…identity incorporated?

Khmer Arts and Crafts Festival 12-06-2009

The First Annual "Khmer Arts and Crafts Festival" 12-06-2009 - Photo by: Eric R. Paison

In the heart of the city, lies a seemingly quiet neghborhood… a siren can be heard in the distance, then a fog horn and suddenly an old chevy truck playing “Tejano” on its “boom box” just a bit too loud rumbles by.   This at first glance fits the stereotypical pattern of any Southern California inner-city neighborhood. With a crime rate that easily matches that of any other gang infested “hood”, Long Beach can claim a place very near the top of that list. My focus is on the neighborhood surrounding a streach of Anaheim Street beginning at Juanipero Ave to the east and terminating at the intersection of Anaheim street and Atlantic Blvd approximately one mile to the west. But things are changing, and that change is coming from a surprising place. Thanks to efforts calling themselves “Cambodia Town Inc.”, this “Business Corredor” as it is often reffered to, was officially renamed the “Cambodia Town Business District”.     

Since 2001, local Cambodian community activists have been working to get Long Beach City Council approval to officially designate the Anaheim Street corridor as “Cambodia Town”. On July 3, 2007, the honorable members of the Long Beach City Council voted 8-1 to approve the designation of Anaheim Street between Junipero Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard officially as “Cambodia Town”. On the weekends, hundreds of Cambodians from Southern California come to Anaheim Street to shop and visit with one another, recreating their homeland. No other population of Cambodians, outside of Cambodia, has attained this level of recognition. [ http://cambodiatown.org/ ]      

Ta-Prohm-Temple, Cambodia

Ta-Prohm-Temple, Cambodia


Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 19:03  Comments (7)  

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  1. An aesthetically appealing website. The color selection is classy, easy on the eye, and makes the site identifiable and memorable. The photos are also lovely, but in the above post on “Cambodia Town,” it would have appealed to my interest in the topic if the photo was of the district discussed instead of a temple in the Angkor group, picturesque as it may be (and despite the cultural link that it is intended to establish). Also, is the spelling “corredor” particular to this district’s designation (instead of “corridor”)? Thank you for sharing your site; and best wishes for much success.

  2. I’m curious as to the response of the Cambodian community to the official designation of the area as “Cambodia Town Business District”. In San Jose, a Vietnamese-American City Council member was almost recalled because she dared to support an official designation of a heavily Vietnamese area as “Saigon Business District” as opposed to “Little Saigon”.

    • There is an overwhelming majority who support the designation. In fact, as far as my sources have indicated, it was a several year signature campaing that led to the ability to lobby the city council for the designation. I did follow the Madison Nguyen issue very closley as well, and have pretty much all the Mercury News articles from the beginning. What a mess! In Long Beach there was none of that. Here is a link to the “Cambodia Town Inc.” website: cambodiatown.org

  3. Right now I am at a conference and just heard a great talk from the person in charge of educational development at Google. Using web resources is going to continue to grow exponentially as a way to build academic community. Good work!

    • In the CGU Cultural Studies PhD program, we have are expected to choose a major focus within cultural studies and incorporate two other related, or not related fields of study–often the more creative the better, though there are limits of course. For me the main focus is on the theoretical concept of identity production utilizing traditional anthropological ethnographic methods, as well as incorporating new technology. I have chosen a minor focus in Africana studies focusing on post colonial theory. Finally, I am adding media studies to round things out. The main goal is to get scholars to build interdisciplinary relationships, while thinking out of the normalized framework of the pre-twenty first century academy–“New Technology” is a big part of that!

  4. Great topic! The designation of a neighborhood’s unique ethnic character, whether official or unofficial, is an issue that seems to be cropping up everywhere these days, thanks to globalization and transnationalism. Many probably know something about the struggle in Artesia over the “Little India” title and signage. As I live within a short drive of both Little India and Little Saigon, I visit both neighborhoods frequently to eat and shop. There are both similarities and differences between them. There are many ways to look at this phenomenon. (E.g., one might be sustainability, as mobility patterns continue to shift.) Let’s not forget neighborhoods that combine both “native” and immigrant people of the same “ethnicity” – like Santa Ana, or “Santana” as the wonderful journalist and author Gustavo Arellano insists it is more commonly called by residents. As per my own research, I have seen the emergence of “Little Mogadishus” in Nairobi, Kenya and in Toronto, Minneapolis, and San Diego. Somalis living in and outside of these neighborhoods often have mixed feelings about the designation and what it means. The anti-immigrant website VDARE published a negative piece on this, not surprisingly. This is a great topic of interest to SUNTA, the Society for Urban, National, and Transnational Anthropology, which is a section of the American Anthropological Association. Past issues of their journal, City and Society, include some articles on the issue of distinct “ethnic” neighborhoods established by recent immigrants. I am interested to hear from Eric and others how best to keep this discussion going in a lively and accessible way. I recently started using the Society for Applied Anthropology “Community” social networking site, and find it challenging to maintain dynamic discussion there. Lots of hit-and-run commentary and show-and-tell. Any suggestions on how to keep the discussion engaging?

    • As a member of SUNTA myself I will be interested in looking that site up as well–thanks!

      You brought up the interesting point of indigenous residents in the area of settlement, an issue that has not evaded “Cambodia Town”. When the first Cambodians began to arrive in 1979, the predominant “racial” makeup of the neighborhood was “Black and Hispanic”. Funny thing is that I rented an apartment in that neighborhood in 1979 and had no idea this community existed until 30 years later in 2009 when I came into contact with the organization “Cambodia Town Inc.” What is most interesting about this very focused “gentrification” project that is being spearheaded by Cambodia Town Inc’s 20 member board, is that the plan includes an adjoining “Mexican” cultural district continuing to the east on Anaheim Street from Junipero, and an “African” Cultural District heading north from Anaheim on Atlantic. This has wide support in the city council and I am very excited (and humbled) as a social scientist to have been welcomed in to what could be seen as an “insiders position” in which to witness the process of community and identity production, and the identity politics involved!

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