Struggle to maintain cultural identity: a Cambodian American experience
This paper examines how some Cambodian refugees are assimilating to the wider American society. In this process of adjustment, there emerge intergenerational and gender conflicts and divisions both within and between families. A case study of the Cambodian community in Portland, Maine, reveals that the older generation identifies more with Cambodian traditional culture. They have the most difficulty adjusting to the new society. The middle generation is in favor of maintaining their cultural heritage, yet they understand the necessity of accepting some changes. The younger generation, having more contact with the wider society than their older relatives, are better assimilated and more attracted to the wider society's cultural values. Intergenerational conflicts arise over these different views toward cultural values. Traditional gender relations are also affected by the process of adaptation. Cambodian men are no longer the sole family providers. Women also have to work to meet the high cost of living. Women's contribution to the family income is significant yet they are still tied to their traditional domestic role. This inequality within the household also creates conflicts. Women see themselves as contributing more than their male relatives. Individuals in the Portland Cambodian community have taken different paths of adaptation to the dominant society. Individuals and families have different access to resources, such as job or educational opportunities. Broad divisions within the community exist between those who have succeeded economically and or those invested in their children's education, and those Cambodians who are still struggling to stay out of poverty.