Cambodia Town is now on the map

July 20, 2007 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

khmer flag

Long Beach, known as the Cambodian capital of the United States, is believed to have the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of the home country. Some of the first Cambodians in the United States were students who attended Cal State Long Beach in the 1960s as part of an exchange program. Waves of refugees followed in the 1970s as they escaped the Khmer Rouge regime, which took the

lives of more than 1 million people. According to 2000 census figures, about 20,000 Cambodians live in Long Beach, but community leaders estimate a larger population.

Cambodia Town runs along the Anaheim corridor, from Junipero Avenue to Atlantic Avenue. There are already scores of Cambodian-run businesses on the street, including jewelry stores, restaurants, travel agencies and fabric shops.

At Monorom restaurant Tuesday, a lunchtime crowd ate Cambodian noodle soup while Khmer-language music videos played on a television. Owner Sopha Nhoung, who came to the area more than 20 years ago, said he was proud to finally be recognized.

“They have Chinatown, Koreatown, Thai Town,” Nhoung said. “We’ve been living here for a long time. We deserved this.”

Down the street at Angkorwat Art, Sopheap Samrieth said he signed a petition that supported the designation. But his main reason was to draw customers.

“It will bring more people here,” said Samrieth, as he pointed out paintings depicting the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. “It will generate more business.”

The drive to get a Cambodia Town began in 2001, when a few community members began meeting to talk about the possibility.

The leaders brought the issue to the City Council last year. Some critics expressed concerns that the designation could lure more gangs to the area and that it would exclude Latinos and African Americans.

But Cambodian leaders argued that the title would help the entire city by making the street safer and cleaner and by developing the neighborhood into a regional destination.

Naming the area Cambodia Town would also highlight immigrants’ cultural heritage and encourage youths to get involved helping their community, San said. In June, the city of Long Beach commissioned a survey that showed wide support for the cultural designation. On July 3, the City Council voted 8-1 in favor of naming the stretch Cambodia Town.

Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who voted for the designation, said the new name is a welcome mat for Cambodians, as well as for others who want to experience something different in Long Beach.

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