CSU Dominguez Hills Alumni and Faculty Impact Literacy in Cambodian-American Community
On Aug. 11, California State University, Dominguez Hills alumni Sithea and Richer San and professor of anthropology Susan Needham participated in a presentation by Cambodia Town, Inc. of a $150,000 check to the Mark Twain Branch Library, a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the Cambodia Town area along Anaheim Street in Long Beach.
The Sans, who both graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills in 1991 with bachelor’s degrees in business administration, are among the founders of Cambodia Town, Inc., the association that worked to designate the Anaheim Street corridor as Cambodia Town. Long Beach has the largest Cambodian enclave outside of Cambodia.
Needham and Karen Quintiliani, an assistant professor of anthropology at CSU Long Beach, made a presentation on Cambodia to the audience assembled at the library that evening and signed copies of their book, Cambodians in Long Beach, which was published earlier this year. The Sans, who days after the check presentation left for a visit to Cambodia, planned to present a signed copy of the book to the king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni.
“Many, many people in the Cambodian community have thanked us for doing [the book],” says Needham. “A few people from outside the community have commented on how much they learned about Cambodian history and culture from reading it. They were surprised that it wasn't just a ‘picture book.’”
Needham, whose ongoing research is on language, identity and history among Cambodian Americans in Long Beach, was inspired to co-author Cambodians in Long Beach in part because of the younger generation is not always able to learn about the turbulent history that brought their parents to the United States. However, the linguistic anthropologist is optimistic about the survival of Khmer, the Cambodian language, and says that approximately 50 percent of Cambodian-born immigrants are literate in their native tongue.
“There's a difference between those who came from Cambodia and those growing up in the United States,” she says. “[The Mark Twain library] just purchased over 1,000 books in Khmer and English from Cambodia, an outstanding collection which I have made use of. The [Mark Twain] library also has a Saturday class in Khmer for beginners, which I hear is well attended.”
The $150,000 donation to the Mark Twain Library was made possible through an endowment the Sans helped establish through Cambodia Town, Inc. Thirty-six residents of the area pledged $5,000 a year for the next five years for the endowment. The money is earmarked to support the library’s Family Learning Center, which offers computer rooms, bilingual after-school tutoring and other services; additional endowment funds will go toward designing and erecting a gateway for Cambodia Town.
- Joanie Harmon
Photo above: Susan Needham, professor of anthropology. Photo by GK