A second-generation Cambodian genocide survivor draws parallels between her mother’s experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime and the modern-day treatment of farmed animals.
Growing up, I didn’t hear the make-believe stories told to children my age. There were no princesses, unicorns, or happily-ever-afters. My mother Kimberly (whose birth name, Ly Kim, neatly translates to her American name) instead recounted raw tales of her life in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge genocide. With the Cambodian New Year starting today, I am reminded of her stories during this otherwise festive period for Cambodian people. It was not until adulthood that I realized how many aspects of my mother’s nightmarish experiences closely resemble the lives of today’s industrially farmed animals.
My mother was just 16 years old when Cambodia’s tumultuous politics paved the way for one of the most horrific atrocities in modern history. In April of 1975, Communist dictator Pol Pot set in motion his radical agenda for “Year Zero,” envisioning an agrarian society ruled by the Khmer Rouge—a militant group intent on purging the country of minorities, artists, and intellectuals. Urban dwellers in Cambodia were forced en masse to the country’s rural areas, which would later be infamously known as the Killing Fields. What my mother and millions of Cambodians endured for the next four years was hellish, if not fatal. About one-fifth of the Cambodian population, or 1.7 million people, died by execution, torture, starvation, or disease.