Year of Publication

2005

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Public Health

Department

Gerontology

First Advisor

B. Jan McCulloch

Second Advisor

Laurie Russell Hatch

Abstract

In this thesis I describe Khmers negotiations of circumstances surrounding the disassembly, reconstruction, and redefinition of Khmer identity from their homeland in Cambodia to a traditional Khmer village recreated in the United States. Using a framework derived from a constructivist perspective, I have placed processes of negotiation and identity transformation within the lived context of Khmers lives. Thus, a holistic understanding of the interrelatedness of multiple changes in Khmerness is made possible. Ethnographic data collected between 1997 and 1999, through participant-observation and interviews, inform this study. Findings from this study reveal three levels of identity transformation as told by members of a small Khmer village established along the U. S. Gulf of Mexico. However, these three levels of transformation are not mutually exclusive nor are they necessarily sequential. Each transformation of Khmers identities constitutes permeable aggregates of other past and continuing disassemblies, reconstructions and redefinitions of Khmerness. Findings from this study demonstrate that Khmer identity shifts and is transformed by past and present experiences and with their changing circumstances, from endangered Cambodian, to refugees, to re-established Khmers in America.

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