“I am a product of war and my family is a product of the killing fields,” said Phatry Derek Pan, referring to the sites where thousands of Cambodians were massacred.
Pan was born in a refugee camp in Thailand shortly after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian political group that ruled the country during the late 1970s and served as forerunners of the Cambodian genocide.
Though his life began in a state of turmoil and tragedy, Pan is tired of the “one-dimensional” American association between Cambodians and the atrocities committed in his home country.
In response, he came up with the idea of a blog. In deciding to make the website an active force in Cambodian American culture, Pan saw two options: either start a nonprofit organization to foster U.S.-Cambodia relations, or develop a news agency. He chose the latter.
With this plan in mind, Pan consulted childhood friend Sophath Oun, who is one of the owners of a web development firm in San Diego, Calif. Together, Pan and Oun co-founded the website, Khmerican.com.
According to Oun and Pan’s website, the term “Khmerican” refers to “a person or organization striving to improve the quality and well-being of Khmer America.”
“To be Khmerican is not defined by race or limited to a geographical space in the U.S.,” said Pan. “It is defined by the characteristics of who you are.”
Khmerican.com was transferred to Pan in 2005. However, the website as it is today was not born until last September.
At the time, Pan lived in Seattle. He immigrated to the U.S. when he was 4, moving to Kelso, Wash. In 1998, Pan moved to Seattle. Here, he finished high school and then graduated from the University of Washington in International Studies. Pan currently divides his time between Seattle and Brooklyn, New York.
Today, Khmerican works as a news hub, which works to serve people and organizations interested in the culture of Khmer America and to create an online community for Cambodian Americans. To accomplish this, website reporters produce a variety of original content including podcasts, news articles, photo essays and other multimedia.
Though Pan first began the website while living in Washington, its news is not limited to Cambodian Americans in the Seattle area. According to Pan, he has 20 staff reporters in more than nine states who bring in new story ideas every day.
“Our following is growing exponentially,” said Pan. According to analytics (www.klout.com) he said the Khmerican website serves about 14,000 visitors per month. The founder attributes this to the website’s presence on Twitter and Facebook.
“The demand for original content about what is going on in the Cambodian community is rising for both young and old,” said Pan, who takes pride in his site’s content. Website posts include everything from Cambodian student life and emerging artists to cultural events across the states and political issues.
Historically, Pan explained, Cambodians are one of the newer Southeast Asian immigrant groups in the U.S. They have only four decades of history in America. Many Cambodians began immigrating to the States in the early 1980s to escape the destruction of Cambodia’s communist regime and memories of the mass killings.
“Our parents came out of not only war and genocide, but they also came here with the issues of resettlement, racism and starting anew to support their families,” said Pan.
“Now, we suffer gang violence, drugs and other issues that push people back,” he said of urban problems that are now “plaguing much of the Cambodian youth.” Of these issues, deportation and access to education are two of the most critical.
The website’s founders have expressed its collective discontent regarding deportation issues unofficially through its content. Pan has heard of people being deported for petty crimes, burglary and at its most grave, murder. Website writers work to keep audiences informed by re-sharing news articles (and using the hashtag #stopdeportationnow) in Twitter and Facebook posts.
Despite Cambodian Americans’ vibrant and thriving culture, Pan still feels that the common association made with his people is the atrocities committed during the Cambodian genocide. To combat this stereotype, articles on Khmerican celebrate the lives of young Cambodian Americans today.
Still, every year the site does a commemorative post about the Cambodian genocide. “We do not want to shun away the history,” Pan said. “There is no intent to remove that history from our website content. At the same time, we are part of a generation that understands that we are starting to see growth and development in community. While we still pay homage and respect to our elders who suffered, we want our community to heal.”
Currently, Pan is working to turn Khmerican into a Limited Liability Company. This past month, the website held a fundraiser to raise money for future projects and to reimburse staff. To donate toward the site’s incorporation efforts to become an official company, make a PayPal donation via [email protected].