Met Museum Kicked Me Out for Praying to My Ancestral Gods

My danced prayer to looted Cambodian antiquities was too much for the New York museum.

Soon after immigrating to the United States from my native Cambodia in the early 1990s, I was wandering around a knickknack shop in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles when I came upon a beautifully replicated Angkorian-era head of the god Shiva.

It was the only Khmer item in the shop, and I felt an immediate connection to it. In fact, it spoke to me, telling me to take it home so that it could be situated and honored appropriately rather than letting it drift within an unfamiliar world. Though the head of Shiva was too expensive for my limited means, I bought it anyway and placed it on my household altar, where I made offerings and prayed to my gods, ancestors, and spirits.

For Cambodians, including myself, the idea that spirits can inhabit objects is commonplace. They can be found in religious statues or in nature — a tree, a mountain, or the intersection of rivers.

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