By Jonathan Van Dyke
Staff Writer Apr 19, 2012
Passing on a culture to the next generation is the crux of the annual Cambodian New Year’s Celebration.
About 10,000 people are expected to converge on El Dorado East Regional Park’s Area III this Saturday for the daylong event, which will feature a full program showing off the various facets of Cambodian culture.
“It’s an annual event to celebrate our New Year, but with this we also wanted a festival and gathering for family in the park,” said Steve Meng, president of the Cambodian Coordinating Council. “Outside of Cambodia, (Long Beach has) the largest (Cambodian) population in the United States.”
The main Cambodia population lives in the central part of the city. Many of the oldest people in that community fled their homes after a civil war fractured their country and led to the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields.
“Those events took a toll on everyone who lived in the country,” Meng said. (Probably one of the reasons people came to Long Beach) is that the weather is similar to Cambodia — there is nice weather, no snow and they are able to plant their native food trees in the backyard and live a lifestyle similar to back home.”
For many of the older Cambodians, the New Year’s event is a way to pass on traditions and remind the younger generation what happened to their parents and grandparents — why they now live in the United States.
“Our main purpose is to maintain and preserve our culture and this is a good way to reach out and educate,” Meng said. “We’re maintaining that culture and introducing the rest of our community to it — this is the one time of the year that we do a massive festival to showcase our history.”
There will be a health expo, business expo, community resource fair, Cambodian art exhibits, drum circle, cultural music, Khmer traditional ceremonies, children’s area, rides, games, Taste of Cambodia, volleyball tournament, high school essay contest and live music.
The program is very ceremonial, and will consist of a number of cultural dances like a Wishing Dance, Rice Harvest Dance and Peacock Dance. Numerous Long Beach officials are expected to attend.
“With this event, I encourage not just only the Cambodian community to come — you don’t have to be Cambodian to enjoy the festival,” Meng said. “We offer this to everyone — to expand this to those who don’t know much about the culture and how it is moving forward.
“We want to observe and celebrate our New Year’s culture, even though it won’t quite be like what we’d do back home.”
This New Year’s is the Year of the Dragon, which Meng said embodies a powerful creature with strong will and a carefree attitude. Tickets cost $30 per vehicle in advance and $40 on the day of the event — they can be bought in advance in select stores in Cambodia Town.