Lowell city council decision belies unity, progress of Cambodian American community


© Lowell Center City

A letter to the editor, from a concerned Cambodian citizen of Lowell:

Lowell, Massachusetts, is the second largest community of Cambodian Americans living in the United States. About a third of the city’s population is of Southeast Asian descent; in the last decade or so and more recently, we are seeing more Cambodian Americans becoming key figures in the progress of the city, owning businesses such as food markets and restaurants, and Cambodians who are being employed by the city for the police force, fire department and other city positions. Lowell has even made history by electing the first Cambodian American to serve on the city council.

Recently there has been a lot said about the Chief Executive Officer of Lowell nominating Samkhann Khoeun to the Lowell Housing Authority (LHA) as commissioner, which is a position with the responsibility of providing decent, safe, and sanitary housing, thereby improving the quality of life for those with low income, the elderly, families, and the disabled. However, the appointment of Mr. Khoeun needed to be confirmed by the city council.

Some have questioned whether Mr. Khoeun would be a good fit, since he has been a committed volunteer helping to build a temple and community center in Lowell, which has raised concerns about conservation and wetland issues during the building process. City council member Vesna Nuon, the second Cambodian ever to be elected to the council, wanted to vote to postpone Khoeun’s appointment for one week, until the next council meeting, so that more information could be gathered to address any reservations about Khoeun’s fitness to serve in light of his involvement in the construction controversy. Instead the council voted to have another appointee be considered.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Khoeun is an active resident of the city and has worked tirelessly toward better conditions for Cambodian Americans in Lowell: helping to preserve the culture, educating people about the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime, and promoting equality among the city’s diverse population. He would have been a good addition to the Housing Authority and a good representative for the large population of Cambodians Americans who reside in the area. Councilman Nuon’s lone vote recognized that Khoeun’s experience and accomplishments well qualified him to serve.

This denial of Mr. Khoeun’s appointment by the council is a sign that the opinion of a few can unfortunately hold back progress in a city so rich with art, culture, and diversity. It shows that some form of oppression or discrimination still exists in our city and society today. People like Nuon and Khoeun are in fact united and working toward equality and improving the quality of life for Cambodian Americans and all citizens of Lowell.

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