Growing up, human development graduate Matthew Yan would sit in front of a television set, slip in a VHS tape and begin hours of binge watching Khmer movies and television romantic dramas with his family.
“When I was a kid, one of the best moments growing up was watching VHS tapes… [which] were Thai and Chinese movies dubbed in Khmer,” Yan said. “You know that was basically our whole entire childhood.”
It was these dramas that inspired Yan to write “Snaeh Kdam Srae” translated as “The Crab Farm of Love,” the production featured at the 35th annual Cambodian Culture Show, hosted by the Cambodian Student Society.
Yan said these movies were a way for him and many other second generation Cambodian Americans to learn about their culture away from their home country.
“With this show I wanted to preserve culture for people who were born here,” Yan said.
Friends, family and community members gathered at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center Friday to celebrate Khmer culture through music, dance and storytelling.
“It’s a lot of work and it’s stressful, but in the end it’s always something rewarding because you’re doing something for your culture,” said Yan, skit director for Cambodian Student Society. “You’re displaying it out there, and that’s why I like to do [this].”
The night was centered around a theatrical skit, “The Crab Farm of Love,” written and directed by Yan. The story is about forbidden love and follows a woman, Chantrea, who goes home to the countryside after living in the city. She falls in love with her childhood friend, Narith, but adversity hits when her family sets her up with a rich city man.
The event also showcased an array of traditional Khmer performances like Chayyam, which features dancers and a line of players beating long drums, cymbals. Chayyam has become a tradition at Cambodian culture shows as a high energy performance that provides a sense of excitement among the audience.
The women of Cambodian Student Society opened the show with Robam Phlet, known as the fan dance, to welcome in prosperity, blessings and good luck.
For Vuolack Noch, who played Chantrea, this show was a way to reconnect with her culture and form strong relationships with members of the club.
“This is my first semester, and they’ve managed to push me out of my comfort zone,” Noch said. “I see [Cambodian Student Society] as family. They’re honestly my heart.”
According to Cambodian Student Society treasurer Peter Kurrell, traditional dance is incorporated in the show to preserve culture and pass tradition through generations.
“I think it’s important for us to preserve our culture so that it can live on — especially for us, the younger generation,” said Kurrell, who was a drummer in Chayyam. “It’s up to us to preserve it because once our parents and grandparents pass, that’ll be it.”