United Cambodian Community, Inc. letterhead (1976). CamCHAP archives.
Cambodian-led Organizations have played a central role in the founding and growth of the Long Beach community. Since the student days of the 1960s, Cambodians have organized into various kinds of groups for mutual assistance and cultural preservation in the United States and Cambodia. The first of these groups was the Khmer Students in America (KSA) which linked Cambodian students throughout the United States. When the first Cambodian evacuees arrived in Camp Pendleton in May 1975, former members of KSA living in Southern California came together to form
Khmer Solidarity of America to bring food, clothing, and comfort to their compatriots and to advocate for Cambodians left stranded throughout the world. They used the Long Beach address of one of the members on their letterhead. Later in the year they reformed into the Cambodian Association of America and established offices in Long Beach. CAA soon became a leading organization in refugee resettlement and a model used by the Office of Refugee Resettlement for mutual assistance associations (MAAs) throughout the United States.
In 1977 a second Cambodian-led MAA, the United Cambodian Community (UCC), was founded in Long Beach. UCC had a multicultural focus and provided services throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties to refugees not only from Southeast Asia but also Eastern Europe, Central America, Mexico, and Africa. During the 1980s UCC grew into one of the leading refugee service agencies in the United States.
These two powerful MAAs created jobs and a social base which attracted Cambodians from other parts of the United States. But their impact extended well beyond the growing Cambodian community. They contributed significantly to the health and well being of the whole of Long Beach, especially during the 1980s as federal funding for social services was beginning to shrink:
"[T]he growing population of refugees with specialized needs gave Long Beach a competitive edge when applying for federal, state, and county grants. The MAAs, school district, library system, and health department successfully competed for grant money, bringing millions of dollars into the community, benefiting not only Cambodians, but also the greater City of Long Beach."[i]
CAA and UCC also supported the preservation of Cambodian culture in Long Beach, receiving grants for Khmer language classes and arts reproduction, including classical dance, music, and textile production.
While these two organizations were the most visible in Long Beach, they were not the only groups and organizations contributing to the community's growth. Over the years many different kinds of groups and organizations, big and small, have formed to meet specific goals and develop the cultural, business, and social infrastructure of the Long Beach Cambodian community. These include Buddhist associations which are responsible for founding and managing the daily affairs of temples and monks; student groups at high schools and colleges, such as the Cambodian Student Society at CSU Long Beach; arts associations, many of which are described in the Arts section of this website; various professional groups, such as the Cambodian Veterans and the Los Angeles County Cambodian Employee Association; business organizations such as the Cambodian-American Chamber of Commerce and Cambodia Town; youth-centered groups, such as Khmer Girls in Action and EM3, a project of Families in Good Health at St. Mary's Medical Center; and the Cambodian Coordinating Council which brings major organizations together to accomplish community-wide events such as the annual Cambodian New Year celebration in Eldorado Regional Park and the New Year Parade Along Anaheim Street.
This section introduces a number of organizations which have played a role in the growth of the Long Beach Cambodian community over time. This is not an exhaustive survey of the organizations and more will be added over time.We invite anyone who would like to contribute documents, books, video, or photographs to the CamCHAP archive or website to please contact us at the Historical Society of Long Beach, 562-424-2220, email:
Needham, Susan and Karen Quintiliani (2007) Cambodians in Long Beach, California: The Making of a Community. IN The Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 5(1):29-53.
Needham, Susan and Karen Quintiliani (2008) Cambodians In Long Beach. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing.