It's really frustrating for them to learn the other language.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Chamreun Tan
  • Age at interview - 37
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 07.30.1992
  • Khmer Grocers, Incorporated, 931 University Avenue, St. Paul, 1981.
    Khmer classical dancers, Watt Munisotaram Cambodian Buddhist temple, Minnesota.

    Culture Clash, Khmer, Language

    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    The Khmer are the people of Cambodia.  In 1974 a Communist group called the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, gained control of Cambodia.  Many Khmer were executed under this tyrannical regime, and many others died of starvation, exposure and exhaustion.  During the period of genocide from 1975-1979 approximately 1.4 million people were executed, and it is estimated that a total of 20% of the Cambodian population died.

    Once the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in 1979 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Khmer refugees began to flee the country to camps in neighboring Thailand.  Continued fighting by the Khmer Rouge, fears of persecution by the Vietnamese occupiers, and starvation caused by poor harvests caused refugees to continute to pour out of Cambodia.  The U.S. began accepting refugees from Cambodia in 1979, and took 150,000 in that year alone.  Many Khmer refugees had a very difficult time adjusting to life in the U.S. because they didn't speak English when they arrived and had to learn new skills to find work here. 

    To learn more about Khmer history and culture, visit our Khmer Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Chamreun Tan 5
    3:51 Minutes | 3.7Mb


    Narrator: Chamreun Tan (CT)

    Interviewer: Mark Frey (MF)

    MF:  Are there things that concern you, or problems that you face - having been in the United States, particularly Minnesota, for the past few years, are there any kinds of things that trouble you?

    CT:  Most of Cambodian that came to the United States during '80 to now, most of them, they don't have a lot of education background. And most of them farmer, or a citizen that live in the city, but they did not have a good background about the skill that fit in this society. And they have a lot of problem to adjust it.

    But for myself, that I can speak, I can adjust it faster than them. And the people that they know nothing about the language, they've turned it really hard to adjust it. And the family that - some people that cannot read or write their own language, it's really frustrating for them to learn the other language, because their own language, they don't know how to read and write. They know how to speak, communication. But for reading and writing it's really hard. And then it made them more harder than anybody that can speak or read and write their own language. So it's my concern is that those people are really hard to adjust to this society. And then that the State, the government in this state, should understand and should help them.

    MF:  Okay. Do you think - what do you think would be the best approach to that, education, or - what do you think would work in terms of perhaps helping them adjust better?

    CT:  They need a lot of support, especially the family support. Because they used to live in the period of time that have a lot of crisis; that need to survive. And also that they have a horrible time, that they never - they cannot forgot about that. Because of the life that they have gone through during the Khmer Rouge make them - some people that almost lost memory. They become so much depressed. But they don't know how to speak up. They don't know how to tell the other. And our culture, people - nothing want to share their problem to the other unless they trust - ask like close relative. If you are working, try to help them, if they don't know you, they don't want to share any idea, or they don't want to share any problem with you. So you cannot help them. But if they understand the culture, they understand the problem trying to help them. But sometime people offer the problem, so we can help them. 

    Related Glossary Terms


    Verb:  To come near.  (approaches, approaching, approached)

    Noun:  A manner in which a problem is solved or policy is made.


    Noun:  1. A person that is a legally recognized as a member of a state or country, with associated rights and obligations.  2. A person that is a legally recognized resident of a city or town.  3. A resident of any particular place to which the subject feels to belong.


    Noun:  A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.  (plural: crises)


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.

    Khmer Rouge

    A Cambodian Communist guerrilla force active from the 1970s to the 1990s under the leadership of Pol Pot.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  The people of one’s country or community taken as a whole.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 566