The fabric of Cambodian life: Sarongs at home, dungarees at work
This dissertation seeks to understand how the women of Cambodia recreated self and culture after experiencing civil war, displacement, refugee camps, and resettlement. The women, as well the men, lost all that was meaningful including children, spouses, immediate and extended family, known villages, the Buddhist religion, predictable life rites, and economic self-sufficiency. Since most women lost the protection of husbands, brothers, and fathers, their plight was all the more urgent as they attempted to keep their remaining children alive and safe.
In order to comprehend this enormous problem, I conducted interviews with the women (and some men) in Amherst, Massachusetts, a rural New England town. In addition, I questioned several nuns and a Buddhist wiseman and gathered life histories from some of the women. I used a loosely structured interview method as well as participant observation. I attended Buddhist festivals and family events. I had access to videos, library resources and archival material at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts.
I found the women have not recreated but added to their pre-war sense of self and culture. Most families maintain their Khmer/Buddhist identity through language, food, clothing, celebrations, and personal surroundings. It is important to the women that the children remain knowledgeable in Buddhist practices and learn the valuable Khmer lesson of respect. The women readily accept aspects of American culture. They understand the importance of education for their children and the need for their children to learn English. English is beyond the grasp of many older women.
There are areas of difficulty for the Khmer women, especially when strongly held Khmer values violently clash with American values. There are also endeavors that will strengthen the Khmer community in Amherst, such as the construction of a traditional Buddhist Wat (Temple) in neighboring Leverett, Massachusetts. It is my conclusion that the Khmer community will remain viable as the women actively blend new traditions with older rituals.
0453: Womens studies