Long Beach Cambodia Town signs recognize ethnic neighborhood

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Updated: 07/16/2011 10:17:54 PM PDT
(Scott Varley / Staff Photographer)


LONG BEACH — It's a simple sign, but it took almost a decade to get there.

On Saturday, about 100 residents and dignitaries gathered to officially unveil one of two signs that proclaim the Cambodia Town area of Long Beach on the southeast corner at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Anaheim Street.

"This has taken a long time," said Councilman Dee Andrews, in whose 6th District most of Cambodia Town is located. "This is long overdue, long overdue for a little small sign."

Also on hand were leaders in the Cambodian community, from Richer San and Sithea San, the outgoing head of Cambodia Town Inc., to Kimthai Kuoch and Sara Pol-Lim, who head up the Cambodian Association of America and United Cambodian Community, respectively.

All were there to finally celebrate what had long been talked about, but remained puzzlingly elusive.

The idea began innocently enough 10 years ago after the Press-Telegram ran a series of articles about the Cambodian community in Long Beach, home to the largest Cambodian refugee population in the United States.

After politicians and bureaucrats, not to mention opposing factions within the Cambodian community, got hold of the idea, it took several years to get the City Council to officially recognize the area and four more years to get the first two signs put up.

Even the name, between the older informal nickname of Little Phnom Penh and the new designation, officially the "Cambodia Town Cultural District," caused debate.

However, last week, the signs went up.

The second sign is at the other end of the main Cambodia Town strip, on the northwest corner of Anaheim Street and Junipero Avenue. The area is lined with Cambodian- owned businesses, social organizations and signs in Khmer.

Yet even the Saturday unveiling proved to be difficult, with the banner that was covering the sign getting stuck until city workers finally removed it.

The event was celebrated with dance, a blessing by monks and other festivities.

John Edmond, Andrews' chief of staff, said a complicated web of issues of liability, policy and council votes had to be negotiated merely to install the simple sign high on a light pole in the city's standard blue with block letters.

Organizers say, however, that the installation of the two signs is just the start. Several others are in the process and freeway signs directing drivers to Cambodia Town are apparently already in the state's legislative pipeline.

Congresswoman Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, who represented the 6th District as a councilwoman when the Cambodia Town designation was officially adopted, said the sign would serve as a reminder to residents to retain their cultural, business and historic identity.

Song Chhang, a former Cambodian government official, said the sign would help build a bridge between America and Cambodia.

Richardson and Andrews both said plans were also under way to build a larger and more distinctive sign that would arch over Anaheim Street and more prominently display the area. No dates for when that will occur have been announced.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291

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