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Pin's grandmother Duong Meas in Stockton, Calif., in August 2010; and a family portrait circa 1973, one of only two items Pin's family saved from before the revolution. (Courtesy of Pete Pin)

Documenting Life Beyond The Killing Fields

May 17, 2013

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Pete Pin was born in Khao-I-dang, a refugee camp on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Fleeing the infamous "killing fields" of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, his family eventually resettled in Stockton, Calif., in the mid-1980s. What started with a single portrait of his grandmother has evolved into a deeply personal project that aims to explore the Cambodian diaspora.

His grandmother survived Pol Pot and the killing fields, and after having her portrait taken in 2010, she unexpectedly felt compelled to share her story. "I felt that my camera created this safe place that enabled the conversation to happen," says Pin. "The stories that my grandmother told me explained a lot about my family."

Pin is hoping to reach older Cambodians, but also younger generations who may not be familiar with their family's history and experiences under Khmer Rouge. His goal is to use photography to create an open dialogue within the Cambodian community.

"One thing that I learned ... is that a lot of people felt really traumatized during their stay in refugee camps," says Pin. He adds that violence and rape were common.

Pin recalled the story of an elderly Cambodian man who escaped atrocities in Cambodia, only to be confronted with enduring hardship in the camps.

"He witnessed a soldier shooting someone right in front of him and his wife. When you have suffered so much already and you come to this place of hope where you think you will be safe ... for many of the Cambodian refugees, it was a place where they lost hope."

"It's the responsibility of young Cambodians to shoulder the responsibility of capturing our stories for generations to come," says Pin. "If young Cambodians don't remember that past, then we are the literal manifestation of Pol Pot's attempts to erase Cambodia's history and culture."

Pete Pin's project, Cambodian Diaspora, is currently on exhibit at Montefiore Family Health Center in Bronx, N.Y., until July 29. See more of his work on his website.

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