By Stacy Nguyen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On Friday, Aug. 22, Chanda Sovan was having a good day. That is until she received word of an unflattering Northwest Asian Weekly article about the organization that she is president of, Asian American Dragon Boat Association (AADBA). Sovan couldn’t believe it. The article depicted their pageant and race as rigged and said that a slur was thrown around casually.
“I was in shock,” Sovan said. “It was beyond words. The article hit me hard. It gave readers a negative impression of Cambodians and my community. It discredited our volunteers, and our event.”
Kosal Nam, vice-president and the controversial figure that many of the accusations were directed at in the last article, described his own experience when he learned of the article. “When I received the phone call, I kind of froze.” He went on to quietly say, “You can come after me, but you can’t give the community a bad name. I was not able to work after that. I left around 12:30. It hit me. It hurt.”
One of the sources in the article was a close colleague of theirs, Rady Oum, a long-time volunteer for the annual festival. Together with Kea Sok, AADBA’s marketing, the four worked closely together for three quick months, trying to rapidly prepare and get funding. The short timeline was due to previous organizer CASNET’s inability to host the 2008 event.
“We started at the end of May, planned the fundraiser for June 21.” Sok said, explaining how the four had gotten close — it was because they spent much of their free time together planning the festival.
The boat races
This year, AADBA made placement of the teams fair and about the luck of the draw. Team captains chose team names written on ping-pong balls and drawn out of a bag, picking racing order. This was a deviation from years prior where the boat operator planned the races based on caliber.
Fifteen teams from around Seattle-Tacoma participated in the festival this year. Khmer Krom Dragons, Team Xtreme, Tacoma Nagas and Kirkland Spitfire were in the finals for championship. Khmer Krom Dragons took the winning trophy, Team Xtreme in second place and Tacoma Nagas in third place. “Everyone had a great time,” continued Sovan, “It couldn’t be any better with such a short amount of time and manpower.”
One of the first things that Sovan made clear when speaking with NWAW was there had been information lost in translation. “I’m not going to discredit Rady (Oum) or take sides,” she said. “We all have worked very hard together.” However, Sovan wanted to clarify a lot of the claims that were made in the previous article.
“There was no tampering of votes,” Sovan said. “The person managing the votes at all times was only me, except when I asked Kosal (Nam) to double check my count.” AADBA had rules so that the voting would be as fair as they could make it. All duplicate votes and votes that did not meet AADBA’s criteria were eliminated and not counted.
Another controversy was the claim that the judges weren’t notified about the online voting. “It was made clear to everyone that the judging was to determine the final contenders. It was up to the girls to inform friends, co-workers, families and relatives to vote,” Sovan said. Nam confirmed this.
Sakhun Sok was declared Miss Bon Om Tuk by 150 votes. Sok had talked to everyone, ranging from Tacoma Metro Park, to friends on Facebook, MySpace and more. Sok is currently a college student, an athlete, an avid volunteer and a dancer. “It was very hard,” she said, describing her life post-article. “But I’ve gotten a lot of support from my friends.”
Allegedly, there had been a slur, “prikg,” casually thrown around at the events. It was reported that “prikg” was equivalent to the n-word. Sovan dispelled this. “Cambodians do not have an n-word. It is merely a description of a person or thing of dark pigmentation. There’s no negative connotation. It was a misunderstanding.”
Ending the season
One thing that many people — both AADBA and festival-goers alike — wished was expressed more was how fun Bon Om Tuk was.
Sonny Kingkeo, co-captain of the Kirkland Spitfire dragon boat, said of AADBA, “For them to have a full-time job and do this at the same time — in three months — is amazing.”
Samay Sengamphan, the other co-captain of the Spitfire said, “There were activities and floatables for kids on the grass. There were children running around and old people sitting inside a tent waiting for the dragon boat races to begin. The rest just walked around with friends and family. Many went by the stage and danced to live traditional music. The environment was very much positive and totally fun.”
“Our community was very hurt by the article,” stated Sovan. “Ironically we’ve united and are even stronger.” Since the article came out, AADBA has received support from friends and other communities. ♦
For more comprehensive information on AADBA, visit aadba.org.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.