“On previous trips the pirates have stolen valuables, killed people, raped and abducted girls… the women work frantically to ugly themselves up by smearing black charcoal paste on their faces and bodies. With ashen faces, some of the younger, prettier girls reach into the bags we have vomited into and scoop out handfuls of it to smear on their hair and clothes.”
In this excerpt from First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Loung Ung recounts one of many trials she faced in her journey to America. Not even ten years old when she encountered these pirates en route to Thailand, a common detour for Cambodians pursuing refugee status in the United States, Loung had spent the majority of her short life fleeing violence under the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime. Since the Communist takeover on April 17 th , 1975, Loung had watched the merciless and systematic murder of nearly a fourth of Cambodia’s people. Loung’s memoir has been translated into nine languages and recently converted into a movie. She has worked to shed light on the Cambodian Genocide, too often overshadowed and forgotten in world history. Even deep into the 21 st century, slow legal processes and outright neglect have allowed criminals like Pol Pot and Ieng Thirith, top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, to die in custody without ever facing justice for their inhumanity.
Loung Ung’s sequel, Lucky Child, outlines the struggles she faced as a child immigrant who fled the war-torn jungles of Southeast Asia to the snowy hills of Vermont. Since coming to the US, she has graduated college, been reunited with her family abroad, and inspired millions to engage in activism. She now resides in the Ohio with her husband and has spent her life doing a variety of altruistic work that includes working at a Maine shelter for abused women, with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and doing landmine research with the Peace Action Education Fund.