Cambodia is a nation of 15.9 million people located in Southeast Asia. Since 1975 Cambodia has been the scene of extreme political violence, civil war and human suffering. The radical communist Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975 and initiated a reign of terror and genocide that resulted in nearly two million deaths from violence, starvation and disease. From 1978 to 1989 Cambodia was in a state of civil war. Hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and the civil war fled to Thailand as refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Cambodia is an agricultural country — with farming, logging and food processing as major industries. Some 90 percent of Cambodians do not earn cash income but are engaged in subsistence agriculture.
The Khmer, the largest ethnic group in Cambodia, make up 70 percent of the population. The Sino-Khmer (Chinese and Khmer mixed) comprises 10 percent of the population.
Khmer is the language of Cambodians.
The majority of Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists. Religious worship was banned during the 1970’s and many Buddhist monasteries and temples were destroyed. Buddhism is a very strong influence in the lives of Cambodians. To Buddhists the head is the most important part of the body and one does not touch another person’s head, not even a child’s. Also, while seated, it is considered impolite to point the soles of one’s feet toward another person.
Arrival in U.S.
Most Cambodians came to the U.S. during the late 1970s and 1980s as refugees fleeing the violence of the Khmer Rouge and the ensuing civil war. Many Cambodians lived in refugee camps in Thailand for years waiting for the opportunity to be resettled in the U.S.
There are approximately 8,000 Cambodians living in Minnesota with many living in St. Paul and Edina. The majority of Cambodians arrived in Minnesota during the mid-1980s.