History of Cambodia Town
On June 15, 2001, United Cambodian Community (UCC) hung “Little Phnom Penh” banners on street light poles in front of the UCC Plaza and along parts of Anaheim Street. It was a partnership of UCC, the City of Long Beach Partnership Program and Long Beach Strategic Marketing Inc.
The impact of these banners would change the course of the Cambodian community in Long Beach. It elicited a strong positive reaction from a group of Cambodians who were galvanized into action . They had informally expressed a desire to have a section of Anaheim Street designated as township for the Cambodian community in Long Beach. This was especially meaningful since this was home to the largest number of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia.
On August 19, 2001, Cambodian Association of America (CAA) hosted a community meeting to select a name for the proposed designation. Attendees were invited from the Cambodian Friendship Network, UCC, CAA, and other Cambodian community members. The options were Cambodia Town, Cambodia Village, Khmer Town, Little Cambodia and Little Phnom Penh. CAMBODIA TOWN was selected as the name.
On October 14, 2001, a second community meeting met to form the Cambodia Town Initiative Task Force (CTITF). Ten individuals volunteered to form the CTITF: Pasin Chanou, Rosana Chanou, David Kar, Solange Kea, Annie H. Lee, Harrison T.S. Lee, Dr. Morakod Lim, Kenneth T. So, Phillip T. Thong and Sovuthy Tift. It identified the section on Anaheim Street between Junipero Serra and Atlantic Avenue as the “Cambodia Town District.” The CTITF also worked to gather support from the Long Beach City Council and the Cambodian community at large. As a fairly new refugee and immigrant population, they were beginning to understand the American political process. They became aware of other cities and areas where there were similar designations like Chinatown in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Little Saigon in Westminster.
On January 15, 2002, the CTITF sent a proposal request to the Long Beach City Council for the formal designation of Cambodia Town on a section of Anaheim St. between Temple Ave. and Long Beach Blvd. The official recognition would attract businesses and tourists, increase civic pride, and improve the area. This proposal did not move to the City Council for discussion.
There was a break for a few years while the CTITF rethought their approach and strategy. On November 4, 2005, members from the CTITF and the community decided to form Cambodia Town, Inc. (CT) as a non-profit organization with 501(c)3 status. It started to work on an action plan to gather support from the community and engage the media to influence the Long Beach City Council. The founding members of Cambodia Town were Evan A. Braude, Sandy Cajas, Meng Kim Chea, Pasin Chanou, Rosana Chanou, Al Day, Chhim Him, Krithny Horn, Sakphan Keam, Harrison Lee, Peter Long, Dr. Susan Needham, Richer San, Sithea San, Tony Taing, Edward Tan, Phillip Thong, and Danny Vong.
CT submitted a proposal on October 24, 2006, for a Formal Designation of Cambodia Town to the Long Beach City Council. It is of note that the designation was supported by Latino and African American groups from within the Anaheim corridor. There was discussion on what the boundaries of Cambodia Town would be, and the City Council voted 6 to 3 to postpone action on the proposal and refer it to the Housing and Neighborhood Committee for further review.
On July 3, 2007, the Housing And Neighborhood Committee brought the Cambodia Town District Proposal back to the City Council for approval. In a majority of 8 to 1, the members of the City Council voted for the designation of Cambodia Town Business and Cultural District.
The motion was approved as follows: Approve recommendation to support the designation of Cambodia Town as a cultural, tourist and commercial destination reflecting the heritage of the Cambodian community on Anaheim Street; request the City Manager to work with appropriate stakeholder groups to initiate the Business Improvement District (BID) and recommend a boundary designation for Cambodia Town to the City Council based on the BID process; and that additional resources for signage and other items to support the Cambodia Town designation will be withheld until the BID process is complete. (Carried 8-1) Yes: B. Lowenthal, S. Lowenthal, DeLong, Schipske, Andrews, Reyes Uranga, Gabelich, and Lerch. No: O'Donnell.
Since the approval of the designation, the area has improved economically with decreased crime and an improved appearance but there is still a need to advocate for better, safer traffic control, more community projects such as the improvement of McArthur Park and other amenities. CT has been instrumental in bringing in the highly successful and well attended CT Parade and Culture Festival annually to the area and raising funds for signage on the city streets and on the 710 highway entrances to mark the area.
- On May 31, 2020, businesses were damaged and raided on Anaheim St. Malyanne Bunma raised thousands through her GoFundMe campaign, and she approached CT to distribute the money. UCC had also raised funds to help the community, so a coalition formed with CT, Midtown BID and UCC. The relief fund aided 25 businesses and distributed $69,373.00.
- On April 23, 2019, at the recommendation of CT’s Board, the City of Long Beach proclaimed the month of April as “Cambodian Heritage Month.” The proclamation urged all residents to become familiar with Cambodian history and culture as well as how Cambodians have contributed to the city. It encouraged people to participate in cultural events and activities to commemorate the strength and endurance of the Cambodian people.
- In 2012, CT raised funds for the installation of Cambodia Town directional signs on the 710 Freeway.
- In 2011, CT raised the funds for the installation of 16 street signs to mark the boundaries of the Cambodia Town Business and Cultural District.
- In 2009, CSU Dominguez Hills developed the Cambodian Arts and Handicrafts Exhibition in collaboration with CT. It became the annual Cambodia Town Cultural Festival and is attended by several thousand people.
- Since 2008, CT collected signatures to establish a Midtown PBID. This was finally accomplished in 2016 by the City of Long Beach due to CT’s tireless advocacy.
- Through the efforts of CT Board members, the City of Long Beach designated the Cambodia Town Business and Cultural District on July 3, 2007. It is the first designated Cambodia Town in the United States.
- CT’s Ambassador Circle raised $150,000 to name the Community room in the Mark Twain Library in 2007.
- Since 2005, CT has been the leader for producing the New Year Parade along Anaheim Street. During 2020 and 2021, the parade continued in a video format and returned live in 2023 to thousands of attendees.