Take Two

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Picture This: Pete Pin captures Cambodian diaspora in the US

by Take Two

Shorty, 28, shows his Killing Field's tattoo, Philadelphia, PA Apr. 2011. Pete Pin

Today, we proudly announce a new, occasional series on photography we call Picture This.

We begin this series with 30-year-old photographer, Pete Pin. His parents met in a refugee camp in Thailand after fleeing Cambodia. Pete was born in that camp, though his family ultimately left for California. Pin was raised in Stockton and Long Beach.

Recently he's been turning his lens toward other Cambodians living here in the U.S. Before he got into photography, he planned on pursuing a PhD in political science, but he still knows plenty about the political history of Communism in his homeland. 

Interview Highlights:

 

On how the effects of the Khmer Rouge are still being felt in the Cambodian-American community:
"It's something that I never fully understood. How that affected my parents and affected this community here in the states. It's something that plays out in multiple different levels, at the family level, at the community level at the country level. That massive demographic shift within a single generation, in a span of four years."

On how he started his Cambodian Diaspora project:
"I initially started about three years ago. I photographed my grandmother, and I had never had a real conversation with my own grandmother about her life and her experience in the Killing Fields until that moment I took her portrait. She explained to me things about my family, things in terms of what my grandmother did to keep my family alive during the Killing Fields. That was a huge revelation for me and it also answered a lot of questions about the sacrifices that individual family members made. "My family in Stockton, they're very close knit. There's some degree of obligation that they have to take care of my grandmother, and that's not based on cultural expectations or taking care of your grandparents and parents, but moreso because of what my grandmother did to keep my family together. From our discussion I learned some very specific details of things that she did during the killing fields to keep everyone alive."

On how his grandmother saved his family during the Khmer Rouge regime:
"My grandmother was not wealthy per se, but she was relatively wealthy in the provinces she lived in. When then Khmer Rouge came, no one understood what was going to happen. People were celebrating, some people were embracing the Khmer Rouge, but my grandmother understood the implications of the peasant revolution. She preempted any possible attack on her family by dyeing all of our clothes black and going to the Khmer Rouge leader when they came into town and telling them that they swore loyalty to the revolution. Black is the color of the revolution. They gave up all their property to the revolution."

On the image of the man's tattooed hands (Image 1 in the slideshow):
"On his left fist is an image of Angkor Wat, which is a symbol of Cambodian nationalism. On his other fist is a cityscape. That gentleman I met in Philadelphia during Cambodian New Year. I saw his fists and understood instinctively what that meant for him and what it meant for me as a Cambodian American. The Killing Fields for this individual didn't stop when he arrived here in Philadelphia. He suffered from inner city issues in terms of gangs and poverty. All the social ills that we associate with the inner city. If you consider the fact that as an immigrant group, refugees in general are not necessarily well-suited to adjust in American society, they lack all the basic tools and skills necessary to resettle properly and specific to the Cambodian case, if you understand the demographic consequences that most of those who were well suited to immigrate, those with degrees, those who were educated were actually executed, and the majority of people who lived were young like my parents or rural farmers. Many were even illiterate in their own language. That has lasting path-dependent effects of the development of a community, the development of a country, the development of a people."

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