Vintage photo depicting a group of Cham refugees gathered on picnic blankets. Many of the women are wearing white headscarves.

Cham Refugee Community: A Photo and Video Portrait of Generational Wealth-Building

by Ronnie Estoque


The Cham are an ethnic group in Cambodia and Vietnam, tracing their ancestry back to the historic Kingdom of Champa, dating back to the second century CE. Many Cham people became refugees during the time of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam War.

In 1977, the Toulas family became the first Cham family to arrive in Seattle. They settled in Holly Park, which is currently the New Holly neighborhood in South Seattle. In the early 1980s, more Cham families began to arrive in Seattle, which led to the establishment of the Cham Refugee Community (CRC) of Seattle in 1982. 

Over the years, the CRC has expanded its programming to serve more community members and has acquired several properties in South Seattle that serve as their community space.

The following video profile offers an inside look into their upcoming capital campaign toward the construction of a new community center.

Vintage photo depicting a group of Cham women wearing white headscarves seated in front of a red building.
The women pioneers of the Cham Refugee Community (CRC). The two respected elders sitting in the middle front row were the oldest elders in the community in 1982. Both were in their 80s when they made the tough refugee journey and safely arrived in Seattle. Many of their peers also undertook the journey but did not survive. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Vintage photo depicting two Cham men in gray suits standing a podium.
The CRC’s first executive members and founders were Apdorofath and Apdorahiem Appadolo. Here they are standing together during a 1983 CRC inauguration. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Vintage photo depicting a group of Cham refugees gathered on picnic blankets. Many of the women are wearing white headscarves.
The Cham celebrated Eid-al-Fitr as a community for the first time in the United States in 1982. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Vintage photo depicting a group of Cham individuals wearing traditional garments and headwear.
The first Religious and Cultural Council of the CRC was established in 1988. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Photo depicting the front page of a vintage Seattle Times newspaper.
Front page coverage by The Seattle Times on the Cham community as they first celebrated Eid al-Fitr (feast end of Ramadan) in 1982. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Photo depicting a page from a vintage newspaper with a headline that reads, "Rmadan: A Celebration of Joy."
Caption from News Journal “A seventy years old Samou Ahmath listens to the reading of Quran…” (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Photo depicting a page from a vintage newspaper with a photograph of a Cham woman holding her grandson.
An elder of the Cham community with her grandson at prayer among CRC community members. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Vintage photo depicting a group of Cham youth and adults gathered in front of a white building.
First summer camp for Cham students during the summer of 1985 at the CRC. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)
Vintage photo depicting Cham Boy Scouts singing on a stage.
First Cham Boy Scouts of America established in 1986–1988 in Seattle to develop and inspire future leaders for the Cham community. The scouts performed as a group choir at the opening of 1988 community cultural event (Kate). (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)\

As reported by the Emerald in 2021, the CRC is currently running a capital fundraising campaign to secure funds to begin construction of their new community center space. Those interested in supporting the development of a new CRC community center building can contact CRC project coordinator Slayman Appadolo via email at slayman@crcseattle.org. The CRC is also accepting financial donations for their redevelopment via PayPal (CCC@crcseattle.org).

Rendering depicting plans for the new community center space.
Render of the CRC’s new community center space. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)

This series is supported by the City of Seattle’s Generational Wealth Initiative. The South Seattle Emerald and its contributors maintain full editorial control over all its coverage.


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: The Cham celebrated Eid-al-Fitr as a community for the first time in the United States in 1982. (Photo courtesy of the Cham Refugee Community.)

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