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Bridging the Cultural Gap: The Overseas-Asian Experience
Profile of a Survivor Reaksmey Mom
by Mariette Pan
Reaksmey Mom Photo

On April 13, 1975 (Cambodian New Year) I was a school girl in Cambodia on vacation and staying with my grandparents in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge forced everyone out of the city, they said they had to make it "clean." We welcomed them at first. We thought NO MORE WAR! But everything they said turned out to be lies. They all wore black, and always put us in ten-groups, including one spy. They grouped the people who had learning, who were related to royalty, or who had positions of honor. They promised to take these people back to the city, but they killed them. The four lane road out of the city was a river of bodies. I had to stack them in order to find a place to sleep. The ponds we drank from had bodies in them.

For four years eight months I lived under their rule, fearing rape or death. Once, while working in the fields, two girls in our ten-group sang an American song "Yesterday Once More." Our ten-group was ordered away from the rest and they made us dig ourselves a mass grave. The soldiers kept screaming "Which of you is C.I.A?" The two girls were gone in the morning. We later found them in a ditch naked and dead.

For years after my escape to Thailand I had nightmares. For my first five years in San Diego I cried every day:   "Reaksmey Mom."

Today Reaksmey Mom helps other refugees like herself adjust to life in the United States. Mom now works with The Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC) as an interpreter to Cambodians and she is also active in the Cambodian Association and provides bereavement support to grieving families.

With Reaksmey's special understanding of the plight of Cambodians, her help is essential and vital to others like herself who are trying to face the painful realities of their past. According to her supervisors at UPAC, Reaksmey Mom is truly a testimonial of "a tireless example of a survivor who continually finds more strength to give to others."


UPAC currently runs 24 programs ranging from mental health counseling and treatment of elderly care, child care, child abuse prevention and English language education to many others. The Jade Dragon salutes UPAC and the many individuals like Reaksmey Mom who have succeeded in overcoming their painful pasts and are now helping others to do the same.

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