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About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View Entire Issue (May 19, 2014)
May 19, 2014
THE ASIAN REPORTER n Page 7
TALKING STORY IN ASIAN AMERICA
Maybe our muscular
elders went home, their
grand souls assured that
it is in fact their big lives,
that we have built
our fortunes on.
Our history, these rivers,
that generous sea
The Asian Reporter Foundation’s 16th annual banquet
he honorable Sary Khauv took me
aside for a moment, a small
moment during the loud jostle and
sweet joy that is The Asian Reporter
Foundation’s annual heritage night
With a grace so characteristic of our
grandest elders, Grandpa Sary softly said,
“You know today, this day, April 17, was
the day Khmer Rouge forced us all out of
It wasn’t really a question. He was not
really asking me to answer. He was not
waiting for me to embarrass myself with
On the contrary, Grandpa’s hand on my
shoulder, his tone of voice, expressed only
the sincerity of a teacher and the
matter-of-factness of an unmitigated truth
— “You know today, this day … was the
On that awful day, the one Grandpa was
nudging me about, screaming crazy
Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodian) army boys
swiftly emptied the nation’s cities;
immediately executing educated and
noncompliant neighbors. They suddenly
forced an entire shocked society — old and
ill, able and disabled, babies, teenagers,
and aunties — on the road, on foot, to crude
farm labor and public works projects. City
lives like yours, like mine, disintegrated
into countryside nightmares. Four dark
years of them.
The date Grandpa Sary passed me,
almost confidentially, April 17, 1975 — is a
spiritual equivalent to the mass execution
of Jewish innocents under Nazi German
rule; the brutal bludgeoning and hacking
of Tutsi innocents under Rwanda’s Hutu
regime; the terrifying murder of working
and shopping New Yorkers on that bright
blue morning of September 11, 2001.
And I didn’t know that. That April 17,
that awful day, was this day. Not in my
cluttered mind, not in my distracted heart.
Rivers of redemption
As our evening celebration rolled on, in
our packed party room on the boulevard
named for Reverend Martin King, Jr. —
just six city blocks from our generous
Willamette’s silty shore, and only seven
miles more before she braids into our other
grand matriarch, River Columbia, and
together flow another 80 urgent salmon
miles to that vast Pacific clockwise sweep
of people, commerce, and ideas that
brought Grandpa Sary safely here — I
hoped, I sincerely hoped that all of these
River City blessings might’ve soothed this
grand man’s broken bones. Maybe a little.
Indeed, as our raucous banquet room
rose to honor Grandpa Sary Khauv,
escorted by Portland city commissioner
Amanda Fritz — as we rose in reverence
for lovely Grandma Sivheng Pao, escorted
by city commissioner Nick Fish — as we
stood in gratitude for that most dignified
Pinoy, Grandpa Jess Osilla, escorted by
Multnomah County commissioner Loretta
Smith — our entire gathering hoped,
sincerely hoped, that the contributions of
these three discerning leaders of local
democracy, might just reassure our grand
elders that their unimaginable suffering
back home, that their unfathomable
uncertainties upon arriving here, are all
now redeemed. Maybe in part.
And maybe, finally maybe, after
Grandpa Sary and Grandma Sivheng and
Grandpa Jess blessed one after another, a
long line of unabashedly ambitious young
Asian-American scholars — maybe our
Most Honored Elder recipients Sary Khauv (left) and
Jess Osilla (second from left), master of ceremonies
Ronault L.S. “Polo” Catalani (third from left), and
Asian Reporter Foundation scholar Phoebe Huynh
(right) participate in a blessing ceremony during The
Asian Reporter Foundation’s 16th annual Scholarship
& Awards Banquet. (AR Photo/Jin Huang)
muscular elders went home, their grand
souls assured that it is in fact their big
lives, that we have built our fortunes on.
Our health and wealth, our future
security, we construct daily on the shore of
their sea of sorrow. Insh’allaah.
Ocean of tears
Like I said, the honorable Sary Khauv
took me aside for a moment that night, a
small moment during the big jostle and joy
that is River City’s annual Asian Pacific
American heritage celebration.
And with a grand elder’s characteristic
grace he said, “You know today, this day,
April 17, was the day Khmer Rouge forced
us all out of our cities.”
It was not really a question. There was
no real need to answer.
Our response, Portland’s humble
response, was elegant Sivheng Ung
stepping on stage to complete the circle.
