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Book Chronicles Cambodian Community in Long Beach

Image of Book CoverCSULB’s Karen Quintiliani brings 20 years of research to bear on Long Beach’s Cambodian community in her new book due out this month.

Titled Cambodians in Long Beach and co-authored with CSU Dominguez Hills’ Susan Needham, a CSULB graduate, the book arrives as part of Arcadia Publishing’s long-running series Images of America series, which chronicles the history of communities from Bangor, Maine, to Manhattan Beach. With more than 200 vintage black-and-white photographs, each title celebrates a town or region, bringing to life the people, places and events that define their communities.  

Quintiliani, a cultural applied anthropologist and Needham, a linguistic anthropologist, have worked with and conducted research in the Long Beach Cambodian community since 1988. Photos for the book were contributed by Cambodians and other community members, local photographers and the authors. The CSULB graduate would show up at the front doors of her interview subjects with a scanner, a laptop computer and a tape recorder. “We were mobile,” she said.

The book’s release is timed to coincide with the Cambodian New Year’s Celebration which begins April 6 with the parade on Anaheim Street.  “April is the month of Cambodian public culture,” she said. “This is when Cambodian-American identity is at the forefront.”  

Quintiliani saw the book as a unique scholarly opportunity. “This was our opportunity to produce something that would not only be accessible to the broader Cambodian community, but would help to create an intergenerational dialogue and to represent the way in which Cambodians have transformed Long Beach,” who joined the university in 2003. “We wanted to show the way Cambodian public culture has become a part of Long Beach’s identity and has marked time and space with the creation of Cambodia Town which was designated officially on July 3, 2007. This book expresses all that visually.”

Quintiliani plans to create a Web-based archive in partnership with the Historical Society of Long Beach. All proceeds from the book will go toward the creation of the virtual archive and research stipends for students to enable area Cambodians to discover their heritage. “On purpose, we collected far more data than we could ever use in the book,” she explained. “A typical interview could take anywhere from four to eight hours, all in one sitting. There will be Cambodian student research stipends to continue the work. We want next-generation university students to carry on our research and look at it more from their generation’s perspective.”

Quintiliani focuses primarily on U.S. refugee and immigrant communities. Needham and Quintiliani recently authored an article titled “Cambodians in Long Beach, California: The Making of a Community” for the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.  In 2006, she received a Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award to study “Growing Up in Long Beach: Cambodian Youth at the Crossroads.” She is a Long Beach native who attended St. Joseph’s High School. She earned her B.A. in sociology from Loyola Marymount, her M.A. in anthropology from CSULB in 1995 and her doctorate in anthropology from UCLA in 2003.

“Anyone who reads this book will be amazed at how much political engagement the Cambodian community has had on multiple levels,” she said. “That is true for demonstrations about the plight of refugees and political recognition as well as organization on the local level to oppose anti-immigration proposition. This book will allow its readers to see that in action.” Chapter topics include early connections to Long Beach, religious practices, the arts, festivals, celebrations, community organizations, sports, recreation, civic engagement and business development on Anaheim Street.

She still gets emotional when she thinks about the trust shown to her by the Cambodian community when it shared with her its photographic heritage. “People talked to us because we weren’t just popping in,” she said. The people we spoke to had seen us before at advisory board meetings and assisting at parades. I’m on the advisory board for Cambodia Town and Susan is on the board of directors. People knew me from grant writing and social services and welfare reform studies.  We were visible and active in the community. There was trust and rapport. They opened up to us because they felt this book was something beneficial to Cambodians. This way of representing history resonated with people in ways we did not expect.”

Quintiliani is interested in how a wider audience reacts to the book. “I want every level of the community from the city council to city managers to read this book,” she said. “I hope it serves to encourage the whole community to participate and visit Cambodia Town, to visit the shops and see the parade. This book legitimizes the Cambodian community’s contribution and promotes interaction with the whole community. I think this is an opportunity to make Cambodian history Long Beach’s history.”