Transmission of Cambodian Culture to the Next Generation

The temple is making efforts to minimize this gap, having already taken the first step: a children’s dance group. The group meets every Sunday at the temple to practice traditional Cambodian dance and performs at temple festivals and fundraisers. The group, a mix of girls and boys, dances in traditional Cambodian attire to traditional Cambodian music. Additionally, children are taught to play Cambodian instruments. Listen to some of the music here.

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I am educational motivator. I motivate my own Cambodian people, especially younger generations, to preserve our traditional Cambodian cultural heritage. My mission is to establish a Cambodian cultural heritage so the Cambodian generations [can] be able to maintain their cultural heritage; language, food, clothing, you name it, everything. The language, especially the language. I’d like to see a language class begin as soon as possible. So my idea once again, is to have a permanent community center where we can go to school at least two or three days a week. Right now I am [on course to establish] a group of professionals to preserve our Khmer cultural heritage so that we can teach them [the younger generation]. That’s my mission and my vision in life.

For someone like Dr. Chang Thach, who in the winter of 2010 described himself as an "educational motivator of the temple", programs like these ones are incredibly important. “My mission is to establish a Cambodian cultural heritage,” he said, “so the Cambodian generations [can] be able to maintain that.” Dancing and instruments are the only organized ways the temple promotes its Cambodian culture in children, but other programs are in the works. Language classes are the most important things on Thach’s list, because in addition to greater cultural awareness, communication with monks would become far easier. Although many of the monks do speak some English, Cambodian is far more effective when communicating. An additional Watt Munisotaram campus in the Twin Cities, one of Thach’s dreams for the temple, would make programs like language classes much easier purely because of location and proximity to the greatest number of Watt attendees. Listen to Thach speak here.

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Especially with my daughter you know, I don’t want her to forget my own culture. Some people forget it but for me I don’t want her to forget it so she’d know [about the culture. That’s why I tell her to go every day [on] Sunday to learn more about it. Oh she love it, one time I try to test out [not attending the Watt as often] and she said ‘No Daddy, I love it!’ Plus she has fun too and that’s why, and that’s what’s most important. But they love and they love the culture that’s why they want to go [to the Watt] all the time.

Stronger programming would certainly help retain these second and third generation Cambodians and provide depth to involvement, and the dance group is a good first step. In an interview, a father recounted that a few years ago, he was considering not attending the temple as often. His eight-year-old daughter resisted, however, saying “No, Daddy. I love it!” There is a generally recognized need for more programming. Listen to Saravuth Sok, the father mentioned, speak here.