As the duel for the US presidency continues for the thirds day, another battle at Long Beach is shaping up properly for one Cambodian American role model.
Suely Saro, a 39-year-old Cal State Los Angeles professor, is on track to become the first Cambodian American to be elected to the Long Beach City Council, a historic moment for the nation’s largest concentration of Khmer people outside of Cambodia.
“I’m deeply proud to be the first Cambodian American woman to be elected to the Long Beach City Council and to join the handful of Cambodian American women serving in public office across the country,” Saro told the Long Beach Post.
Born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents fled the genocide in Cambodia, Southern California became a new home for her family and thousands of other refugees. Saro has lived in Long Beach for over a decade.
It is estimated that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 Cambodians living in Long Beach, a population that first grew in increasing rates in the mid-1970s as they fled genocide in their homeland at the hands of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime.
Despite decades living in the city, Cambodians in Long Beach never managed to elect one of their own—though they’ve tried multiple times. The first known Cambodian to run for a local council seat was Sandy Blankenship in the 1990s.
In Lowell, Massachusetts, home to the nation’s second largest Cambodian population, two Cambodian Americans made local history in 2017 when one was elected to the city council and the other on the school committee. That same year, in Skokie, Illinois, Khemarey Khoeun, the first Cambodian American woman in the nation was elected to public office.
Saro’s lead comes on the heels of a community on the rise, one looking for its own political voice and, ultimately, for more representation.
Early on, Saro’s campaign looked to be at risk when fellow Cambodian Steve Meng also threw his hat in the ring. He later dropped out in order to unite the Cambodian vote behind Saro and have a stronger chance to beat Andrews, the so-called “Son of the Sixth” who has spent the bulk of his 80 years in Long Beach and works as a substitute teacher at Cabrillo High School. Long Beach Post