Alum's Personal Journey
Since graduating from
Smith, Socheata Poeuv ’02 has been busy. An immigrant from
Cambodia, Poeuv has embarked on a project called Khmer Legacies
that documents testimonies of Cambodians about the country's
brutal Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979), which killed an estimated
1.5 million people. Poeuv will visit Smith on Thursday, Feb.
28, to attend a screening of her award-winning film , which documents her journey back to Cambodia
to learn about her parents' life under the Khmer Rouge.
The film, which will be shown at 7 p.m. in Seelye 106,
will be followed by a question-and-answer session with
Poeuv. The event is presented by the college's Southeast
Poeuv recently answered questions
for The Gate about her experience.
Gate: Do you know or
can you estimate how many native Cambodians there are like
you, who learned of their heritage after they had grown to
Socheata Poeuv: I
have never heard of a study or survey that was able to quantify
the number of Cambodians who learned of their heritage in
I characterize it as a generation of Cambodians, especially
in Cambodia, who don’t really
understand what their parents and what their country went
through. There is a known phenomenon of the young generation
in Cambodia who do not believe that the genocide happened
or that their parents are exaggerating. In fact,
a few years ago, a friend of mine who was an Open Society
Justice Initiative fellow produced a documentary called Seeing
the Truth in
order to prove to the young generation that, in fact, the
Khmer Rouge happened. They don’t know about the history because it is not
taught in schools, because there isn’t actually a lot
of popular media in Cambodia about the genocide and because
their parents may have avoided talking about it.
Gate: How has learning the truth about your family and past
changed your identity
and your regard for yourself?
SP: It has
brought my relationship with my parents and my family to
a much deeper and intimate level. I feel like I
really understand who they are and why they raised me the
way they did. I also feel a deeper responsibility
to use my life and my skills to contribute to the Cambodian
are very few in our community who have the opportunity to
do this kind of work and I feel called to bring hope and
positive change to the world through this work.
Gate: What effect has making New
Year Baby had
on your own feelings about your past?
SP: Until I
knew my family’s past -- really my past --
I didn’t understand who I really was. I was
finally able to put together the narrative of my life. It
was the courage of my parents that emboldened me to pursue
this risky and difficult venture of creating Khmer Legacies.
Gate: How has your new knowledge affected your family
SP: I have
to say that the revelation that we’re not a
nuclear family really did not change the dynamics in our
family. If anything, we feel closer. Learning my parents’ history
has created a more open and accepting relationship. I
find myself telling them things that years ago, I was afraid
would kill them. My
parents are the same.
Gate: What impact, if any, did attending Smith have on your
feelings about your
SP: I don’t
really think I reflected on my heritage very much at Smith.
This was not due to a lack of opportunity at Smith, but where
I was in my life. I was really
interested in and excited about 17th century poetry at time!
I think also as a young and arrogant person, I saw pursuing
Asian American studies or being involved in Asian American
groups as limiting. I wanted to compete in the larger
field and avoid being pigeon-holed. But, in fact, working
with the Cambodian American community is definitely the biggest
challenge of my life as well as the most humbling.
Gate: How would you characterize the experience of attending
Smith as an Asian
SP: I found Smith to be a very warm and welcoming environment
to do whatever it was that I wanted to do. Not only
were my housemates and friends curious about my heritage,
but really loved learning about it. This hasn’t been
true of every place that I lived.
Gate: What is next for you?
SP: I’m busy building up a new non-profit organization
called Khmer Legacies. Khmer Legacies will create a
visual history archive about the Cambodian genocide from
the perspective of survivors. The organization will
videotape thousands of testimonies of Cambodian survivors
by having children interview their parents. The archive
will then be used as an educational tool to deepen understanding
about the Khmer Rouge genocide for researchers, students,
and the world. We’re starting with a pilot project
in the Bronx. We’re
also getting ready for the PBS broadcast of New Year Baby
on May 27 with various educational and outreach programs.