Photo depicting rows of Cambodian dancers, some holding platters of flowers and banners while the rest have their hands folded in prayer. All the dancers are wearing traditional garments.

White Center’s 20th Cambodian New Year Festival to Be Celebrated Virtually

by Ronnie Estoque

Cambodian Cultural Alliance of Washington (CCAW) is hosting its 20th annual celebration for the Cambodian New Year — a few weeks after the holiday — via livestream on May 28. Past New Year’s celebrations took place as street festivals in White Center; however, last year was the group’s first virtual celebration due to the pandemic. 

“A lot of our community has difficulties and barriers getting the vaccine,” said Sophia Som, outreach coordinator at the CCAW. 

The dance groups involved this year include the Khmer Language Arts & Cultural Academy (KLACA), UW Khmer Student Association (KhSA), Khemarak Samaki Classical Group (KSCG), and Cambodian Classical and Folk Dance Northwest. The South Park Senior Center Cambodian Group is also involved as a community group, as well as North Seattle’s Cambodian restaurant Oliver’s Twist. 

“There will be recorded performances from local dance groups, food demonstrations from our aging community, and a chance to win a prize if you participate in the food tour with Oliver Twist,” Som said.

The CCAW has been celebrating the Cambodian New Year in Seattle since 2002 and has historically relied on volunteers to organize the event. The group typically celebrates the New Year festival in person at the White Center Plaza, and Som was nostalgic when asked about her experience growing up attending these events in person.

“Bringing everybody together, dressed in outfits, or eating certain food, or even going to the temple, regardless of the temple being a religious place …,” Som described.

Several of the dance groups performing in this year’s festival have consistently been attending the event for numerous years. Som also describes the event as being accessible to all, even those who may not be religious.

“It’s [New Year’s], something everybody in the community regardless of their religious background can all celebrate … that’s something that is shared throughout the community. It’s also something that is still strong, and something that we all look forward to despite our dark history,” Som explained. 

Many of Seattle’s Cambodian communities are refugees from the Khmer Rouge’s genocide who settled in the U.S. during the late 1970s and mid-1980s. 

The CCAW hopes that next year’s celebration can be held in person and is continuing to seek partnerships with community organizations to make the event as inclusive as possible. It plans to showcase the talent in the community and create a space that invites even those who may not be Cambodian to attend and learn more about their culture.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: At a Cambodian New Year’s celebration on April 16, members of the Kent Temple gathered in a line for the folk dance parade, Chhaiyam, to ward off evil spirits and bring joy to the audience. (Photo: Ly Soy)

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