Khmer-I-Can by Kelley Pheng

By Kelley Pheng

Poet Kelley Pheng (left) with Phillip Rama at Khmer Arts Festival in Stockton, CA.

Poet Kelley Pheng (left) with Phillip Rama at the Khmer Arts Festival in Stockton, CA. © RJ Sin

They said we’d never amount to anything
But drug dealers and thugs
We told ourselves the same things
Amongst each other we exchange ugly mugs
Instead of stories of how we share the same struggles
Too busy with that hustle
Of discerning ourselves from being Cambodian
So we can be more American

But what makes us American?
Is it our names, our voices, our clothes, our citizenship?
Paying our taxes and keeping a tight lip?
Is it our do-rags & baggy jeans?
Hood raised & influenced by that MTV scene?
Is it our white collars and tailored suits?
Rejection of our mother language and Cambodian roots?

We are a lost generation disconnected from some ancient past
Our Hystory books that burned in a flame
With faces unlike ours to proclaim
Our own stories that we were forced to forsake
But it’s our stories that we must dictate
Like archaeologists, we’ve had to dig our way out and dig our way in
To understand what it means to be Cambodian-American
What lies within our identities is more
Than poverty, death, and war
More than Killing Fields or the Khmer Kraham
More than bullets, mines, and exploding bombs

In this country
Many of us have forgotten
Many of us know nothing at all
Many of us are without the names of our real mothers & fathers
Many of us choose to forget, and that is why we fall
But regardless of what we know or who we say we are
The blood that flows within is still the same
And it’s time for a Revolution
Because Khmer America is ready for a change

A lost generation & lost souls we no longer choose to be
Instead we recognize we are the legacy of refugees
We’re in America, but Srouk Khmer is in our hearts and minds
On our tats, on our tees, within these lines
We wear our kramahs like flags across our necks
Apsaras on our arms, Angkor Wat on our chests
We may have forgotten, we may have never known
But we’re still learning and we’ve got an identity of our own
Yes, we still love our Prahok & Bouklahong
Our Karaoke & when we Rom Voung
Yes, we still Saravan & Madizone
But we still do the cat daddy and get our dougie on

So, let’s stop being ashamed of this beautiful ass brown skin
We can’t change that, so let’s change from within
Let’s tell our stories and rewrite our hystory
Let’s stand tall, I want y’all to be with me
I see a people that’s been tortured and neglected
Rise out of the ashes & in these new generations, reflected
A sense of real Khmai Pride
And the True Khmericans nationwide
Say “Khmer America, Forward, mobilize”
And in these words, I want you to vocalize:

Khmer-We-Can, Khmer-We-Will

This original piece is being republished with permission from Kelley Pheng. The poem and performance debut at the Khmer Arts Mini Festival in Stockton, CA on May 30, 2013.

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