To mark Asian-American Heritage Week on NY1, the station revisits communities it has covered over the past two decades. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report on Cambodian New Yorkers in the Bronx.
On a residential block in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx, a two-story house serves as a house of worship. The Khmer Buddhist Society is a home away from home for many Cambodian-American Buddhists living in the borough.
"We live in the Bronx and we want to meet each other in the Bronx," says worshipper Davin Hun.
The 2010 U.S. census finds 1,430 Cambodians living in the Bronx, about half of the city's Cambodian population. Ten yeas before that, the Bronx had 1,082 Cambodians.
About 200 Cambodian refugees founded the Khmer Buddhist Society in 1984, the first of its kind in the city and the only one in the borough.
The house, which serves as many as 300 people, is a community center, temple and monastery. Resident monk Kandaal Puoch, who last spoke with NY1 in 2005, says the space has expanded in the last seven years, but it is still not large enough to accommodate the community."When we have a ceremony it is hard to sit down, you see. This hall is too small," says Puoch. "However, they come here and they try hard to sit down and listen to the Buddhist monk chanting and study Buddhism and Cambodian cultures."
Continuing cultural traditions could not be more vital to a community that survived a genocide in its homeland.
"Imagine just being resettled here from a refugee camp and being thrown in the middle of the Bronx, the cultural vertigo, the dislocation. And this is a haven," says photographer Pete Pin, who has been documenting Cambodian communities across the country.
Sanbo Som, who lost his siblings in the genocide, has lived in the Bronx since 1982.
"When I meet my friends or my people who come from Cambodia I'm very happy," says Som.
Puoch, who is searching almost every day for an affordable new space, wants to make sure his community members will always have a piece of their homeland right near their homes in the Bronx.