A child in the work camps: Part 1.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Monoram Hang
  • Age at interview - 26
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 07.30.1992
  • Photographs of prisoners, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    Visitors at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2000s.

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Politics & Government: How are other systems of government different than the U.S. government?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    The Khmer are the people of Cambodia.  In 1974 a Communist group called the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, gained control of Cambodia.   The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform Cambodia into an agriculture-based classless society, and to remove all Western influence.  Educated people, professionals, city-dwellers, and any opponents of the Communists were quickly rounded up and placed into forced labor camps in the countryside.  Many Khmer were executed under this tyrannical regime, and many others died of starvation, exposure and exhaustion.  During the period of genocide from 1975-1979 approximately 1.4 million people were executed, and it is estimated that a total of 20% of the Cambodian population died.

    To learn more about Khmer history and culture, visit our Khmer Community page.

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3

    Download Monoram Hang 1
    11:30 Minutes | 11.05Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    Interviewers: Dwight Oglesby (DO)

    MH:  In 1975 Khmer Rouge took over my country. I have been separated from my family.

    DO:  Monoram, how old were you in 1975?

    MH:  In 1975 I was nine years old.

    I didn't know anything about Khmer. When Khmer Rouge took over my country, I live with my family and move to live with Khmer Rouge.

    DO:  How large was your family, and did the Khmer Rouge harm any of your family?

    MH:  My family is seven member in my family, and since we live with the Khmer Rouge, Khmer Rouge catch my dad and bring to execute, I mean kill him.

    DO:  Why did they kill your father?

    MH:  My father was a Commander of Army fight against Khmer Rouge, so they took my father.

    DO:  What city did you live in?

    MH:  Before Khmer Rouge took over my country, I live in Phnom Penh, a city of Cambodia.

    DO:  Would you describe your experience when you were forced to leave the city?

    MH:  At the time the Khmer Rouge took over, we stayed home with my family. My dad was working. Since Khmer Rouge took over power, after two days they didn't force all the people in the city out from the city and my father was in place that he work. At that time they didn't force out. My mom was born my brother baby after two days, so we had to move out from the city.

    DO:  She had given birth only two days before you were forced to leave?

    MH:  Yes, she was with newborn baby of two days. She don't have any more energy to walk or something but Khmer Rouge had the force. At that time one of the soldier of Khmer Rouge come to my house and force our family and said, "You have to move out from the city. What are you waiting for? Do you want me to kill you or what do you want to do? You have to go out." And at that time my mom with knee down and asked to beg him and says, "Please, let me wait for my husband come home so our family can leave." And one of the soldiers of Khmer Rouge said no, and they kicked my mom on the body and she fell down.

    And at that time we had no choice, we had to go, so we got to leave everything behind. So we cannot say anything. We cannot wait for my father, so we had to go. At that time my mom couldn't walk, so she is so scary and she doesn't have energy to walk. At that time my two old sister carry her and go along with me and my hand on my young sister and we altogether leave the city.

    At that time we and my young brother had been lost in crowd of people. Too many people move away from the city at that time. At that time we walk, we don't know where we are going, we don't know where we end up. We just walk and walk. At that time we walk and it's not easy. And Khmer Rouge soldier behind us and shoot from behind and force us to go.

    At that time I lost, my parents lost, everybody. Only me and my brother stay with me. So we stand on the sidewalk and waiting and cry for them. At that time we had lost all the family, we don't have anybody left over except me and my brother. At that time me and my brother, we walk, and we meet one of my father's best friends. So my best friend told me, "Your father had been killed already."  And that he know that I don't have anybody left over except me and my brother, so one of my best friend take care of me and asked me to live with them. That time we end up with the slave to live and the Khmer Rouge take all of the young boys to live different place, so me and my brother separate again so I live then another place they call the young group.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Monoram Hang 2
    4:53 Minutes | 4.69Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  When I left the city, I came with my foster father, I call him adopted father instead of foster, and we go to rural countryside which is in the -- province. And when we got there, the Khmer Rouge tried to separate everybody, not only my family, which most people have a wife and a husband also separated, too, and the children from the parents, too, if they are old enough. How they can tell, the way they can tell how old is the children by putting their hand – ask the children to put their hand over their head. If they can touch the other side of the ear which they think the children is old enough to get into the mobile children's team. They live in the mobile team which they move from place to place wherever they need it, but most of the time we stay in a certain village for about a week or a month at the longest. And the purpose of being in a team is to be watched by the Communists.

