Episode 1:

Cambodia Reincarnate

Maddox practices his Cambodian dance moves in front of the TV, as his grandmother prepares a spicy Cambodian stew for lunch. (Photo by Heidi Shin with Prisma filter)

Heidi Shin

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, the regime carried out a genocide that killed over 1.5 million people and specifically targeted nearly all of the country’s artists and musicians. Very few survived, but in a strange twist of fate, it was music that saved the life of a man named Sovann Khon, who was just 11 years old then.

After resettling as refugees in the U.S., Sovann and his wife now run a one-stop wedding shop for Cambodian American couples in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is home to the second largest Cambodian American community the country. The weddings take place in Massachusetts, but with Sovann’s wedding band and photo package, he can make a young couple seem like they are back in Cambodia.

Sovann Khon and his band perform at a Cambodian American wedding in the suburbs of Boston. Curious guests listen from the back porch. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

Sovann Khon and his band perform at a Cambodian American wedding in the suburbs of Boston. Curious guests listen from the back porch. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

Across town at a public elementary school in Lowell, there’s an Irish American music teacher who teaches Cambodian American students to play instruments like the pinpeat, a Cambodian xylophone. As it turns out, 9-year-old Maddox is a preternaturally gifted student. An explanation may lie with his grandmother, who is another genocide survivor.

Hear the full story above, or on iTunesStitcherRadioPublic and other podcasting apps.

Irish American music teacher Rita Laughlin teaches kids in Lowell, Massachusetts, how to play traditional Cambodian instruments. Here, fourth graders practice the Coconut Dance in costume. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

Irish American music teacher Rita Laughlin teaches kids in Lowell, Massachusetts, how to play traditional Cambodian instruments. Here, fourth graders practice the Coconut Dance in costume. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

Nine-year old Maddox uses an app to help translate the words he doesn’t know in Cambodian when he accompanies his grandmother to her doctor’s visits, where she’s treated for symptoms of PTSD. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

Nine-year old Maddox uses an app to help translate the words he doesn’t know in Cambodian when he accompanies his grandmother to her doctor’s visits, where she’s treated for symptoms of PTSD. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

  • Jules Ko Myung

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this piece! What a delightful person Maddox is, and his love for his grandmother… thank you for the glimpse into the history behind Cambodian people here in MA!!!

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