Kimith So

Kimith So, born in Cambodia, escaped to Thailand, currently teaching in Elk Grove Unified and living in Elk Grove, California. 

Video Timeline

Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.

00:00 – Introduction

00:45 – Clip 1
Kimith So reflects back on earliest memories of Cambodia, starting at about 2 1/2 or 3, with his parents’ two-story home, his grandfather, and even a dog.

01:48 – Clip 2
Names city where he was born: Battambang, second largest city in Cambodia.

02:01 – Clip 3
By April, 1975, life in Cambodia changed. Communists forced families out of Battambang, telling them to return to ancestral village of father.

05:04 – Clip 4
Remembers being bored because there was no school. Anyone old enough to work had to do labor.

05:59 – Clip 5
There were no options for his parents: either work or die. They could trust no one. Neighbors or former friends could snitch on you.

10:02 – Clip 6
Life was a little better in the new village, but father still lived in fear of being executed. Hoarding food was understandably common in the village.

11:12 – Clip 7
Kimith was 5 or 6 the year they lived in his mother’s village and 7 by the time they fled.

11:22 – Clip 8
Explains consequences of Vietnamese army invading Cambodia and chasing our the Khmer Rouge. Because they no longer had any papers, their home in Battanbang had already been claimed by someone else.

13:25 – Clip 9
Explains justification for North Vietnamese to invade Cambodia: Khmer Rouge had been causing problems along the borders.

14:03 – Clip 10
Although parents were suspicious, they were grateful Vietnamese had invaded country. Soldiers were kinder to them then Khmer Rouge, even setting up schools. Life was better.

15:00 – Clip 11
Recalls the family’s escape. On first attempt they made it to Thailand, but were rounded up by soldiers and put on bus, supposedly to go to a refugee camp. Thai villagers came by bus, giving them food and warnings about where they were headed.

21:01- Clip 12
Parents will to survive and overcome obstacles was strong. Mother was able to move on from the past. His father still has nightmares about betrayal and lingering distrust of government.

23:06 – Clip 13
Compares escape to Thailand like the Harriet Tubman story, with people housing/hiding you along the way.

24:06 – Clip 14
Remembers Thai market place outside the refugee camp and being impressed by things he had never seen before.

24:47 – Clip 15
He was 8 1/2, in June of 1981, when they boarded plane for flight to San Francisco. Amazed by the lights of the city!

26:35 – Clip 16
As an 8-year-old, saw TV for the first time (the wedding of Princess Di).

28:22 – Clip 17
As a 3rd grader, recalls the kindness of a 6th grader who came forward to help him (brought him chapstick, started tutoring him).

29:08 – Clip 18
Attributes his parents for his motivation to learn. Dad assured him that an education was the ticket to get off welfare.

31:32 – Clip 19
Wants educators to understand that even if a refugee/immigrant student cannot speak English, he/she can learn a lot from your facial expressions and body language.

32:30 – Clip 20
Shares his journey into talking about his story with his students. Initially he was ashamed to share what had happened in Cambodia, as it was genocide against their own people. When he started teaching the novel Animal Farm, he started making the connection.

33:46 – Clip 21
In 2002, returned to Cambodia, but was overwhelmed by conditions. Returned in 2007 and began to see that Cambodia was a part of him and that he needed to contribute.

36:04 – Clip 22
Explains similarity between events in Animal Farm and the Cambodian genocide.

37:19 – Clip 23
Discusses how survivors of the genocide are able to talk about what happened, even with humor.

39:08 – Clip 24
References quote he shares with students from Malala Yousafzai: “Education is the key to peace, the key to ending conflict.”

40:27 – Clip 25
Explains logical connections between primary source stories and literature.

41:27 – Credits