Interview With Loung Ung
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Jim Russell Interviews
Loung Ung
by Jim Russell,
Afternoon Host of KOSI 101 Radio, and asiaXpress.com "correspondent-at-large."

Cambodian author Loung Ung recently paid two visits to Denver on two consecutive Mondays. On April 10th, she spoke at The Tattered Cover book store about her recently published book First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. Then on April 17th at the Auraria Events Center about both her book, and her work as national spokesperson for The Campaign For A Landmine Free World. AsiaXpress.com correspondent-at-large Jim Russell of KOSI 101.1 sat down with Loung Ung during her second trip, which was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia …and the author’s 30th birthday.

Q: The organization you now represent has won a Nobel Peace Prize.

A: Yes. I am the national speokesperson for the Campaign For A Landmine Free World, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation. It’s the VVAF that co-founded the international campaign, (and) they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. [I’ve been] with them since late 1996.

Q: Tell us about your odyssey from Cambodia to the United States.

A: I came with my brother and sister-in-law. During 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the country, and then there was a civil war for four years. After that, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and stopped the genocide. And from there, my brother and sister-in-law and I were able to escape to Thailand to the refugee camp where we were sponsored by a church group to come to Vermont as political refugees. I now live in Washington, DC.

Q: I found it interesting that your book describes being trained to hate the Vietnamese, and yet in some fashion, your route was similar to how many Vietnamese came to America after the fall of Saigon as late as the early 80’s.

A: Exactly. When I was a child in the war, the Khmer Rouge hated the Vietnamese. They’ve always had border disputes. And then also, ironically, it was the Vietnamese who came in and defeated the Khmer Rouge and ended the genocide and saved our lives. In 1980, my brother and I left the country via the boat route. We could have left the country by walking across Cambodia into Thailand, but we knew there were too many landmines. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, called the landmines the "silent sentinels of death," and hundreds of thousands of soldiers set these "silent sentinels of death" littering across the border country. We were able to come up with some money and escape via the boat route.

Q: You say that part of the reason you remember your father in the title of the book is because his death changed who you are. Do you believe this is typical of the relationship of many young Asian women of your generation to their fathers, many of whom were separated through re-education camps, imprisonment, or at the most extreme – as was the case for you – death?

A: I think that the death of a loved one in the family always changes who you are and most definitely I think a father figure is very important, especially when I was a little girl. I grew up with three brothers and three sisters and I was number six of seven – second to the youngest. And while the youngest was a toddler and was always with my mother, I was five years old and I was my father’s princess. When they took my father and they killed my father, my world abruptly came to an end. I knew. I knew that despite the fact that my sister had died before him from starvation, I knew that with my father gone that there was no hope of ever going back to our former lives. It was never going to be normal again, and I think it really changed me.

Continue to part 2

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