Cambodians of Lowell in Local Politics and Society

Campaigns

This page presents a compilation of scanned documents, pictures, and various resources regarding political campaigns and socio-political institutions run by Cambodian members of the Lowell population. The wide variety of documents is meant to demonstrate the wide variety of materials supplied to the public in support of the campaigns, and to help document and demonstrate the evolution of the campaign and style of campaign materials over the years.

These campaigns span several years, and were run for offices in several spheres of political involvement. They also represent a variety of campaign tactics. Some were conventional campaigns, run in the typical fashion and employing normal strategies, and some were more out-of-the-box and daring.

These campaigns also represent the acculturation of the Cambodian population of Lowell. Although the candidate included traditional aspects of their culture in their campaigns in some instances, they also presented a largely Americanized style of materials and information to the public. This methodology is an indicator of the active attempts of the Cambodian immigrants and second-generation family members to assimilate into typical American culture, while simultaneously holding onto the traditions and important cultural components of their lengthy and vibrant lineage. As a Southeast Asian culture, the Cambodian heritage is colorful and deeply ingrained in society, and contains many unique and brilliant aspects.

One example of the inclusion of traditional Cambodian culture as part of the campaigns run by Cambodian Lowell citizens is the prevalence of campaign kickoffs and fundraisers at Cambodian restaurants which serve traditional Khmer food and beverages. The use of Khmer restaurants was a strategic and sentimental move on the part of the Cambodian campaigns, as a means to promote and extol the heritage of the candidates, by bringing it to the public eye and using it as a point of interest and mechanism for differentiating themselves from other candidates. The restaurants also allowed the candidates to include familiar aspects of their culture in their day-to-day lives, and no doubt to provide a source of comfort in the stressful and difficult process of running for office in a rigorous and competitive environment, which American politics typically is.

 

Rady Mom is a critical and historical figure in the politics and social development of both Lowell and the United States. Since the campaign originated in Lowell, and Mom is a citizen on Lowell the information and documentation regarding his campaign has been included in this, the Local Politic section of the guide. Rady Mom takes his place in history as the first confirmed Cambodian-American legislator in the United States. He serves as a state representative in the 18th Middlesex House District. By various accounts, he won the vote by a staggering 61%.Mom's accomplishment represents a major success for the Cambodians of the US. Mom was born in Cambodia, and became an official citizen of the US in 1990. His rise from a small business owner to a state legislator reflects the capability of the immigrant population to overcome the issues facing them, and become a huge success. His career also represents a successful melding of two cultures. Rady Mom spent time as a monk with his grandfather at the Lowell Glory Buddhist Temple, before becoming an acupuncturist. This respect and deep appreciation for his religion and the traditional holistic healing practices associated with it were an integral part of his success as a businessman, and later, as a politician. Through his connection to his roots, he garnered support from the Cambodian population, and his success as a bootstraps business owner and operator helped him gain respect and votes from the remainder of the Lowellian population, much of which is comprised of other hard-working immigrant populations.

The fact that Rady Mom gathered support from not only a huge portion of  the 35,000 Cambodian citizens of Lowell who are actually eligible and active voters, but also an additional fraction of the population, which is made up of a diverse group of ethnicities and nationalities, reflects deeply on the appeal and success of Rady Mom as a candidate. The images below reflect this. Some are from Rady Mom's campaign for city councilman, which was strongly supported by many businesses within Lowell, and some are from his campaign for State Representative. The latter campaign drew the attention and support of many notable figures within Massachusetts politics, including former governor Deval Patrick, Congresswoman Eileen Donaghue, and Representative Nikki Tsongas. The United States, while quite diverse and largely welcoming to new immigrant populations, does have a history of struggling with acceptance upon the immediate influx of a new population. This was seen over a century ago, with the arrival of a large number of Irish immigrants, followed by a struggle with prejudice against incoming Italians, then Japanese and German newcomers in the mid 1900's,as well as Russians and other Eastern Europeans during the Cold War. Recently, this was seen with the arrival of a huge population of Hispanic individuals, especially from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on  the East Coast. To an extent, there was also a mistrust of the Cambodian arrivals, although not to the extent or severity seen in other time frames marked by social change. Gathering support from tight knit communities outside the Cambodian population of Lowell is an impressive feat of political maneuvering and social interaction. It was this generalized appeal and huge foundation of support that garnered the support and trust of 61% of Lowell, and awarded Mom his historic appointment. For more information on the history and statistics of Cambodians in Lowell, see the "Background on Cambodians within Lowell" portion of the homepage)

Mom has announced his intentions to run in 2016 for re-election, and will be campaigning against several other Cambodian-American Lowellians for his seat (Scott, 2016.

