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USF Libraries Exhibits

A Personal Narrative on the Cambodian Genocide

Sophal Leng Stagg, Cambodian Survivor

First, I wanted to tell my children. I was pregnant with my oldest son, and I say I want my son to know what I’d been through. And at that point, I did not have a large vision of how much American people not know anything about what happened in Cambodia. When I go to the dentist, I go to the doctor, they ask me where I come from, how do I get here, and I start to tell them the story what happen. And people was like, “My God! Really, that’s what happened? I never know. I did not know that was happen.” And the more I hear about that, it’s the more I had to tell the nation, I would say. This is not right. This is not right, what I been through—the whole country went through—and nobody know anything about it. Back then, I always thought that one day American would come and help us. I always imagine American spy plane gonna come and rescue me. Somebody around the world gonna do something to help Cambodian people. I used to sit in the rice field, looking at the sky with all the star, and I used to talk to the moon—especially when it’s full moon, ’cause I love the full moon because it was so clear that I was not afraid of the dark, and I used to be afraid to go away far from the hut. But when the full moon, it give me some sort of secure that, you know, I see where I’m going. And I used to talk to the moon, and I used to pretend that—I used to tell the moon how hungry I was. I used to—“Do you know that I am hungry right now? Can you give me some food now?” I used to talk to the moon—but only in my head, but I never talked loud so other people would hear what I say, because I can’t trust anybody, and you can’t talk openly to anyone because they never talk to you. So, you don’t open up to them either because you’re afraid what they turn around and might tell on you or something. So, I used to talk to the moon, and I used to sometime get mad and say, “You don’t care! You just up there and you know what I been through, and you don’t care.” And when I finally get on the plane, come to America, and I say, “This is my chance to get far away.” And when I put down those word on those papers, when I start to write those, I was meant to tell my kid. But then the story start to spread. People do not know, and I feel like, “My God, my family don’t talk about it. A lot of Cambodian people don’t talk about it. What we been through all this time, it’s for nothing? It cannot be for nothing.” And that is how it get to today. If nobody talk about it, not a lot of people know about it, all those people that died would be die for nothing. Nobody didn’t even know what they went through.