When they go to school, they have another law that they must follow.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Chamreun Tan
  • Age at interview - 37
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 07.30.1992
  • Pitaro (Peter) Kouth, a Cambodian, in classroom at Centennial School, Richfield.
    Khmer American family on their front steps, 2000s.  Photo courtesy Camboda.com.

    Generation Gap, Khmer

    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

    There is often a generation gap between younger immigrants and older generations once they settle in the U.S. Young people adapt to American culture more easily, while older immigrants try to hold onto their traditional culture. Young people generally speak English more quickly and fluently, while elders often struggle to learn a new language. Khmer young people are surrounded by American students at school and are quick to pick up on how Americans, talk, act, and think. Elders might work outside the home, but are usually more isolated and tend to stick to their traditional ways.  Sometimes parents are dismayed when their own children start to ignore Khmer beliefs and culture, and instead behave in ways that would be unacceptable in Cambodia.

    In Cambodia children are traditionally expected to be polite, obedient, and respectful to their elders.  The father of the family is in charge is disciplining the children, including corporal punishment.  In the U.S. most forms of corporal punishment are not allowed and may be viewed as child abuse.  In the years after their arrival many Khmer fathers were unsure of how to discipline their children without traditional punishments.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Chamreun Tan 4
    1:19 Minutes | 1.27Mb


    Narrator: Chamreun Tan (CT)

    CT:  And the other thing right now is, that the kid growing up here, they learn the language faster than the parent, and then they have a different point of view. Some kid that grew up in the camp when they came here, they don't know about the Cambodia culture at all. And then they kind of like have a problem between parent and children, and between - because the kid, when he live in home, the parent want him to be Cambodian, to discipline him the way that they want. But when they go to school, they have another law that they must follow, they must obey, with this society. And then when they go back to school, it's kind of like two different society for them. So it's hard to - so, as I say, we need to have some people that understand the problem try to help them to adjust by offering more education to them, or some kind of like a training to them, try to, you know, make them involve with the society; become a productive citizen.

    Related Glossary Terms


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


    Verb:  To punish for bad behavior; to teach someone to obey authority.  (disciplines, disciplining, disciplined)


    Adjective:  Able to complete one or more tasks successfully.


    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]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 565