The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as the first in a series of profiles of API members of the community.
Ladine Chan and Patrick Duong are not your typical father-son duo. In fact, they aren’t related at all. But, judging from their good-natured banter, one might assume otherwise. Chan, Program Coordinator for Educated Men with Meaningful Messages (EM3) — a youth program under Families in Good Health at Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach — works with primarily Cambodian youth, aged 14 to 19. He himself was once a youth in the program over a decade ago. Duong, who just completed his first year at Long Beach City College, is a recent graduate of the program. He credits EM3 with helping him finish high school.
As residents of Long Beach, Chan and Duong have limited access to safe parks. Most are poorly maintained and rife with gang activity. Furthermore, Long Beach residents must also contend with a lack of access to healthy foods. In a neighborhood where the most readily available groceries are from corner stores or liquor stories, many families have to travel at least three or four miles in order to purchase nutritious goods.
Despite the area’s lack of resources, programs such as EM3 exist to help residents combat the odds they face. The EM3 youth attend workshops every Friday on subjects ranging from life skills to violence in the community to healthy relationships. The program also teaches youth about their own cultural heritage, given that the majority of their parents are refugees of the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime.
“It gets very emotional to talk about what happened during the genocide, very traumatizing,” Chan said. “That’s why some of the youth get lost in it.”
Many members of the Cambodian community in Long Beach, which Chan estimates comprises 30 to 40 percent of the total population in the area — the largest Cambodian population anywhere outside of Phnom Penh — suffer from untreated PTSD. This makes it difficult for parents, unwilling to bring up the past, to discuss their background with their children. The result is that Cambodian youth know little about what the previous generation experienced.