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What to Call the Cambodian People?

As we near Thanksgiving, I wish express to Team Cambodia 2011 the gratitude of the local Khmi community. Since Youthlinc’s Cambodia Benefit, I have been contacted repeatedly by individuals who have shared a past desire to do more for their people in Cambodia, but have felt powerless to do so…until Youthlinc. You have become their hands and their hope!

There has been some question concerning the use of the word Khmi (kah-my) when relating to the Cambodian people. Khmi is the word they use when speaking of themselves and of their language. A much more commonly used word is Khmer (kah-mer). In fact, were you to do a Google search with the word Khmi, you would find yourself empty-handed. Please allow me to share a very short explanation of why we have chosen to use Khmi, and why the Cambodian people are known to the world as Khmer.

The history of Cambodia is the stuff of fantasy and intrigue. Its rich twists and turns have taken it from one of the world’s highest civilizations to one of the lowest. In 1863, due to Thai and Vietnamese tensions, Cambodia became a “protectorate” of France. During this time, the Khmi people lost a lot of their pride and identity. Gold tiles were removed from their temples, and, among other changes, the French began referring to them as Khmer. This would be much like another country coming into the U.S. to “save us”, changing our name and the name of our language, and having the rest of the world follow suit…until no one could Google American and figure out what it meant.

Obviously, Khmer and Khmi are both important terms to know and understand. As you study Cambodia and its people in preparation for your trip next year, I would suggest using the words “Cambodia”, “Cambodian” and “Khmer”. But, as you personally get to know the Cambodian people, using “Khmi” will recognize and honor the truth of who they are. In a land where so much has been lost, I believe this is an important distinction to be made.

Warmest Thanksgiving Wishes,
Karen Roylance

Youthlinc

Youthlinc is a Utah-based 501c-3 nonprofit dedicated to creating lifetime humanitarians through local and international service. Learn more about our programs by visiting our website: www.youthlinc.org.

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