Written more than twenty years ago in 1988, this article in the Chicago Reader tells the tale of Cambodian immigrant Nil Samorn and his life after a genocide that has been overlooked in history books and forgotten by many. An in-depth interview with Samorn is incredibly telling of the struggle of many immigrants and should be remembered even 22 years later.

In the article,  The Cambodian Nightmare and the American Dream, author Kitry Krause explains some of the horrors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime:

”The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of an estimated two million Cambodians. They died of exhaustion, of exposure, of starvation, of disease. They were tortured, shot, disemboweled, and hacked to death with hoes. The ethnic minorities–the Vietnamese, the Muslim Cham, the Chinese–were some of the first to be killed or driven out of the country by the intensely nationalistic Khmer Rouge…Those who remained have seen the unimaginable.”

Nil Samorn narrowly escaped death in a Khmer Rouge killing field and came to the states after a grueling experience in a KR prison. He lost most of his family before he came to the states. At the time the article was written, Samorn had been living in Chicago for seven years and was working to become assimilated into his new environment. He worked as a social worker to help other Cambodian refugees and also owned his own video store.

The author doesn’t shirk from asking big questions of Samorn, and of the reader, about why such a brutal regime came to power in the early seventies that brought terror to the lives of so many others like this Chicago immigrant?

”I ask him how much most Cambodians understand of the many intertwined reasons the Khmer Rouge came to power. How much do they know, for instance, about the heavy U.S. bombing–a half million tons–that devastated eastern Cambodia and helped drive many people there to support the Khmer Rouge?”

According to the most recent data from the Cambodian Association of Illinois, there are roughly 3,000 Cambodian households in Chicago and about 5,000 Cambodian individuals currently living in the state of Illinois. Most of them came in the 1970s to escape the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian nightmare may seem to be ancient history to many Americans, but to the Cambodian immigrant population, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge may as well have happened yesterday.