On this shore, Mdme. Sivheng was among
the 14 pioneering families that formed the
Cambodian-American Community of
resettlement and integration association. On
the far shore, she was Grandpa Sary’s serious
little student, back in his high school, back
before The Dark Years. She and he survived the
Khmer Rouge Genocide, while millions did not.
They found each other here, at this
auspicious place, on this confluence of our
generous river matriarchs and our deep
blue circulating sea.
Mdme. Sivheng stepped forward and
placed a kukui lei around her teacher’s
neck, upon his broad-broad shoulders.
Rivers of tears. An ocean of joy.
Another year of celebrating us.
The Asian Reporter’s
Expanding American Lexicon
Ampun’illaah (Indo patois from Koranic
Arabic): May God have Mercy on our bones and
Army boys: Khmer Rouge soldiers who
turned on Cambodian civilians were
substantially kids armed with automatic weapons
and awful ideology. Teenaged guys everywhere
are particularly adaptable to the violent roles bad
leaders assign them. Without military discipline
and without command accountability for
international standards of warring, Khmer Rouge
Army conduct (1975-1979) rapidly descended
into unrestrained crimes against humanity. The
Khmer Rouge Tribunal was established by a
2003 agreement between the U.N. and the new
Royal Government of Cambodia to try the most
senior political leaders, producing painfully
mixed results. Tribunal proceedings continue.
Discerning leaders of local democracy: Our
Asian Reporter familia, our Asian and Pacific
islander communities, are deeply obliged to our
city commissioners, Nick Fish and Amanda
Fritz, to county commissioner Loretta Smith, for
expressing their respect for our elegant and
muscular community elders. Thank you for
engaging our activists in rub of local democracy.
We will make America proud.
Grandpa (Old World and American ethnic
minority): Addressing with respect and affection
someone of the grand elder generation. A
communal expectation for the addressee to fulfill
the role of an esteemed elder.
Insh’allaah (Koranic Arabic): God Willing.
An expression of existential surrender to God’s
wisdom and mercy, and a humbled admission of
our misunderstanding of, and our smallness in,
our wondrous universe.
Kukui lei (Hawaiian): Also called kukui ano
ano (seed), the fruit of Tahiti and Hawai’i
symbolizing light, hope, and renewal. Extracted
oil used as fuel for wicked light.
Pinoy (Tagalog): Overseas Pilipino.
My Turn: Breaking the silence
Continued from page 6
“The entire city comes to a
halt,” said Louis. At the close of
the commemoration, in the eve-
ning, people light lanterns and
place them on the water. She
said the “thousands of lanterns
floating” represent the bodies
that were found in the water.
Even though Breaking the
Silence is a detailed perfor-
mance of Japanese-American
history, Louis says she wants
the play to be a metaphor about
the discrimination and exclusion
of any race. She doesn’t want it
to be an exclusive story just
about the Japanese-American
At age 64, Louis entered grad-
uate school. Five years later, in
2007, she received her Ph.D. in
creative writing. At age 76, she
still takes the travelling play to
other communities. She’s also on
a new adventure — starting an
Asian-American studies pro-
gram at the University of New
Mexico in Albuquerque. She
intends to bring her play there
next year for a conference on the
70th anniversary of the end of
World War II. Louis also wants
to bring the Hiroshima peace
activists who sponsored the
performance of Breaking the
Silence in Japan to be honored
guests at the conference.
Louis explained that in all the
places where Breaking the
Silence has been performed,
everybody understands the
themes of discrimination in the
play. “Towns without traffic
lights understood,” she said. “It
isn’t my writing. It’s the stories.”
Playwright Nikki Nojima
Louis will be in attendance for
the Breaking the Silence pre-
sentation and talkback held in
Portland. The free, 70-minute
reading, which takes place at
2:30pm on Saturday, May 31 in
the Ellyn Bye Studio at the
Gerding Theater at the Armory,
features music and perfor-
mances by Michelle Fujii and
Toru Watanabe of Portland
Taiko and actors Hata, Heath
Hyun Houghton, Wynee Hu,
Samson Syharath, and Larry
Toda. The Gerding Theater at
the Armory is located at 128
N.W. 11th Avenue in Portland.
To learn more, call (503)
445-3700 or visit <www.pcs.
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Gorgeous 5BR/4.5BA home! Close-in southwest.
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Difficulty level: Easy
Instructions: Fill in the grid so that the digits 1
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All solutions available at
Certified Residential Specialist
The staff at
The Asian Reporter
wish you and your family
a safe and happy
Memorial Day weekend!