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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cambodian dance tranforms Kong into an ambassador

Kong took up Cambodian classical dancing in high school, seizing an opportunity to perform this dance that in Cambodia, was limited to the upper classes. The dance was a way for her and others to show off Cambodian culture for Americans.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BARBARA LAU:
Now, when you were in high school, I think you also did a little bit more dancing.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And so maybe you could talk a little bit about what you did, what you learned. Why was that important in shaping who you are?
RAN KONG:
In high school? Let's see, the dancing, when we first started, like I said, it was just kind of, this is fun. This is something that not many other people can do, so it's something really special that I want to hold onto. But then I got older, and it was just like, wow, you know. And this type of dancing—
BARBARA LAU:
Can you say what kind of dancing it is, and describe it?
RAN KONG:
Cambodian classical dancing and Cambodian folk dancing. Not even so much as what each dance meant, like the meanings of each dance, but why it is that we danced it. Just like I said, like the monk, Phramaha Somsak was like, I want this for you all. It's not for me. I don't get anything out of dancing. He doesn't get anything out of the dance group. It's for the kids. He wants us to learn. I've heard him say that to us a couple of times, that you know, this is your culture, this is your history, you need to keep it alive. Just in terms of people in Cambodia, before the whole incident with the Khmer Rouge, never saw this type of dancing. It was only reserved for the king, and diplomats or whatever. So people like my family would have never been able to see this type of dancing, classical dancing, to be specific. And so now we not only get a chance to see it, we get a chance to learn it. And so take advantage of the opportunity. So that was what we did we took advantage of the opportunity. I guess in a way my father and the monk, true, whenever he introduced us, I listened, and I remember the monk saying specifically, these people are refugees from Cambodia. This is what happened. So we come to America, and we have nothing. I mean, I'm sure there are many Americans out there who are, they're a burden to society in a way because some of us live on welfare, some of us live on food stamps. And overall, I think some people have a really negative image of refugees, and immigrants in general, that they take the wealth out of society or whatever. We have to support them, in a way. And so you know, coming from all of that, the monk is like, this is— we carry nothing with us from Cambodia, in a sense. All that we have is ourselves and our culture. And what can we give back to America in a way? What can we show like Americans about us? Like try to teach that we're more than just refugees, or that we're more than just immigrants. That we have more than just the Khmer Rouge to make us important in this world. So we have this beautiful art form. And we want to share it with you. So, here it is, you know. And who's doing it? It's the young people. It's this generation. And they're going to pass it on to the next generation. And so in a way, it was important to me that he said those words. Now that I look back on it, I'm really glad that he said those things, because it's all true. We come here, and some people view us in a negative way. At the same time, you're like, well, why am I here? Is it true like what they say about me? Am I really not welcome here? What can I give back? What can I do to establish myself as an individual, as a group of people, not just some people that came from this little country on the map that nobody can even point out. This is what we have, and guess what, Americans don't have it. So you know, here it is. Enjoy it.
BARBARA LAU:
How did dancing make you feel about yourself?
RAN KONG:
It made me feel good. It's hard getting up before a group of people and doing something that's so different. Because sometimes you're doing a performance, and you see someone get up and leave. And you're like, oh, it must be boring, or they don't enjoy it. They're like, what is that going on up there? What are they doing? But then afterwards, you know, when people come up and tell you, that was really amazing what you did, and that was just really beautiful, it just makes you feel so good that you're making somebody else happy simply because of what you love to do yourself.