How Refugees Shaped L.A. Neighborhoods


For more than two decades, the State of California has promoted Refugee Awareness Month in June. As part of the celebration, on June 10, Los Angeles hosted the World Refugee Day Celebration at Griffith Park, inviting refugees and supporters from throughout the region to share their stories and experiences. "It's important for us to acknowledge the refugees in the United States not as a burden, but as a blessing, " said Bruce Eihnhorn at the event, in Los Angeles Daily News' coverage of the event. Einhorn, a retired immigration judge, assisted in drafting the Refugee Act of 1980, which established systematic procedures for admitting refugees to the United States -- a culmination of a series of efforts that began after WWII when the U.S. began to differentiate the terms "immigrants" and "refugees."

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Refugees from various parts of the world have become an integral part of Los Angeles' communities. Here are a few examples:

  • Cambodian refugees found homes in Chinatown and Long Beach and make up a vital part of their respective neighborhoods. The Lim Family, owners of Kim Chuy Restaurant in Chinatown, and the family of student Annie Kim, both escaped from the horrors in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period in the 1970s and settled in Chinatown.
  • In Long Beach, a community of over 70,000 Cambodians make up the city's first officially designated ethnic neighborhood. Cambodia Town is home to many refugees as well a younger generation of migrants like Prach Ly, who uses hip hop to preach the history and the horrors that his elders have encountered, and Chad Sammeth, the Project Coordinator and Community Organizer at United Cambodian Community.
  • In the 1930s and the '40s, Jewish refugees from Europe settled in Los Angeles, including many artists, writers, and filmmakers. Theater director Rachel Rosenthal recounts the story of her family's journey from Nazi-occupied France to Los Angeles in her Arrival Story.
  • In the 1980s and '90s, roughly 300,000 refugees fled from El Salvador during its Civil War and settled in L.A. The past few years has seen a number of refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan who have re-settled in Los Angeles.

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