When Anna Hitchens read an article about her Cambodian dessert company that featured an offensive headline, she decided to take that opportunity to share more about her family’s history.
I’m a 31 year old first generation Cambodian American who was born in Philadelphia just a few months after my family arrived in the country. Both of my parents were born and raised in Cambodia, and they left in the late 70s due to the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot was head of the Khmer Rouge, the Communist Party who violently overthrew the Cambodian government. During this time about 2 million Cambodians died via execution and starvation. My mom’s entire family including her father, mother, sisters and brother were among those killed.
I was moved to start Koliyan after returning from my honeymoon to Cambodia. It was a way for me to connect and share my culture with other Philadelphians in the best way I know how—food. Seeing Pol Pot’s name in a title of a blog post associated with my efforts to preserve the long standing beauty of my culture has inspired me to share more about my family’s history, which I’ll be doing in the weeks to come.
I just quickly dashed off a pun I’ve had in my pocket since 7th grade and published without thinking. It wasn’t the right thing to do and as soon as somebody said, “Hey fucko, that’s not the right thing to do.” I realized and took down the post. On my good days I’m better than that. So I offer an apology to Koliyan and all Cambodians with the exception of Pot himself, and y’know his henchmen and lackeys and minions and such, but to everyone else, I’m sorry.
We asked Hitchens for her thoughts on the incident, and this is what she emailed to us:
I wrote my response to Adam’s post to express how the dark period in Cambodia’s history is still affecting Cambodians today. I didn’t expect an apology or a response. The hardest part was telling my mom about it. She gracefully said in Khmer, “We’ve been living with this for over 30 years; they don’t know what we went through, you have to forgive.” Through this, I hope more people in my situation will stand up and share rather than react.
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- Yowei Shaw and Juliana Reyes for AAJA-Philly