In the Shadows of War: US Intervention and the Extended Aftermath for Cambodian Refugees

Authors: Yvonne Kwan*, San Jose State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: historical, refugees, Cambodia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although historians have written extensively about the Khmer Rouge (KR) and US military and political interference in Cambodia, in this paper, I use declassified records from the US National Archives and the US Office of the Historian’s Foreign Relations of the United States online archives to contextualize the transnational politics of making and unmaking refugee subjects. In addition to this archival work, I will analyze interviews conducted by Documentation Center of Cambodia to demonstrate how American military and political influence created lasting direct and indirect sources of pain and suffering for survivors and refugees of the Cambodian genocide. I then introduce ethnographic interviews I conducted with first generation genocide survivors and second generation Cambodian Americans to offer contemporary narratives that bespeak the conditions of the afterlives of refugee survival and relocation. The data show that US presence in Cambodia 1) worsened the mental health and economic struggles of the Cambodian people, both in Cambodia and in its diaspora, and 2) delayed international criminal court procedures against KR leaders. Despite “official” declarations of ceasefire, war trauma and other nations’ ulterior motives can stunt efforts for peace and reconciliation. In today’s political context, given US’s continued interference in global affairs, the rise of extremist groups, and the ban on Muslim refugees, it is critical to examine how American economic and military policies of intervention help produce and reproduce the contemporary diasporic refugee subject.

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