Posted by: Kath Usitalo | May 20, 2011

Friday Foray: Cambodia In Chicago

A wood carving at the Cambodian Heritage Museum, Chicago

At the heart of the Great Lakes Gazette is Michigan, the Great Lakes State. But on some Fridays we’ll make forays to the rest of the region that touches the Great Lakes Huron, Michigan, Superior, Erie and Ontario:  New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada.

Visitors to Chicago—first timers and frequent travelers—have no shortage of sightseeing and shopping options, from museums, to strolling Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, or people-watching at Millennium Park.

Those who’ve been there, done that in the Windy City might consider veering off the tried and true paths and exploring 77 different, named neighborhoods, like Albany Park, about 8 miles north of the Loop along Lawrence Avenue.

Residents call it the “Gateway to the World” for its mix of East Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern population. You can eat your way through a buffet of Guatemalan, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Persian, Columbian and other world food at area restaurants.

This is home to the Cambodian American Heritage Museum, a source of aid for new immigrants, and a center for Cambodian culture.

It is the site of the Killing Fields Memorial and museum dedicated to the more than 2 million Cambodians, of a population of 7 million, who died during the Khmer Rouge genocide from 1975-79.

A portion of the carving on the museum facade by Killing Fields survivor and artist Choeut Tuy

The striking sculpture on the exterior of the building of Apsara (Celestial Angel) and Brahma (Hindu God of Creation) was carved of wood by artist-in-residence Choeut Tuy, a survivor of the horrific events in Cambodia.

Inside, past the imported goods in the gift shop, is a serene memorial to the victims of the Killing Fields. Dary Mien, executive director, said, “There are no piles of skeletons and bones. What we wanted was a place for survivors to come and be healed. A place where we think about moving on.”

The simple memorial includes the message, “We continue our journey with compassion, understanding and wisdom” and a Wall of Remembrance, glass panels etched with the names of those lost in the Killing Fields.

The museum is a work in progress—the main Killing Fields exhibit will open in September—but you can stop to reflect at the memorial and center offers Sunday programs in traditional dance and music.

Recently, a groundbreaking ceremony took place for the Multicultural Sculpture Park and Healing Garden in Ronan Park, opposite the museum along the Chicago River. The area, about 5-1/2 acres, will include a variety of gardens, a rotating display of sculpture, and outdoor performance space.

Visitor Info Click: Chicago

Dary Mien, in front of the glass panels of the Wall of Remembrance, explains that the 7 candles in the Killing Fields Memorial represent those who died each day of the week.

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