Cambodians in Stockton, California: Background information when reading Afterparties

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by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So X
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So
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    Aug 2021, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Cambodians in Stockton, California

This article relates to Afterparties

Print Review

Buddhas at the Khmer New Year Festival in Stockton Several stories in Anthony Veasna So's short story collection Afterparties take place in Stockton, California, the author's hometown. Stockton is home to the fifth largest population of ethnically Cambodian people in the United States as of 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2018 study by U.S. News and World Report found Stockton to be the most diverse city in the United States.

Stockton is located in California's Central Valley, about 80 miles northeast of San Francisco. Its racial demographic makeup in 2018 was 42% Hispanic, 24% Asian, 19% white and 13% Black. However, it is far from being a bastion of racial tolerance and equity, as there are large income, education and opportunity gaps among the races, with white households earning roughly twice the income of Black households. The city has also suffered from a drug and gang violence problem for decades, an issue that disproportionately affects people of color, including Cambodians. Many refugees who fled to the U.S. during the Southeast Asia conflicts of the 1970s (the Vietnam War, the Laos Civil War and the Cambodian Genocide) came from rural backgrounds and the U.S. government made little effort to assimilate them into their new environments. Upon arrival, many lived in low-income housing projects and had difficulty finding work. The legacy of this rough start is evident in the racial disparities, the prevalence of gangs and the challenges faced by the characters in Afterparties.

On January 17, 1989, a 24-year-old white man named Patrick Purdy came to Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton's predominantly Southeast Asian neighborhood of Park Village and opened fire on the playground, killing five children, all of whom were of Cambodian or Vietnamese descent, and injuring 30 others. It is believed that the crime was racially motivated. The shooting brought the city and its Cambodian population to the forefront of the national conversation about gun control and resulted in the passage of California's Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, which banned semi-automatic guns in the state. The Asian Pacific Self-Development and Residential Association (APSARA) was also founded in the aftermath of the attack. APSARA is an organization that offers assistance with housing, medical care, educational and cultural resources, and more to the Asian and Pacific Islander community in Stockton. They were recently provided with a loan from Stockton City Council to renovate the Park Village Apartments, a housing project home to a large population of Cambodian residents.

Stockton's Cambodian Oral History Project, created in partnership with several local schools, the San Joaquin Historical Society and APSARA, offers Stockton's Cambodian residents the opportunity to tell their stories, many of which involve fleeing Pol Pot's regime. The project's goal is to educate the public, including younger Cambodian Americans, about the genocide and to provide a safe space for the survivors to reflect on their trauma.

The city is home to the Cambodian Buddhist temple Wat Dhammararam, a popular tourist attraction that hosts a celebration of the Cambodian New Year each year in April. The temple features a number of large and brightly colored statues, including a 50-foot reclining Buddha.

Buddhas featured at the Khmer New Year Festival in Stockton, California, via Pxfuel

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Lisa Butts

This article relates to Afterparties. It first ran in the August 18, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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