A Long Beach Story: Cambodians, Placefinding, and The Last One by Marin Yann

There is a lot of literature about and from LA.  Rarely do I hear any from Long Beach.

Till now.

I edited the Last One by Marin Yann.

Marin has spent a lot of his adult life in Long Beach.

Read it.  Buy it.  Learn about life.  If you do learn, get the ebook version, as the author, Marin gets more royalties.

I've wrote about the experience of working with Marin.  I came out learning about the defining episodes of Mr. Marin Yann's life back in Khmer Rouge era Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Not mentioned in the book at all has been his life after making it to the United States.

After bouncing around from Utah to Massachusetts, its Long Beach where he's stayed the longest.

In case you didn't know, Long Beach is home to the largest number of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia.  The last US Dicennial Census (2010) reveals that there are just under 20,000 living in the City of Long Beach, and 37,450 in LA County.  Based on a small network of students from CSULB before the Khmer Rouge and their aid efforts during the Khmer Rouge, Long Beach quickly became a city where Cambodian refugees would re-unite.  This is roughly the same area of Long Beach that 1990s radio icons Warren G, Snoop Dogg, and even Sublime have referenced.  It is mostly black, Latino, and Cambodian.

With an influx of Cambodians in Long Beach, there grew tension between a few of them and a few from the populations that had been there for generations.  A fight for space and place.

What exacerbated relations were residents of the area seeing this influx of Cambodian businesses and livelihoods in the public space in areas that had been defined as for blacks and Latino.  Some felt that Cambodians were unfairly given these handouts to start businesses while the "indigenous" Latinos and blacks continued to struggle.  One highly symbolic and polarizing point of contention was when a Mexican community center had been replaced by a Cambodian community center.

The race and space tensions trickled into schools.  Cambodian kids would be picked on.  However, they would find little ways of retaliating against Latino kids.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  The Cambodians, the Latinos.  Till one day, someone was killed.

In the video below at 5:50 if you don't know Spanish, you only need to look up the word "matar" to understand the sentiments and the tensions that some carried.

Marin smiles, he jokingly calls me "the President" because apparently I can't be reached by phone.  He talks softly and is sometimes unsure of himself, but his build and he will tell you himself, "don't fuck with me."  It's the type of "don't fuck with me" from a life defined by surviving.

The public spaces of Long Beach during the early 1990s became war zones for gangs.  There were shootings near elementary schools, in front of schools, church parking lots, basketball games, hamburger stands. 

Kids and parents were afraid to walk down certain streets.  While waiting at bus stops, some kids would even be attacked which prompted the nonprofit organization, the United Cambodian Community to initiate a bus program which would pick students up. 

There were lots of marches, and calls by community members for a stop to the killing.

From 1989-1994, the Press-Telegram reported that 36 people were killed in the gang war between Latinos and Asians.  It was so bad, that the LA Riots, actually put a stop to the killings, the Press-Telegram repored.  As late as 2003-2004,  The Press-Telegram took a stance documenting the killing and calling for a stop to it in a series called "Enough Is Enough."

Marin has experienced the violence-ridden life, not just in Khmer Rouge Cambodia or in refugee camps, but also on the streets of Long Beach.  Marin did not have any family, only friends when he came to Long Beach.  He had graduated high school in Massachusetts and by the early 1990s was in Long Beach pursuing higher education.  He had to spend time on the streets.

Marin talked about how he thought the first time he saw a 9 millimeter, he thought it was a toy gun.  It even sounded like one.  He's talked about dealing with gang members and race wars.  No one fucked with him, he'd say.  He talked about how in self-defense, he punched an assailant so hard, that they flew.

But that life on the streets was years ago.  

Marin has since worked as a teacher's aide, a job counselor for people in the Cambodian community, and now works as a substance abuse counselor.  He's worked with many Cambodian organizations.  You know this because every time he takes me to a Cambodian restaurant, he waves to at least one person he knows.   Cyclo Noodles.  La Lune.  He has friends everywhere.  When the print version of his book came to his house a week ago, we celebrated at his friend's restaurant.

I don't hear about violence in Long Beach as much nowadays.  Maybe it has to do with the internet dividing my attention.  Maybe I'm not as plugged in.  Maybe things really have changed.  All I know is that I can bike and walk through MacArthur Park without fearing for my life.  I can sit at a bus stop at night in peace and quiet.  I can park my car on the street and walk to Marin's apartment at night without much worry about my stuff getting stolen.

A lot of that initial tension between Cambodians and Latinos has died down considerably.  At the United Cambodian Community, a man named Raymond looks Cambodian is actually Latino.  MacArthur Park is a daily bustle of activities.  A lot of people of different races and ethnicities been able to settle down and even hang with each other.  

A lot of the metaphors we use to describe our lives is described in terms of "place."

When you've found your role in society, you say you've "found your place."  What people mean when they say that is t've found what you've found "your calling."  Or in secular terms, you've found what you feel your "fit" within the fabric of society.

Marin's seen and lived those days when it wasn't that easy, when he was fighting for his place in Khmer Rouge Cambodia, his place in refugee camp, his place in American society, his place in Long Beach, memories of which have made resonant stories, a collection of which are available in the book above.  His place now is as a storyteller, educator, and all-around cool dude.  Get his book ahorita.

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