Tomorrow, April 5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Cambodian New Year will be celebrated at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, at 2465 34th Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale. All music and food lovers are cordially invited to celebrate the resilience and beauty of Cambodian arts.

The festival is multicultural with Cambodian dance groups from all over Northern California performing dances in dazzling costumes, as well as Burmese, Thai and Nepali dancers. Restaurants, including the legendary Battambang, will sell delicious Cambodian food throughout the event.

For the past three years, members of the Cambodian community have partnered with Peralta Hacienda to bring music and dance, food and festivities, celebration and fun to the local community and the wider Bay Area public. The Cambodian community wants the public to appreciate their rich arts and culture, as well as to acknowledge the war and genocide that all but destroyed Cambodia in the 1970s.

What makes this celebration so special?

On April 17th, 1975, the Khmer Rouge Regime rose to power in Cambodia. By the end of their rule four years later, the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) were responsible for the deaths of over 2 million Cambodian people.

An estimated 95% of Cambodia’s artists, dancers, and musicians were executed by the Khmer Rouge, which targeted all culture and learning as part of the old order. In 2012, the Khmer Rouge’s top officials were finally put on trial for war crimes.

The dancers and musicians featured at this year’s Cambodian New Year in Oakland command a special respect, both from Cambodians and lovers of world music and culture as they are preserving a rare art form.

Festival-goers can also tour the exhibit Rhythm of the Refugee between performances. It tells stories both harrowing and heartening, and displays photographs, stories, and cultural objects from the Cambodian community. In the words of Sambo Ly, “The painful experiences that I endured as a teen during the war are inexpressible. Every day I am thankful for the second chance at life.”

For many Cambodians in diaspora, the trials mean facing a history almost too painful to recall. In interviews featured in Rhythm of the Refugees, Phannara Khun recalled atrocities committed against her family:

“In 1977, they killed my dad by cutting open his stomach …Two weeks later they beat my brother to death with a wooden club…In 1978, my sister and her husband were tortured until they died. Then they threw my one-year-old nephew into the air and shot him. … I cried and cried and passed out. Because my mother cried, they executed her too. People in the village hid me and I survived…”

The exhibit however, is a chance not only to remember the Cambodian tragedies, but also celebrate Cambodian resilience.

About Peralta Hacienda

The 1870 Antonio Peralta House is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, visitors can see permanent historical exhibits in the Peralta House museum that tell the story of the transformation of the East Bay during the Spanish and Mexican periods through sound, images, and touchable objects. They can also see the StoryHorse, a contemporary exhibit on Oakland’s African-American history and memories. The six-acre site is a California State Landmark as well as being on the National Park Service’s Juan Bautista de Anza National Trail.

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