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Cambodian American cop starts Fresno gathering to help heal

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Out west of the freeways, the place metropolis and rural meet, nothing appears out of the combination: a boy chasing a flock of chickens in his frontyard, tidy tract houses, ageing trailer parks, the stretching fields, drivers in work vehicles and luxurious automobiles stopping on the agua fresca stand, its awning blocking the broiling solar.

However nonetheless the Cambodian temple surprises. It rises from the flat panorama — purple, orange, gold, inexperienced — ringed by bare-breasted angels gleaming white within the solar.

Dragons arch over the entryway to the grounds the place Danny Kim grapples with an oversize banner for Fresno Cambodian Nights.

Modeled after its vigorous counterparts in Cambodia, the evening market launched in 2021, and instantly drew worldwide consideration. A Cambodian man in Australia wrote a music about it. A Cambodian-French household got here to see it firsthand. The Khmer neighborhood in Lengthy Seaside, the nation’s largest, appeared into beginning its personal.

The Cambodian Night Market in Fresno.

The Cambodian Evening Market in Fresno.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

There hadn’t been something prefer it earlier than in america. The evening market is a approach to join with the previous and share Cambodian tradition into the long run.

“We’re the primary era who may take into consideration greater than surviving,” mentioned Kim, a Fresno police sergeant whose household got here to america 36 years in the past.

Close to the bandstand, a bunch of individuals danced in a circle to Khmer music, dreamily furling their fingers and twisting their wrists.

Kim, 47, knew that anybody there of his age or older had survived one of the brutal genocides of the twentieth century.

From 1975 till early 1979, the Khmer Rouge underneath Pol Pot killed 1 / 4 of the inhabitants of Cambodia, between 1.5 million and three million folks. Decided to create a classless, agrarian society, the regime first executed artists, lecturers, musicians, dancers (solely 4 Cambodian ballet members survived). The purpose was not solely to finish lives but additionally to destroy a tradition, household ties and all that had as soon as held worth.

Sila Khoun and Somaley Nuon dance to the beat at the Cambodian Night Market in Fresno.

Sila Khoun and Somaley Nuon dance to the beat on the Cambodian Evening Market in Fresno.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

But, in some way, some lived and escaped, and on a summer time evening in Fresno they had been shifting to music {that a} regime had tried to silence perpetually. Some held grandchildren.

Kim was 1 month previous when his household was moved to a Khmer Rouge dying camp. They survived a harrowing, long-shot sprint after which a determined journey to Thailand.

He grew up in a rodent-infested refugee camp till his household immigrated to america when he was 11.

His reminiscences of the primary few days at his family’ house in Texas are like a dream — oversaturated with coloration: clear and glossy folks, his first chunk of a crisp apple and an icy sip of Budweiser beer (nobody in his household knew People had drinks just for grown-ups). He actually thought he had gone to heaven throughout his first trip in a automobile.

Left, Aorn Liv enjoys the music at the Cambodian Night Market. Right, Khun Van has stories to tell.

Left, Aorn Liv enjoys the music on the Cambodian Evening Market. Proper, Khun Van has tales to inform on the evening market.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

Then the recollections darken. His household lived in a tiny roach-infested condo in Lengthy Seaside. His dad and mom and their Cambodian neighbors all locked themselves inside, leaving solely to get their authorities checks and groceries. He knew no English and didn’t perceive why the instructor wouldn’t converse to him.

He remembers the shock of the primary time he was attacked, as if it occurred yesterday: curling up in a fetal ball, tasting his personal blood.

“Earlier than it can save you the world, you must save your self.”

— Danny Kim, Cambodian evening market founder

The boy who jumped him screamed “Go house!” as he stored kicking. After that, the jumpings blur — there have been too lots of them.

As a boy, he first wished to be a police officer as a result of he wished to arrest the kids who beat him. However he additionally by no means believed he would graduate highschool.

The day he took the examination for the police academy there have been 200 candidates. He noticed nobody else who appeared Asian.

Danny Kim on duty for the Fresno Police Department.

Danny Kim on obligation for the Fresno Police Division.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

“It will by no means occur,” he thought. He was ranked eleventh and accepted.

By then, he knew what he was after. He wished to be a liaison for his neighborhood.

He wished to carry Buddhist rules to policing, displaying empathy and respect.

He wished a career and sufficient cash that his household at all times lived in a secure neighborhood.

“It’s a must to save your self,” he mentioned. “Earlier than it can save you the world, you must save your self.”

One factor he by no means wished was to return to Cambodia. However he was unable to say no to his father, Savunn Im.

Be Ban fries up some bananas at the Cambodian Night Market in Fresno.

Be Ban fries up some bananas on the Cambodian Evening Market in Fresno.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

Kim’s father returned to his homeland yearly, however in 2014 he advised his son he was too frail to journey alone and wanted his assist.

They went to the village the place Kim was born, and the place the place his uncle was executed. Im had been a monk close to this village earlier than he met Kim’s mom, Soeun Ven, and gave up his monastic life.

Father and son visited the evening market at Siem Reap, the vacationer gateway to Angkor Wat, a temple advanced that dates again to the twelfth century. Music pumped, an unlimited array of avenue meals beckoned, the place was stuffed with folks from everywhere in the world and there was laughter.

That was Kim’s second of conviction.

