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Empowering the Khmer Diaspora

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times Share:
Var Sorany on the Hermosa Beach Pier in California. Photo: Sam Oum

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Var Sorany is dedicating herself to ensuring the Cambodian diaspora becomes a powerful force globally. 

As a child, she grew up with stories of how her parents escaped from the genocide and met each other at the infamous Khao I Dang refugee camp in Thailand before immigrating to the US. Ms. Sorany was the first in her family to be born there. Raised in Fresno, California for most of her life, she is the second eldest of six children. 

Her mother owned a linen rental company that she ran from home, while her father provided a strong connection to her heritage as a co-founder of one of the first Cambodian educational programs in the US – the Khmer Emerging Education Program, which began in the early 90’s. There, Ms. Sorany kept in touch with her roots by learning to read and write Khmer, while studying Khmer history and culture.

In 2000 she visited Cambodia for three months. She was 16 at the time. She recalls being “bombarded by motodops, street hawkers and beggars” as she walked through “dusty, sewage-filled alleyways to shiny, gold-plated lobbies.” She also remembers the expensive restaurants.

“It opened my eyes to the fact that Cambodia was still struggling to recover from the genocide,” 

Ms. Var says now. However, the most important experience was the “kindness and hospitality from people who had the least to give.” 

“I’ve always been fiercely proud of being Khmer and I truly believe that if it weren’t for my parents instilling that pride in me, I would not be doing what I am today.”

Hitting a High Note

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism, Ms. Sorany loves writing and sharing peoples’ stories. She contributes articles to organizations both overseas and in Cambodia, like Khmer Connection and Anvaya. She is also involved with various organizations. 

Currently, she is the content and logistics manager for the Cambodian Music Festival (CMF). As CMF enters its second year at the Pearson Park Amphitheater in Anaheim California on July 25, Ms. Sorany is proud to see many Khmer artists and non-Khmer artists who have been inspired by Khmer culture and music, featured in this year’s event. 

Aiming to rebuild and restore an artistic legacy that was depleted during the Khmer Rouge, Ms. Sorany and CMF want to create a space for the movement to be sustainable. “The Cambodian Music Festival provides a platform for artists infusing traditional and contemporary sounds. It unites Cambodians of all generations to celebrate their resiliency and pride through the healing power of music.”

Focus on Women

Ms. Sorany believes women are the key to social change. “When you empower and educate women, the entire society follows suit and everyone benefits in the long run,” she explains. 
Her advice to women is to “experiment, try new things, be fearless, always speak up for yourself, ask questions, make mistakes… and repeat.”

“When you are in a position to mentor, enlighten and help another woman, do it. You may never know the beautiful ripple effects of that energy and who else it may touch,” Ms. Sorany said. 

“This is our time. Let’s seize the moment.”

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