Could skate-boarding change Cambodia? Southeast Asian American artists and activists are asking the question based on their current travels to Cambodia, where Cambodian American deportees have been asking for skateboards from America, because there are no resources in Cambodia for them.
Advocates are suggesting an investment in skateboards for Cambodian youth could have many benefits, allowing the deportees to engage in productive socialization with the community and finding creative and healthy outlets for physical health and exercise, reduced mental stress, and opportunities to apply artistic, technical and entrepreneurial skills.
Much of Cambodian history has been one marked by devastating conflict since 1970. The conflict, although an indigenous civil war, was considered to be part of the larger Vietnam War (1959–1975) that also consumed the neighboring Kingdom of Laos, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam.
This civil war led to the Cambodian Genocide, one of the bloodiest in history, including the Killing Fields of Pol Pot. At least 1,386,73 people were killed and buried in 20,000 mass graves by the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
Today, over 275,000 Cambodians are rebuilding their lives in the United States. Almost 30% of the community is under the age of 18. At least 38.5% of adult Cambodians have less than a high school diploma and have the second highest poverty rate of Southeast Asian refugee groups with 16.4% living below the Federal Poverty Level, with 58% of the community currently unemployed across the US.
In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which stipulates that any non-citizen living in the United States can be deported if convicted of an aggravated felony with no hearings before an immigration judge. From 1997 to 2005, about 675,000 non-citizens were deported for their crimes under the law, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
At least 1,500 Cambodians are eligible for deportation. Already over 150 have been sent to Cambodia.
Since the United States and Cambodia signed a treaty in 2002 allowing Cambodians to be deported back to their home country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been deporting Cambodians en masse.
Statistics indicate that most of those deported have spent less than 20 years in the US and had little fluency in Khmer and little education, dropping out from school due to lack of parental supervision and role models. Many are liable to be deported even for the commission of misdemeanors, regardless of their green cards or marriage to US citizens, with no possibility of return.
The Cambodian government has been frustrated because it feels the US is 'dumping' gang members into Cambodian streets without providing means for them to be productive or access support systems that will prevent them engaging in desperate or criminal activity.Human rights advocates are concerned many lack adequate access to medicine and mental health treatment that would allow them to adapt to Cambodian society.
Few have successfully fully integrated into Cambodian society, with most forming small communities living near each other.
Skateboarding, like many other sports and activities, has its benefits.Around the world, it gets people off the couch and outside being active.
Inactivity is one of the most dangerous lifestyles to adopt, and depression and anxiety are particularly strong risks for deportees experiencing culture shock.In the US most advocates suggest youth who spend hours on hobbies that are inactive are actually in more danger than those doing an exercises and activities like skateboarding.
Many Cambodians who begin skateboarding at an early age learn to love physical activity and will often enjoy the health benefits of that activity for years to come.
Skateboarding, like the arts, provides a socially constructive way to make friends and connect with people with similar interests. Good friends aren't easy to come by, but skateboarding allows youth opportunities to lower barriers to making new friends and helps them improve social and relational skills greatly.
Not every youth can play the sports popular in the mainstream American culture, but skateboarding can be a great alternative for many kids.
Skateboarding for Khmer youth can be a cost-effective, inexpensive hobby to enjoy.
Beginners usually can start with an inexpensive and simple board to learn with.
One skateboard and a few pads is really all a Khmer youth needs to begin learning, and parents will love that their children can get involved in something fun and active that doesn't cost tons of money.
Laotian American artists like Mali Kouanchao have been talking with the local Khmer youth and deportees in Cambodia and feels this would be a great way to bring local youth together to work on something positive and empower themselves.
She emphasizes that it would be a great way for the kids to learn not just about riding skateboards, but also the skateboard industry.
An effective program would engage them art, videography, marketing, event organization, as well as constructive entrepreneurial skills. It would also help engage them in creative intersections with local businesses and public spaces.
A program like this could easily grow into something bigger than just skateboarding.
Similar to the acclaimed Tiny Toones program, it could be expanded to teach kids English & Khmer language, computer lessons, music lessons, drug prevention and more.
In the immediate short-term, artists and the Khmer youth are seeking individuals connected to skateboard shops or skateboard manufacturers who would be able to donate skateboards and basic gear, repair tools, or spare parts. DVDs or training books would also be appreciated.
If this is something you or someone you know would like to assist with please let us know!