    I was told by the leader of the Khmer Rouge that you are the young generation who is the one has the clear mind, a clear head, which is not informed by the previous government; and they look at your parents, your parents and the old people is the people who were influenced by the previous government and they are not good, only you. That's why they put us in a team and try to brainwash us.

    We have a children meeting and they told us what is the proposed upcoming and what is the way of the Communists work and the policy and what they were supposed to do, and the meeting every night. After working for long, long times, long periods, ten hours a day, we have meeting at night, too. And everybody have to work no matter you are a girl, but they put us separately from a girl and a boy, too, but just still close to each other, just different building. And we live in a building about as big as this one with 100 children sleep on each other and sometime overlap each other there is so many. When we got cold, they didn't care the way we were supposed to lie on the floor or whatever.

    And we woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to work. They knocked, whatever way to wake you up, and the children not get used to wake up at 5 o'clock and everybody woke up and cry and look for mom and dad; but if you keep doing that, the first time they just say something good to you, "Your mom is not here, your parents is not here any more, let's go with me," or something. The third time you are still looking for your family, they beat you by using a bamboo stick. They hit the children from behind and stand up in a line and walk to the rice field.

    And most of the time they force us to flatten the mountain. We used by hand, little children, can you imagine how small the children go flatten the mountain, with their bare hand, just use a stick of the wood, pick up a stone and try to carve the mountain, and nobody could do that, and there is no one can flatten the mountain but we did that because of the fort behind. Just the children -- my leader, the Communist, we call children mobile team leader is about 18 or 20 years old, and they carry the stick and look at how you work.

    Continues in Chapter 3

    Download Monoram Hang 3
    3:24 Minutes | 3.27Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  And one day my brother, younger brother, he was in a team, too, but in different team and we live in separate building.  One time my brother and I, we were working together to flatten one mountain and not far away from the village, like about two kilometers from the village. And I was we call bodyguard of the children, mobile team leader, because I just I don't know, it just maybe the way Cambodian say because of your charm or something that he got to know me and he start to like me. And most of the time I work for him real hard and that's why he like me. Everything he asked, I do it for him no matter what time during the night. He used to wake me up at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning to cook for him or something, and I don't care, as long as he liked me.

    Then I can save my brother, too. I could stay regular children in the team and I watched the bodyguard which is a little bit away from the people. And then they was lifting a big stone and when he [my brother] lift the stone up he found animals, insects, grasshoppers and he tried to eat it because he was starved and tried catch the grasshopper. And the leader saw him doing that, "You don't do your work. What are you doing?" He whipped him with the bamboo stick and he screamed. I was at that time at the mountain, down far away, and I still can hear what he scream. He knew that I was there and he cried, asked for my name to help. He said "Mono, help." That's the one thing I remember during that time.

    I know that my brother was beaten really hard. When I got up there I look at his voice and I tried to get up to the mountain, I saw him he was bleeding and he got bruised all over the body, and then I asked the leader, I said, "Why you beat him?" He said he didn't do the job. And nothing I could do. If I was there when he was beating him, I would save him, I would stop them or something, but I was not there when they beat him. That's one thing.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A strong, fibrous plant that grows in Asia.  The parts of the plant can be eated by animals or used by humans for tools or construction.


    Noun:  An ability to please or make people happy.


    Noun: A member of a Communist political party or movement, or a supporter of the political philosophy of communism; they usually advocate for a classless society with communal ownership of property, and often set up one-party totalitaran type governments.


    Noun:  1. Participation in events, leading to knowledge, opinons, or skills.  2. The knowledge thus gathered.


    Noun:  1. A period of around thirty years, the average amount of time before a child takes the place of its parents.  2. A group of people who are of approximately the same age.


    Noun:  An action exerted by a person or thing with such power on another to cause change. 

    Khmer Rouge

    A Cambodian Communist guerrilla force active from the 1970s to the 1990s under the leadership of Pol Pot.

    Listen to this word: 


    Adjective:  Moveable.


    Noun:  An official rule or course of action.  


    Noun:  A small region within a state or country.


    Adjective:  Related to less-populated, non-urban areas.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 571