The Cambodian Student Association has grown steadily over the past year. The organization tackled growth from the ground up through reaching out to Cambodian students and building a close-knit campus community.
Hospitality junior and CSA President Rothnica Marin said she initially felt isolated when she first came to UH. Despite the University’s diversity, Marin initially struggled to connect with and find other Cambodian students. That is, until earlier this semester when she decided to form the CSA.
“We wanted to make a community where we can come together and have fun, and where we can do Cambodian stuff together,” Marin said. “However, it’s also a space where non-Cambodian students can come together and learn about Cambodian cultures and traditions.”
It wasn’t long before Marin was joined by Vice President Pichpiseth Long, an international student and fellow Cambodian. The two soon found another four students who went on to become the organization’s founding officers.
“I lived in Cambodia for around 18 years, when I first moved here, I felt like I arrived in a new world, I didn’t have somewhere I could call home, and when I got here I didn’t know anyone else who was also a Cambodian,” Long said, “I first met Nica, our president, and that’s when she introduced me to other Cambodian students at UH, and that led us to start CSA.”
While building community for Cambodian students is a top priority for the CSA, part of its focus is also on providing education and an authentic cultural experience to the University.
Last month, during the Pchum Ben festival — a holiday similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead — CSA members went to a local temple to sample traditional Khmer food and observe religious traditions.
“As someone that wasn’t born in Cambodia but was born with a Cambodian family, I’m still learning today,” said member relations manager Steven King. “We are experiencing and learning new things together, that’s one of the coolest parts of our organization.”
The CSA is also dedicated to raising awareness about the history of the Khmer people — including bringing more attention to the Khmer genocide, an atrocity the organization believes receives far less attention than it warrants.
“When it comes to culture, we also want to share some of our Cambodian history, there are some events that happened in Cambodian history that aren’t really talked about and should be highlighted,” Long said.
CSA hosted a movie night featuring Angelina Jolie’s movie, First They Killed My Father, which follows the life of a young girl growing up in the Khmer Rouge, a genocide occurring during the Cambodian Civil War.
For many Cambodians, the emotional wounds left in the wake of the genocide are still healing. Raising awareness about this lingering generational trauma is another cause the CSA is championing.
“It’s a sad time for Cambodians and not many people know about it, so we want to highlight these events and spread awareness to let people know and learn more about Cambodian history,” Long said.
Though it took until 2023 to form, the CSA is now here to stay. Officers said the organization plans to continue hosting events, organizing the community and promoting the Cambodian identity.