Once upon a time, the Khmer people had a great empire that spread throughout Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat and the other temple complexes in modern day Siem Reap were built during a time of immense prosperity. The foundation of this prosperity was the shrewd production of vast amounts of rice via advanced irrigation systems. Eventually, however, the same methods that brought the Khmer empire to greatness also became its downfall as greed led to overfarming and drought.
Once there was a thick forest of bamboo that protected a Khmer province from attack; it was nearly impenetrable to invaders. This is the site of another instance of greed leading to Khmer downfall: the invading army threw gold into the forest, and people began to chop down the forest to get the gold. As more and more people began to clear away the trees, invaders were able to break through the barrier and take the territory.
Once I read in a history book about Cambodia that a trader from China had written in his journals that he liked doing business in Cambodia because the Khmer people were mostly docile, complacent, and unintelligent.
These are the stories that I learned about Cambodia when I was young and trying to devour as much as I could about where my family came from. I was intrigued by the existence of Angkor; I was proud of that part of my heritage. Then I was discouraged because I found out that the kings who built Angkor were transplants from India. My self-education about my Khmer heritage is limited to what I know of Angkor and the Khmer Rouge– a grotesque oversight on my part.
Somewhere along the way, learning about where my parents came from took a backseat to assimilating. As I got older I spent time community-organizing but disconnected from two communities to which I owe the most: other Khmers, and my own family.
It is never too late. It is foolish to waste time regretting what can still be made right.