The Cambodian culture in Lowell, Massachusetts is felt strongly throughout the city and the UMass Lowell community. UMass Lowell shares a city with the second largest Cambodian population in the United States and members of the university are working to support an understanding of the culture and the country’s rich and extensive history. With support from UMass Lowell’s Center for Asian American Studies, members of the Cambodian population are hosting an educational panel on October 27 in O’Leary 222 to help the community understand Cambodia’s current controversial political climate and how it evolved from the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.
The panel will address what the accords are and what has happened within the county’s government since the agreement. Serving on the panel will be Sophel Ear, a political science professor at Occidental College and Cambodian scholar, and Chin Mam, a retired Cambodian general who was involved in the peace negotiations.
The Cambodian civil war ended in October of 1991 with the Paris Peace Accords. The negotiations would end the hostilities, lay down arms, require the conduction of democratic elections, and repatriate refugees. After the country’s first Democratic election in 1993, the country fell into a conflict between the two powers, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), who were in charge during the Cambodian genocide and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
According to UMass Lowell associate teaching professor in Asian Studies, George Chigas, the Paris Peace Accords served as the culmination of a ten-year civil war following the Khmer Rouge genocide.
“It was really a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the Cambodian powers who were backed by western powers,” Chigas said as he explained the war’s connection to the Cold War.
“The Cambodian community in Lowell wanted to mark the anniversary of the peace accords,” said Chigas.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Co Director of the Center for Asian American Studies (CAAS), Sue Kim, sees the forum as an avenue for the Cambodian population and UMass Lowell students to better understand their community and its history.
“In order to understand the world that we live in today, you really have to understand colonialism and the Cold War,” said Kim.
Kim explained that Lowell City Counselor, Vesna Nuon reached out to her to host the forum because he wanted more people to understand the situation in Cambodia.
“It’s to help educate people about the political situation in Cambodia and help people understand why there is so much opposition to the current regime.”
Kim explained that the follow through of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords has been spotty. “The Cambodian elections were very controversial and there were a lot of charges of corruption and that the vote didn’t have integrity,” she said about the country’s most recent Democratic election.
The Center for Asian American Studies at UMass Lowell is an interdisciplinary research center that promotes the study of Asian American culture. The center has four areas of focus; education, health, cultural preservation and innovation and politics and civic engagement and works with professors and faculty from multiple departments to conduct their research and promotion.
Kim hopes that students, public officials, and Lowell community members to attend the panel to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the country. “It’s important for our community to understand why we are the second largest Cambodian population,” said Kim.