Cambodian Voices in the Bay
Historical Timeline

A brief historical timeline of Khmer communities in the United States and US-Cambodian relations from 1975 to the present day.
1975
The Cambodian Association of America
The Cambodian Association of America is the first nonprofit Cambodian-American organization to be recognized in the United States. The organization is established following the first wave of thousands of Cambodian refugees entering the United States.


1977
Ted Ngoy, The Donut King
Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy opens his first Christy’s Doughnuts. Known as “The Donut King,” Ted eventually expands his donut shore chain to over 30 donut store, and helps to employ dozens of Cambodian refugees. Today, an estimated 80% of donut shops in California are owned or operated by Cambodian-Americans.


1980
The Khmer Guided Placement Project
The Khmer Guided Placement Project is established by the federal government through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The project is created to address the high influx of Cambodian refugees in Long Beach, CA. Between 300-1,000 Cambodian refugees are resettled into 12 cities, including Atlanta, Houston, and Richmond. Altogether, more than 8,000 refugees resettle to these 12 cities, widening the Cambodian diaspora in America.


1982
Wat Dhammararam Buddhist Temple
The Wat Dhammararam Buddhist Temple in Stockton, formerly the Theravada Buddhist Temple, is established.


1983–1987
Phnom Penh Restaurant
The first Cambodian restaurant opens in the United States. Called “Phnom Penh,” it operates in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco for four years.


1989–1993
Sichan Siv, Deputy Assistant to the President
President George H. W. Bush appoints Cambodian-American Sichan Siv as Deputy Assistant to the President. This leads to an increase in Cambodian-American support for Republicans nationwide.


1989
Cleveland Elementary School Shooting
The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting upends the city of Stockton, CA. The victims – predominantly Southeast Asian children and many Cambodian immigrants – reignites the traumas of the Khmer Rouge for many of Stockton’s Cambodian residents. This experience soon leads the city to reinvest in social services directed towards Stockton’s refugee populations.


1990
Dr. Khatharya Um
Khatharya Um receives her Ph.D. in Political Science at UC Berkeley, becoming the first woman of Cambodian descent to receive a Ph.D. in the United States. Currently, she is a professor in UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Department, researching the global impacts of war, genocide, and refugee experiences, particularly in Southeast Asia.


1996
The Murder of Haing Ngor
Haing Ngor, the Academy Award-winning actor of the film The Killing Fields, is murdered by three Cambodian-born members of the “Oriental Lazy Boyz” gang. This further fuels anti-immigrant sentiment within the US.


1996
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This law requires the mandatory detention of non-citizens convicted of a wide range of offenses, including minor drug offenses, and expands deportation grounds based on criminal convictions.


1998
City Councilmember Chanrithy Uong
Chanrithy Uong becomes the first Cambodian-American to be elected into public office in the United States, serving as a city councilmember in Lowell, Massachusetts.


2002
No Child Left Behind Act
The No Child Left Behind Act is signed into law, supporting standards-based education reform. This legislation, in addition to a rise in English-only programs, facilitates the loss of the Khmer language for many Cambodian children.


2002
US-Cambodia Repatriation Agreement
The United States and Cambodia sign a repatriation agreement, kickstarting a wave of deportations in Cambodian immigrant communities.


2006
Soben Huon, Miss Utah 2006
Soben Huon is voted Miss Utah 2006, being the first Cambodian-American and first member of any minority group to do so. With her platform, she expresses pride in her Cambodian heritage, and her ability to speak Khmer fluently.


2012
President Obama in Cambodia
Obama visits Cambodia, marking the first time that a sitting US president visited a Southeast Asian country. Obama is met with protests led by activists, including Theary Seng, who calls on the president to publicly apologize for the US bombings in Cambodia’s countryside during the Nixon administration.


2017
Cambodia Suspends Repatriation Agreement
Cambodia suspends their repatriation agreement with the United States.


2017
US Visa Sanctions
The United States imposes visa sanctions against Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affair officials in response to Cambodia’s suspension of the repatriation agreement.


2017
Cambodia’s Response to US Sanctions
In retaliation to the United States’ visa sanctions, Cambodia suspends missions led by the U.S. military to search for the remains of Americans missing in action during the Vietnam War. Cambodia later resumes these search missions on October 6th, 2018.


2018
Nyum Bai Restaurant
Cambodian restaurant Nyum Bai opens in Oakland, CA. The restaurant attracts national attention, and puts Cambodian cuisine in the spotlight.

This project is made possible with support from California Humanities.