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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Western student club striving for resilience

Western KhSA Club leaders (left to right) Irisa Sin, Erika Ey and Lance Phetkanya. // Photo by October Yates

By Amalia Justiniano

For the first time in 15 years, Western’s Khmer Student Association hosted a conference that brought students across the northwest together.

“This is impactful. This is empowering,” Chrisnna Hem, Western KhSA co-president said. “I am hopeful for the Western community and Cambodian community that we are able to bounce back from the atrocities that our parents or grandparents dealt with.”

After lunch, students were encouraged to participate in break out sessions. // Photo by October Yates

The theme “striving for resilience” was fitting for this group of students. After many hours of hard work and communication, the club brought together students from the University of Washington, Portland State University, Oregon State University and more to attend the Northwest KhSA conference at Western.

Throughout the two-day event that started Saturday, participants took part in workshops, listened to speakers who were from Washington and California and got to meet with new friends.

Being educated about the background for one’s originating culture is something the club holds dear. They give opportunities to learn more about one’s identity as a Khmer-American and merging the new generation of Khmer.

Ernesto Zamora, senior at PSU, takes a selfie with the 12 other PSU students who attended the KhSA conference. // Photo by October Yates

Each of the workshops focused on the club’s five pillars: starting from the bottom / building a foundation for the next generation, taking risks, exploration of identity, preserving heritage and identity and passing down of history and culture.

The club’s goal is to provide those who identify with Khmer culture with opportunities to figure out where they came from as well as finding a community in a college setting.

“I like being able to get connected with my roots,” Melanie Chan, sophomore public health major, said. “I never had anything like this in high school or anything and it’s nice meeting new people.”

“Our Hidden Story III: Memoirs of Khmer Resilience,” was the main event of the conference. The speakers touched on the Khmer Rouge and their stories on how they became who they are and where they are today.

The speakers chosen were first generation Khmer. They described them as those who “have experienced the hardships of being limited in resources and opportunities; those who had the disadvantage of not having the language, experience, or knowledge of the place that they are/were in–America.”

The conference was a reunion of students from different schools and celebration’s theme of remembering the overcoming genocide and oppression in the homeland was prominent in all their workshops.

Savanna Yann and Chrisnna Hem MC the opening of the conference Saturday. // Photo by Amalia Justiniano

“We had to stay persistent,” Savanna Yan, KhSA co-president said. “Work hard for what you want, take a risk and remember where your ancestors were before you in order for you to work hard for them.”

They said, while working, being a student and running a club, they sacrificed sleep, social life and more in order to keep the conference and the club going. With both of these students going for molecular biology degrees, there’s no doubt about them wanting to strive for excellence.

“I just wanted to make sure this club thrives,” Yann said. “[In order] to keep this going for years and years for when other Khmer students come, they have a place to feel safe.”



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