 

Vesna Nuon has run for office four times in Lowell as of 2015. In 2011 he was successful in winning a seat on the Lowell City Council, but lost his bid for re-election in 2013. In 2015, he was also unsuccessful, as were all other Cambodian-American and minority candidates on the ballot. Nuon's career in Lowell has been characterized by a commitment to public service.  His career began in 1991 as Middlesex District Attorney’s Office as a Victim Witness Advocate & Cultural Consultant, and he has been serving on the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) since 2000. He is also a member or the founder of a number of outreach and support groups in Lowell, for groups of all kinds. His projects in the community service sector include: founding the Southeast Asian Families Against Domestic Violence in Lowell, Co-founding of Cambodian American League of Lowell, serving as a former board member of the United Teens Equality Center (UTEC), as well as serving as a former board of member of Greater of Lowell Chamber of Commerce. Nuon's progress in the civil service sector was regrettably hindered by a series of scandals. His campaign finance scandal, beginning with an error entering data onto a website, was ultimately resolved, proved to a serious blow to his credibility.   Nuon's arrest for disorderly conduct was also resolved, with a $50,000 settlement. As with the financial scandals, many people supported Nuon and voiced objections to his treatment at the hands of the Lowell Police Department; it was commonly stated that his arrest was unfair and racially motivated, since it occurred during the period of extreme tension between the Khmer population of Lowell, and the more established ethnic groups (Green & Durant, 2015)

 

                                                

Paul Ratha Yem's ability to speak English, which he brought with him from a Thai refugee camp in 1981, afforded him a much higher degree of social mobility than many other incoming Cambodians at the time. Ratha Yem worked as an English teacher and resettlement agent during his first few years in Lowell, and established himself as an incredibly useful part of Khmer-Lowell society. From there, he led the Cambodian-American League of Lowell (CALL), and established a real estate business when he moved  large numbers of in-need Cambodian families into new housing on Middlesex St (voteyem.com/about). Following this, Yem dove into Lowell politics with his write-in campaign. The campaign was far from Yem's first exposure to American politics, as he had previously been involved in a number of ways, including as Vesna Nuon's campaign treasurer, following the 2013 campaign finance scandal that Nuon underwent. 

The Paul Ratha Yem sticker campaign was a very different variety of campaign in Lowell for City Council in 2014; he ran with the campaign slogan "Stick (er) Together for Lowell", which reflected on his key message of community, as well as his status as a write-in candidate. The choice to mail out stickers for use on the ballot was a strategically significant move on the part of his campaign; making the process of casting a write-in vote simpler increased the inherent appeal of his campaign, since voters did not have to memorize a name or address.

Although Paul Ratha Yem was not included on the ballot, he ran a vigorous and competitive campaign to become a write-in candidate, and gathered 3,020 votes in the 2015 City Election. In 2015, no minority councilors were elected, so Yem's lack of success is not uncharacteristic of 2015. Paul Ratha Yem's campaign also reflects his choice to add the first name "Paul" to his original name "Ratha Yem". The choice to add an American sounding first name is one that has been echoed by many Cambodian Americans as they seek to assimilate more smoothly into American culture. 

In March of 2016, Yem took out nomination papers for the 2016 race, announcing that he would decide at some point in April of 2016 whether or not he would run. Although Yem supported Rady Mom after he lost his 2014 primary bid, running in this election season would mean running against Mom, who is planning on vying for a second term. The 2016 race for Lowell seats will be a historic one, with multiple Cambodian Lowellians running for office. The increasing number of Cambodians actively participating in the local and state level politics alongside Yem indicate a continuing upward trend in the social consciousness and mobility of the formerly struggling population (Scott, 2016).

