cities throughout the country. However, once established enough to be able to communicate and travel, many Cambodians began migrating within the U.S. to certain localities where the climate was more like home, where they knew friends and relatives had been sent, or where 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; Cleveland, Ohio; as well as Lynn and Lowell in Massachusetts; and in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland.

The 2010 U.S. Census counted 276,667 persons of Cambodian descent in the United States, up from 206,052 in 2000. Of them, 231,616 (84%) are Cambodian alone and 45,051 part-Cambodian.[1]

Areas of concentration

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).[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4][5]

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 Seattle, Washington, area is home to another large Cambodian settlement on the west coast, specifically in cities such as Tacoma, where Cambodians enumerate at thousands, or 1.6% of the population.[1][6] There are also growing Cambodian American communities in Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Denver, Colorado, as the Asian American population continues to rapidly increase in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.

East coast

Lowell, Massachusetts, has the second highest population of Cambodian Americans of 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.[7][8] 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, 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.[1]


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.[1][9] There are some CambodianAmericans in Marietta, Georgia, Stone Mountain, Georgia and majority in Riverdale, Georgia. In Riverdale Georgia they have Cambodian Town. There is a nonprofit organization in Georgia called, 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. 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.

Cambodian American studies and culture

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 in the U.S., such as Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner. This 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. 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.

A survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Dara Duong, has founded The Killing Fields Museum in Seattle.[10]


There are two museums in the U.S. devoted to the story of Cambodians in America, the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Seattle and the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, both founded in 2004.

Community Issues

Lack of Education

According to the 2000 census, Cambodian American populations had a disproportionately low 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 38.1% of Vietnamese Americans and the US as a whole at 19.6%.[11]


Additionally, with a median household income of $36,1552, 6.6% of Cambodian families reported living below the poverty level in 2000.[11]


Cambodians had very little exposure to Western ideals prior to refugee resettlement, which greatly impacted their overall household income post-resettlement as well as their willingness to accept the American education system.[citation needed]

Poor Mental Health

It was estimated in 1990, a mere five years after the majority of Cambodians arrived in the US,[12] that 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.[13]

Cambodian Americans

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "American FactFinder". U.S. Census. 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Cambodia Town Is Now Official! Ethnic district designation would honor refugees". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Retrieved 2007-10-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Chavez, Stephanie (May 14, 1988). "Housing Project Shooting Called 'an Isolated Act'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 6, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Vietnam War also brought Cambodian refugees to City Heights". City Heights Life. November 9, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Florido, Adrian (January 7, 2010). "A Hole in San Diego's Cambodian Community". Voice of San Diego. Retrieved May 6, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Meas, Hay S. Not Just Victims: Conversations with Cambodian Community Leaders in the United States, 2003
  7. Eating in Lowell's Little Cambodia,
  8. Plokhii, Olesia; Mashberg, Tom. Cambodian-Americans confronting deportation, Boston Globe, January 27, 2013.
  9. Sasser, Bill. Vietnamese, Cambodian fishermen among hardest hit by BP oil spill, Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2010.
  10. The Killing Fields Museum
  11. 11.0 11.1 Constitutional Rights Foundation (2012). "Refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia". CRF. Retrieved 2015-03-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Cambodian Immigration to the United States". Energy of a Nation: Immigration Resources. The Advocates for Human Rights. Retrieved 21 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. NAWHO. "Mental Health and Depression in Asian Americans" (PDF). National Asian Women's Health Organization. Retrieved 2015-03-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links