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Asian-American Heritage Week: Cambodian Buddhist Monks Maintain A Presence In The Bronx

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One Asian community in the Bronx has been assisting New Yorkers of Cambodian descent for several years. In the following report, Dean Meminger profiles a small group of Buddhist monks who have made quite an impact in Bedford Park in a short time, as NY1 continues its coverage of Asian-American Heritage Week.

A Cambodian Buddhist monk checking out the Bronx scenery is not a common site, but it does happen. A group of monks live on Marion Avenue, assisting fellow Cambodians living in the borough.

They say it's interesting being in the Bronx.

“Living here is comfortable and great,” says Vetaur Torn of the Khmer Buddhist Society. “The neighbors, everyone is nice to each other.”

The monks live at the Khmer Buddhist Society. The organization was established at its Bronx location more than 20 years ago after many Cambodians fled their war-ravaged communist homeland.

Sovann Tim is the secretary of the society, and has lived in the Bronx since 1982. He says this small temple has become an important meeting place for Cambodians.

“Since we build up the community, people come to join together and we celebrate and are happy to see each other,” says Tim.

According to the U.S. Census Department, the Cambodian population in the Bronx has dropped over the years. In 1990 a reported 1,600 lived in the borough, but in 2000 only 1,082, a 32-percet drop.

“Most people move out from the Bronx. They move to Philadelphia, or they move to Connecticut,” says Tim.

Many of the Cambodian monks have only lived here for a few years, and they have a great interest in learning English.

“The most interesting [thing] for me is education,” says monk Kandaal Tuoch. “I can go to school freely and I can work for my Cambodian people.”

Although the monks live a pretty sheltered life, when they do venture out in the Bronx they encounter some interesting situations.

“They ask me, ÎYou come from China? Can you teach me kung fu?’” says monk Sambath Suon. “I say, ÎNo, I cannot teach you because I am a Buddhist monk from Cambodia.’ They say, ÎOh, you look like Chinese.’ And sometimes I'm surprised by them when they say, ÎI want to be girlfriend with you.’”

The monks say they will continue to share information about their culture while learning about others.

- Dean Meminger
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