Cambodian American

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Cambodian American
François Chau cropped.jpg
Haing S. Ngor.jpg
Loung at TRb.jpg
Dith Pran..jpg
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 American are Americans born, raised, or from Cambodia usually of Khmer descent but also including Chinese Cambodians, Vietnamese Cambodians, Cham people and other ethnicities of Cambodia.

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 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[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[edit]

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]


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 are 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[edit]

Aside from personal memoirs of coming to America, such as those by Loung Ung, a few books have been dedicated to studying the Khmer 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 portrays 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 Khmer Americans and their experiences of American citizenship. The study was largely investigating Khmer refugee in Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area. It portrayed what most Cambodian refugees experience with American institutions such as health, welfare, law, police force, church, and school. The book reveals through extensive ethnographic dialogs showing how Khmer refugees interpret and negotiate with American culture, often at the expense of their own cultural Theravada Buddhist cultural upbringing. This book revealed the contradictions in how Khmer American encounters with American citizenship as they negotiate with service providers, bureaucrats, and employers on how to be autonomous while the system and American cultural citizenship limits them within terms that labeled them as refugees in the context of ethnicity, race, and class.

Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States written by Sucheng Chan, is a multidisciplinary study of Khmer American, drawing on interviews with community leaders, government officials, and other staff members in community agencies as well as common Khmer American to capture the perspectives of Cambodian Americans 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.

Cambodian Americans[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "American FactFinder". U.S. Census. 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Cambodia Town Is Now Official! Ethnic district designation would honor refugees". Long Beach Press-Telegram (Los Angeles Newspaper Group). Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  3. ^ Chavez, Stephanie (May 14, 1988). "Housing Project Shooting Called 'an Isolated Act'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  4. ^ "The Vietnam War also brought Cambodian refugees to City Heights". City Heights Life. November 9, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  5. ^ Florido, Adrian (January 7, 2010). "A Hole in San Diego's Cambodian Community". Voice of San Diego. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  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

External links[edit]