 

 

 

        

Rithy Uong (Chanrithy Uong) was the first Cambodian-American to ever win a seat in American politics as a councilman, and the first-ever non-white to get elected into an office in Lowell. Although Rady Mom was the first Cambodian-American to win a seat in state legislature,  Uong was the first in local politics, and paved the way for Mom and all other Cambodian-American politicians after his history-making win in November of 1999. He was also subsequently re-elected in 2001 and 2003. As a Cambodian born naturalized citizen, he became an inspiration for a great many Cambodian individuals in Lowell, including Rady Mom and Vesna Nuon. He immigrated in 1981, and was part of the end of the wave of white-collar job finding immigrants of the 1970's. He worked as a bilingual guidance counselor at Lowell High, performing a crucial role in helping Cambodian-American students assimilate in to American public school, and helping the children overcome their own histories in Cambodia, and those of their parents, many of whom struggle with the psychological impacts of their difficult experiences. 

It was into the "English Only" struggle, and shortly after the drowning of Vandy Phorng that Chanrithy Uong emerged on the political radar. Both the Southeast Asian and Latino communities were passionate about Uong's campaign. The two groups had been struggling together for some time, demonstrating the kind of cooperation among ethnic groups that they were seeking to establish in all of Lowell. Uong was so popular amongst the Latino demographic that his campaign materials were translated into Spanish. In Rithy Uong, the underrepresented youth of Lowell saw a sympathetic, understanding voice that had the potential to make the real change they so desperately needed. Not only did Uong capitalize on  his vast support in the youth and minority demographics, he also utilized his experience as an employee at the United Nations in Cambodia, and drew upon this political experience and awareness to run a successful campaign (Collett, 2009). 

 

Sources

 

http://www.radymom.com

Murphy, S. (2014, November 08). Cambodian-American becomes a first in Lowell - The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/11/07/cambodian-american-becomes-first-lowell/pG6o0565rHSIJvvYRbeYIO/story.html

Scott, C. (2016, March 21). Race for the 18th District could look much like the 2014 contest | The Column Blog. Retrieved from http://blogs.lowellsun.com/thecolumn/2016/03/21/race-for-the-18th-district-could-look-much-like-the-2014-contest/

Welker, G. (2015, November 05). New Lowell rep Mom: 'I will fight for justice' Retrieved from http://www.lowellsun.com/breakingnews/ci_26866340/new-lowell-rep-mom-i-will-fight-justice#ixzz3IDDMKe

 

http://www.vesnanuon.com

 Green, N., & Durant, J. (2015, November 04). Setting the record straight on Vesna Nuon. Retrieved from http://www.lowellsun.com/opinion/ci_29063758/setting-record-straight-vesna-nuon

Reid, A. (2005, October 30). In three candidates, city has a first. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/10/30/in_three_candi

dates_city_has_a_first/?page=full 

 

 

 

http://www.paulrathayem.com

http://democracy.com/voteyem/bio.aspx

Scott, C. (2016, March 21). Race for the 18th District could look much like the 2014 contest | The Column Blog. Retrieved from http://blogs.lowellsun.com/thecolumn/2016/03/21/race-for-the-18th-district-could-look-much-like-the-2014-contest/

Welker, G. (2015, September 20). Shared pride, drive as four Cambodian-Americans make council bids. Retrieved from http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_28846199/shared-pride-drive-four-cambodian-americans-make-counci

http://www.voteyem.com/about.html

 

LaFleur, M. (2005, February 8). Uong quits City Council. Retrieved from http://www.lowellsun.com/front/ci_2908182

Collet, C (2009). Transnational Dimensions of Community Empowerment: The Victories of Chanrithy Uong and Sam Yoon in The transnational politics of Asian Americans Philadephia, Pa: Temple University Press

Campaign Materials for Rady Mom

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Campaign Materials for Vesna Nuon

Campaign Materials Paul Ratha Yem

Campaign Materials for Rithy Uong