A child in the work camps: Part 2.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Monoram Hang
  • Age at interview - 26
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 07.30.1992
  • Rural Cambodia, 2000s.
    Jungle swamp, Cambodia, 2000s.

    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 4
    3:34 Minutes | 3.43Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  And also, the way we live, we work hard, nobody take - I mean, clothes, just one cloth that you wear every day, and sleep on the floor and your food - I mean, if you talk about cleanliness or hygiene, compare - I mean, animal here, cows or ox or horses in United States or the dog here are a lot better than we were, than most children.

    A lot of children got sick easily and there is no treatment. What the Khmer Rouge gave the medicine to the children is just by doing traditional practices, you use corn. They use corn to scratch on your skin to make bruise and they believe that the bruise is releasing the bad air inside is what they believe when you got sick. That's the only way try to help the sick children and give food and still not enough food. And die at least two or three children a day, every day. And one day I remember my friend was beaten when we were working together on the top of the mountain, and there was the hospital but there is no medicine in the hospital.

    And the medicine is not like Western medicine. It's just the herbs. They use leaves and different kind of tree and mixed it up to make herbs and give to a sick person. An injection, I got injection once. I was in the hospital, too. And what they give me was just the coconut water. They put some dye in it and look like ink, green color, real green color and mixed it with coconut water and inject me. That's why a lot of people carry diseases one to another easily.

    And the hospital was not far away from the children, just about a half a mile, something, and we were working on the top of the mountain. And my friend got bit by the snake, poison snake, and nobody could help. Only me could carry him and walk down the mountain and he died on the way. We didn't get to the hospital.

    And they allow us to see parents only, let's see, twice or three times a year, you know. For me, I was the bodyguard of the leader. I can ask him any time but still not very often. It was like I got permission from him the most is four times a year or something. And when I went to the village, I tried to spread the news and let the parents know that most of the children were dying. They still cannot help either because the parents didn't allow to see the children, their children, and the children didn't allow to go to see parents, you know.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Monoram Hang 5
    3:10 Minutes | 3.05Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  During that time it's hard to imagine how we live. We call sky jail, universe jail.  You just live in an open space but you cannot walk away from it. You know what I mean? Because they have been watching every second. Like in a children team - okay. The big leader is control, look after 400 children, and after that one, three guy, three leaders is called subleader look after 30 children and then step by step in order to the lowest which is three people has one leader.

    Like I was the three group leader, a group with three children and I was the leader of that group, which I have to watch those two carefully. If they are lost or they missed from the place or missed dinnertime or lunchtime, that's my responsibility. And what they are going to do to me is punish me, they torture me. They tied me up once, that happened. They tied me up under a tree for a day and a night without food. If I missed one child or one child didn't go to work or anything, I have to give report to them every hour. That's why, you know, because they treat me bad, they torture me. I have to watch those two carefully.  That's the way they control the people. Not with the children mobile team. Everybody is in the village or in other places. That's the way they control. That's why we call them the universe jail. You live in an open space but you cannot escape.

    And then I'm in a lot of other things that I still remember how hurt and how bad I was. Especially when there were two team of Khmer Rouge at that time during 1975 to 1979. There is one who came later who kicked the first one away and killed the first one away, and I was still bodyguard of the first Khmer Rouge, the first leader. And then when this leader replaced the first one, they killed the first one, and they tried to kill me, too, because I was the bodyguard, but I was innocent. I didn't do anything. And the reason they killed the first leader, they just accused that he was - they said abuse, lot abuse than what the Communists used.

    Continues in Chapter 3

    Download Monoram Hang 6
    3:4 Minutes | 2.95Mb


    Narrator: Monoram Hang (MH)

    MH:  And nobody allowed to fall in love. A girl and boy, a man or woman, not allowed to have feeling toward each other. Unless you are feeling, you have to go through the leader. Okay. I liked one girl. I wouldn't let anybody know. I cannot go out, no way you can go out or talk to each other. No, not at all. That's why most people, if you ask most Cambodian family now, some of them, they got married during the Pol Pot time. They set up by the Communists. Didn't know each other at all. Like you from another village or a guy from another village, the Khmer Rouge just set you up together and you live together. And you have to love. You have to love each other. If you don't love, they kill you, too. If you don't love, they kill, and you love, they kill. That's the way it is.

    And also my leader, the first leader that was killed, he got love affair. I mean he loved the leader of the girl. They were in love but nobody know. And finally they found out, they kill him.

    And we were scared to death every day, every moment. You just - nothing you can say, who you talk to and who you can contact. You have no phone or anything. That's the life of the children team. And also, the rest of the people in the country, the same thing. That's why we couldn't escape. We couldn't do anything against the Khmer Rouge.

    Some people would think why you are so stupid at that time. Why you let them - why didn't you escape from place to place? If you know that the government of this village or the leader of this village is bad, why don't you move to the other place? Or you try to talk to your friend who don't like the government, try to make a revolution or something, but that's impossible. No communication. That is the worst thing that Khmer Rouge do. No radio allowed to use, no watch.  That's the way they tell the time. And no music, no money, no transportation, nothing.

    It's hard to tell the people to believe. Like most people have seen Killing Field [the 1984 film, The Killing Fields] and they say Killing Field is scary and beyond imaginary, but the real situation is worse than that, I'm telling you that it is.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun: The exchange of information between different parties.


    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:  The routine practice of keeping oneself clean, resulting in good health.

    Khmer Rouge

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

    Listen to this word: 

    Pol Pot

    The leader of the Cambodian Communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge and Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea from 1976–1979.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  1. A customary action, habit, or behavior; a manner or routine.  2. The observance of religious duties which a church requires of its members.

    Verb:   To perform or observe in a habitual fashion.  (practices, practicing, practiced)


    Noun:  Removal or replacement of the government.


    Verb:  To intentionally inflict pain or suffering on someone.  (tortures, torturing, tortured)


    Adjective:  Relating to a part of culture that is passed from person to person or generation to generation.


    Noun:  Medical care for an illness or injury.

    Western medicine

    Noun:  The type of medical treatment that is the most popular in North America and Western European countries, based on the use of drugs and surgery to treat symptoms.


    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: 638