“Whenever you consider Cambodia, what do you consider? Genocide,” he mentioned, answering his personal query. “However right here was Cambodian life and neighborhood being shared.”

Kim swore on the spot that he would carry the evening market to Fresno.

An Touch dances at the Cambodian Night Market; Say Bunthon during a ceremony; Yvonna Chan gets a selfie; and angelic statues.

Clockwise from high: An Contact dances on the Cambodian Evening Market; Say Bunthon throughout a particular ceremony on the Cambodian Buddhist Temple; Yvonna Chan will get a selfie; and angelic statues on the Buddhist temple the place the evening market is held.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

He approached the temple leaders. They mentioned no. They had been afraid of liabilities and strangers.

However leaders change.

Kim tried once more and the subsequent time discovered help.

On a Friday evening, a person fed 10-foot sugarcane stalks right into a grinder for recent juices. Meats sizzled on grills loud sufficient to listen to over the music. Different distributors bought papaya salads and pahut sticks — fried fish filled with lemongrass and different herbs. Scents of smoke and spices drifted on the valley breeze.

Kim joked with distributors and bowed to monks. He was sporting shorts and flip-flops, however a number of gang members gave him a pleasant “Hiya, Sgt. Kim.”

He mentioned they might not trigger bother as a result of their dad and mom are distributors and it could value their households cash if the market was closed down.

“Folks really feel secure right here,” he mentioned.

He hoped the occasion, which is the primary Friday of the month, will ultimately grow to be weekly and can develop to attract a various crowd.

The temple abbot, Say Bunthon, center, has holy water poured over him during a special ceremony.

The temple abbot, Say Bunthon, heart, has holy water poured over him throughout a particular ceremony on the Fresno Cambodian Buddhist Temple.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

“When folks know one another, they’re much less afraid and there’s much less violence,” he mentioned. “See? I’m pondering like a police officer.”

Soreath Hok, 37, arrived, instantly operating into the brother of her uncle by marriage. She mentioned it’s grow to be a spot you’ll be able to present up understanding you’ll see household and associates.

Hok’s dad and mom introduced her to the U.S. when she was 2. She thought she had escaped the shadow of the genocide — she was a music-loving former school DJ and a profitable college-educated entrepreneur in San Francisco. However on a go to house, she was shocked by how a lot her dad and mom had aged.

She upended her life and moved again to assist them with their doughnut store through the pandemic.

Hok turned a radio reporter at a neighborhood station and is engaged on a challenge about trauma within the Cambodian neighborhood due to the genocide.

“Lots of people right here aren’t OK. There’s a whole lot of ache,” Kim advised her. “They are saying there’s at all times gentle on the finish of the tunnel. However that solely works if you happen to don’t get caught in the midst of the tunnel. It’s a must to give folks one thing to tug them ahead.”

Danny Kim, left, watches a parade for the temple abbot with Melinda and Alexa Hok.

Danny Kim, left, watches a parade with Melinda and Alexa Hok throughout a particular ceremony on the Fresno Cambodian Buddhist Temple.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

Soma Norodom approached and launched herself.

Hok startled on the title.

Norodom is a Cambodian princess, raised in Lengthy Seaside. Her father, a member of the Cambodian royal household and a pilot who helped People within the Vietnam Conflict, was one of many first Cambodian refugees in 1975.

He got here to Fresno in 1987 to type an help group serving to a second wave of refugees discover housing, jobs and help.

Norodom mentioned it was her father’s dying want that she return to Cambodia and declare a task as princess. She tried however was pressured out. She mentioned she feels she is the place she must be.

“His true legacy is true right here,” she mentioned.

Danny Kim chats with elders at the Cambodian Night Market.

Danny Kim chats with elders on the Cambodian Evening Market.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

“The previous ones had been dying and there have been no new leaders till Danny. He’s retaining our tradition going on this nation and I wish to assist.”

Because the solar set, striping the sky orange, the temple’s newly appointed abbot — wearing orange robes and carrying an orange iPhone case — mentioned he hoped Cambodian nights would carry extra folks to the temple to take a seat within the shade of the Bodhi tree, take a look at the great thing about the lotus flowers, and maybe take one of many incense sticks which can be at all times ready and supply a prayer for peace.

Younger cousins took activates a hoverboard. Girls in shiny clothes took a stroll in a rice paddy planted close to the temple.

On the dance flooring, a guffawing group practiced the steps of that world social gathering standby, the electrical slide.

In some methods it was a humble occasion — fewer than a dozen distributors with few folks exterior the Cambodian neighborhood attending.

Kim needed to depart early to prepare for his common evening shift.

He would commerce his Angkor Wat vacationer T-shirt for a crisp blue uniform. He would run a briefing for a half- dozen officers who appeared so younger that in the event that they had been actors they might have performed highschool children.

Danny Kim talks to a person along a curb in Fresno.

Danny Kim talks to an individual alongside a curb in Fresno.

(Gary Kazanjian / For The Occasions)

“Keep in mind to make use of your psychological judo on the market,” he would inform them. “Phrases and compassion. Let’s preserve everybody secure.”

It will be an extended, turbulent evening and he would as soon as once more want for a day schedule.

However as he left, he took a second to face and watch the evening market.

Khmer music performed, folks danced and life continued.

“You perceive the magnitude of that?” he requested. “Simply that we’re right here collectively.”