13th annual Cambodia Town Parade and Cultural Festival will celebrate cultural diversity this weekend

A woman prays while wearing the traditional dress of the Aspara ceremony during last year’s Cambodia Town Cultural Festival in 2020. (Image courtesy of Richer San | Cambodia Town Inc.)

The 13th annual Cambodian Town Parade and Cultural Festival will take place virtually this weekend with a focus on lesser-known cultures within Cambodia. 

This year’s theme—“Celebrating the Diversity of Cambodian Civilization”—will include traditional performances, Cambodian cooking videos, documentaries on Cambodian Buddhist temples in Long Beach and Cambodian martial arts, among other performances. 

“A lot of people don’t know that there are different Indigenous Cambodians,” said Monorom Neth, vice-chair of Cambodia Town Inc. “A lot of young people, they’re into hip hop, they’re into music, but they don’t know about their own history. That’s why we want to highlight them, those cultures and those peoples. Like ‘These are part of your people too.’”

This year’s theme will highlight Cambodian cultures that are often overlooked, Neth said, such as the influence of Hinduism, the country’s Cham Muslim population and Indigenous groups in Cambodia. 

“Many people don’t understand. They don’t know that there’s Islamic religions in Cambodia,” he said. The festival will include a video explaining the history of how these religions came to Cambodia. 

Cambodia Town Inc. (CTI) has been filming since last December in preparation for the festival. It’s their second fully virtual festival. 

Though the showcase was meant to include videos made in small provinces across Cambodia, a recent country-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 prevented the filming of such segments. 

Nonetheless, the festival will be jam-packed. Jay Chan, whose birth name is Chanthoeun Pen, will perform. The musician, who has garnered thousands of views, was born in a refugee camp near Cambodia and Thailand in the early 80s, his website states. Both his parents were survivors of the killing fields. 

Cambodia suffered the loss of 2 million lives due to a years-long genocide by the Khmer Rouge regime from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979. The killing fields are mass graves where the victims of Pol Pot were buried. 

The festival will begin with an interfaith opening that includes blessings by Buddhist monks, a Rabbi and a preacher. 

“It’s always important because the opening, it’s not just a blessing for the people that are alive, but it’s also giving blessing to our ancestors, people that passed away, particularly during the killing fields,” Neth said. 

See Related: ‘The Mother of Cambodia Town’ Rosana Chanou, co-founder of Cambodia Town Initiative Task Force, dies of lung cancer

Each year, CTI honors a “grand marshal” of the festival. This past October, Cambodia Town lost one of its matriarchs: Rosana Chanou, the “Mother of Cambodia Town.” She is survived by her husband Pasin. 

“They’ve been serving the community for over 20 years,” Neth said. “Every year we asked them, we want to honor her as a grand marshal, to give some sort of award, but both of them, they rejected every time.”

“But this time, they didn’t have a choice,” Neth said with a laugh. “He reluctantly accepted the [honor of] grand marshal. I think it’s well deserved and long overdue.”

The Cambodia Town Parade and Cultural Festival will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, virtually. The free festival can be viewed at www.cambodiatown.com or on Facebook and YouTube.  

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