Sithea San

Alumna Works to Build Community in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town

Sithea SanAs a founder and chair of the board of directors for the Cambodia Town ethnic district in Long Beach, Sithea San (Class of ’91, B.S., business administration) continues to live by the words of a professor she fondly remembers from her days at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Kosaku Yoshida, Ph.D., told his finance class that the obstacles throughout the journey are not what matter, but the end result.

Located along Long Beach’s Anaheim Street between Junipero and Atlantic avenues, Cambodia Town received its designation from the Long Beach City Council on July 3, 2007, after years of planning, organizing and controversy. There were many who believed the designation would ignite gang rivalry and create strain among those with different racial backgrounds. However, with the designation and a multicultural board, the tensions are subsiding.

At the age of 13, San came to America to escape the Khmer Rouge regime. Her family walked for days to Thailand in order to leave the killing fields of Cambodia.

“My family walked all day, I don’t remember how many days,” San recalls. She and her family stayed in two refugee camps along the way. There, San and her sisters learned the traditional folk dances of Cambodia. In 1981 her uncle, who was living in Long Beach, sponsored the refugee family and they came to America.

San and her husband met while attending California State University, Long Beach. The two helped put together the first Cambodian Culture Show in 1987. “That’s how I got to know my husband; I trained him to dance,” she recollects excitedly.

After primarily attending CSULB, San and her husband transferred to CSU Dominguez Hills because classes were more accessible, allowing them to graduate by their goal date. The plan was to take classes at the Dominguez Hills campus and transfer back to CSULB for graduation, but Sithea San says, “We fell in love with Cal State Dominguez Hills, both of us, and we stayed to graduate from there.”

And, using the philosophy imparted to her while at CSU Dominguez Hills, San can now look back at the formation of Cambodia Town and say, “We don’t look at the cost, the obstacles... You look at the end of the day, the bottom [line]. People try to slow us down…but in the end we got the Cambodia [Town] designation…That’s why I say I fell in love [with CSU Dominguez Hills] because of one professor’s words. And, we’re [still] using them. It works.”