The Friends of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association will join this year’s national boat competition in the Water Festival for the first time ever, an official said on Monday.
The association spent more than $13,000 building a traditional Khmer racing boat to participate in this year’s Water Festival in the belief that it will build relations between Cambodian Khmers and their cousins in Vietnam, association executive director Sann Sang said.
“Boat racing will encourage all of the Khmer Krom to show their identity, so maybe they will be given more rights and people will stop the discrimination. Khmer Kampuchea Krom never has had a chance to participate in the boat races, and we want to keep the traditional Khmer customs,” Sann Sang said.
Already more than 100 Khmer Krom have volunteered to crew the boat and have been practicing every day for two hours. Some of the crew are pretty good because they are fishermen, Sann Sang said.
The 31.4 meter boat, which fields a crew of 71, has been christened the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Meanchey, which means “success”.
The money to race this year came from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association in the US state of California, Sann Sang said.
In 1949, Vietnam took possession of 24 provinces claimed by Cambodia, effectively sealing off millions of ethnic Khmers from their homeland.
Winning or losing is not the issue; the point is Khmer Krom will have their flags among the millions who flock to the capital each year for the annual water festival, which takes place Nov 18 to Nov 20.
“This year we don’t hope to win, but we want to have our name on the national competition list,” Sann Sang said.
That theme was echoed among many of the crew.
“I joined the boat races because I want the Khmer Kampuchea Krom to be famous in Cambodia,” said Sann Dara, 33.
Nonetheless, Sann Dara said he has high hopes of winning a race because of the crew’s esprit de corps.
“I am 90 percent hopeful we win because we have a real strong sense of unity,” Sann Dara said.
For Kim Hang, 25, the winning can wait—for now.
“I hope to win when we have some experience,” he said.