Tuesday, July 3, 2007

4th of July in Portbodia

Typically, over the last few years, I haven't really seen much sense in celebrating the 4th of July. It has been mostly a day of people going out to party, get drunk, and watch some fireworks. Having been in the Marine Corps, I had an abundance of these experiences to last me a lifetime. Sitting in traffic, putting up with crowds, and sharing dirty restrooms with the masses has held little appeal.

Yet, this 4th of July, I had the distinct privilege of spending the day with some wonderful Cambodian friends in Portland. We went to to Blue Lake in Portland to hang out, play games, eat, and celebrate the 4th of July. At first, I felt a little odd - one of the only white folks in a sea of Southeast Asians. Though, after years of living in Cambodia, I knew that I was amongst the most welcoming people on the earth.

Many people are unaware that there are over 4,000 Cambodians living in Portland and Southern Washington. The first large migration to America began as a result of Cambodians seeking refuge during the reign of Pol Pot. The largest population of Cambodians is actually in Paris, with Long Beach second (the largest in America). In Portland, though a smaller community, it is a great group of people seeking to live good lives, as well as, assist their family and friends left behind in Southeast Asia.

They welcomed me into their community with open arms. Each person having a different story - some have been in America for twenty plus years, some escaped the horrors of Pol Pot and Vietnamese occupation, and others had lived through the atrocities and inhumanity of the 1970's and 1980's. Young and old, each person had experienced, survived, and overcome more than most people in America ever experience. And still, they could smile, laugh, and share of themselves with outsiders.

So, here is the insight:

On my way to the overcrowded, dirty restrooms, I am walking with one of my new friends, who compliments me as a 'hero' for the work and sacrifice we gave in Cambodia. Yet, immediately, I recognized that my new friends are the ones who deserve the title 'hero'. They have suffered so much and yet, they look for ways to give of themselves both here and overseas. They are the ones that have epitomized the essence of the American dream. They have immigrated, worked hard, and achieved so much. As a result, America is a better place with them in it.

This 4th of July I realized that the celebration of our independence as a nation is encapsulated in the achieved dreams of my new Cambodian-American friends. A holiday that in the past has had so little meaning, now has found a new and more personal significance.

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