UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Postmemory work in the Cambodian diaspora : using the past to access the present Chea, Chany


This thesis calls for a change in the way we think about articulating suffering and its meanings. It is an analysis of 1.5 and second generation Cambodian postmemory work in North America. I describe the music, film, visual art, poetry and performance art that have been produced by these generations as “postmemory” work because the creators invoke memory that they have not lived themselves or have forgotten. The work of these generations that relate to the Cambodian genocide relies on intergenerational communication with their parents to retell family stories. In their countries of resettlement, Cambodians have faced a lack of social capital, economic hardships, underrepresentation and generational dissonance. In these contexts, reconciling past and present has not been a priority, particularly in a culture which has been found to attribute weakness to discussing violent pasts (Kidron, 2010). Silence on a past of genocide has been a consequence of these factors. While silence on violent pasts is a dominant trait in the diaspora, there are those who choose to speak out about their family’s experience. Using their family stories of genocide, 1.5 and second generation Cambodians explore multivalent issues that impact their present lives. I use the works of Socheata Poeuv, Prach Ly and Anida Yoeu Ali as well as my own to exemplify how the past is engaged in the present. When we bear witness to the postmemory work of Poeuv, Ly and Ali we see a bridging of generations and beliefs and the continual development of a Cambodian diaspora identity. Silence is linked to the maintenance of cultural ideas. By examining instances of 1.5 and second generation public expression, I show the diaspora as a community that also has shifting ideologies. I recognize that silence and speaking out can both exist within the North American Cambodian diaspora. Bringing together the literature on silence while analysing postmemory work allows for an understanding of the variation in ways that individuals and families within a community engage and make meaning of the past.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada