Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"New Year Baby"

This afternoon, Mike and I watched, "New Year Baby" on The Heartland Film Festival's last day. It's the story of a Cambodian refugee family living in the United States who journeys back to Cambodia to explore their past. Socheata Poeuv is the director/producer who is investigating her family's history as it relates to being refugees because of the Khmer Rouge.
A brief history... the Khmer Rouge was the ruling political party of Cambodia in the mid to late 70's. They are remembered for the deaths of around 1.5 MILLION people (by execution, starvation and forced labor). I read that it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century (according to Wikepedia). They followed a man named, Pol Pot (who died in 1998 and was never tried for his crimes). What the Khmer Rouge did was force all the urban dwellers out to collective farms and labor camps. Beyond the deaths that these actions caused, they forced marriages, separatations of entire families, and all property was seized. The idea was to create a classless society, who's members would farm rice, which they could export for "collective" gain.
I remember watching an after school special one year when we were in the States (maybe I was in 5th grade). It was about a Cambodian refugee family and their transition to this country. The most vivid picture from that was the kids hiding their food under their beds because they were worried that they would run out or that everything would be taken away again. So, I was aware of the fact that there were people who had to flee Cambodia and who were starving, but beyond that I didn't know much else about this situation. I remember crying.
I cried today too.
Hearing stories like this one help to take me out of my world and into the larger one. They help me open my mind to seeing another's life situation. Stories like this one make me sad, and feeling that sadness is good for me. Why?
My emotional response has propelled me into learning about the conflict(s) in Cambodia and those surrounding it (basically all the way to before World War II).
It has also made me get pissed off about the crap that rulers do. And it's made me pissed off that people go along with it.
In one scene, the daughter (director of the movie), her father and their interpreter meet the director of the hospital where hundreds were mistreated and died (including their interpreter's own mother). The daughter asks if this woman feels guilt for what happened and if she would like to apologize to him (the interpreter). The woman says that she doesn't feel guilt, that she was only doing what she was told so that she could continue living and that it wasn't her doing. She finally apologizes (rather non-emotionally).
So isn't that it? Isn't it exactly why people go along with things like this? They simply want to survive it. How many stories are out there like this one? And where would I stand? What would I do for the sake of keeping my family and myself alive?
I would like to think that if I was being forced to act in such a manner, that I would revolt. That I would rather die.
In the beginning of the documentary, the daughter is asking her parents why they survived (or something similar). The "ma" says that the "pa" survives because he always chose the "middle-of-the-road". She says she survived because she was sneaky, that she could talk her way in and out of situations.
The other questions that I am considering are these... Where would I draw the line? What battles would I pick? Would I even be brave enough to be a "Rosa Parks"- making a stand for something that seems relatively minor like a bus seat? Would I, like the parents in "New Year Baby" marry someone because it was being demanded of me by the rulers? What issues are so important to me (beyond my family and God) that I would fight for them?
In the end of the movie, we learn about the fathers' heroic journeys (totalling 5 or 6) across the Vietnameese border to bring his adopted children, his new wife and baby, and a sewing maching (I'm guessing it was a pretty swell machine) to safety. That surely isn't "middle-of-the -road" thinking. He made a stand that I would want to make... one for his familys' survival.

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