By Lucky Agung Pratama
Originally, Cham people inhabited what now is known as central Vietnam. In the seventeenth century, a number of Cham migrated to Cambodia and settled there. But in the twentieth century, due to the political turmoil occurring in Cambodia in the 1970s, the Cham people and other communities fled and sought refuge in other countries, including the United States.
Seattle is one of several cities in the United States where a large population of Cham people reside in a closely-knit community. The majority still hold to their original values despite having been assimilated to the United States. A large portion of the community lives in South King County where they have been thriving for more than thirty years.
Abdulgani, Samir, and Yuhaniz are three friends within that community who we meet in their film, Ramadan. In the film, they tell us the story of their everyday life during the month of Ramadan when they have to abstain from eating, drinking, and other worldly pleasures from the break of dawn until sunset each day throughout the holy month. Viewers witnessed the challenges they faced as they conducted their daily activities, such as going to school and on field trips, and also learned about the Cham community.
This week, we interviewed the three friends about their film and the community. This is what they told SEAC:
- Close friends within the community
The three met at the Cham Community center in South King County. They had been friends for a while. However, their parents and grandparents had known each other a long time even before the community settled in Seattle. It was not difficult for them to meet each other because during a community event everyone is invited.
- The filming process
The film was done in a self-documentary style. Each of the three told stories about their daily lives. This approach gives us a unique look into their experience and perspectives about Ramadan.
Because they sometimes filmed in public, bystanders often asked them what they were filming about. Sometimes they ended up having to explain about Ramadan itself to curious onlookers.
Abdulgani had a unique experience. On one occasion his teacher brought donuts for everyone in his class while he was fasting. Even though the teacher and his classmates knew that Abdulgani was fasting, he didn’t stay quiet and pointed out that he wouldn’t be joining them at that moment. He felt great about that, especially because the teacher, along with the class, acknowledged him and allowed him to take more donuts home.
- Raising Awareness
The film “Ramadan” told us about the Cham community and their traditions when observing Ramadan. Even though they are busy with their responsibilities during the day, they take time to gather after breaking the fast during the night prayer. This helps them maintain the sense of community with their friends and neighbors.
Cham people also promote their community by holding a night market. This event is usually held shortly before or shortly after Ramadan, from 6PM until dark. They don’t hold the market during the month of Ramadan because most are fasting. At the night market, you can find a wide selection of Cham food and foods from other Southeast Asian countries. A date for 2019 hasn’t yet been confirmed, but be on the lookout for the night market sometime this summer.
- Hope for the future
One issue that the community is currently facing is the generation gap between younger people and their elders. Many of the elders still adhere to their original values, those that were instilled even before their migration to the United States, and reject the influence from western culture. Some only speak in their native language. As a result, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren can feel shut off or experience a lack of understanding between the generations.
Abdulgani, Samir, and Yuhaniz hope that the gap can be closed so that they can interact with each other. After all, children need to know their roots. Without elders interacting with them, old values will be eroded and lost.