Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:14 AM EDT Lynn mayor's newest aide a bridge to Khmer community By Laura Paine

/The Daily Item LYNN - For more than 20 years, Lynn has been home to the third largest Khmer community in the United States, but until nearly a month ago it did not have representation in the Mayor’s office. Kiririath “A.J.” Saing saw the Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s Administration as a chance to change that. “The community wanted to do something about it with Kiririath “A.J.” Saing poses outside of Lynn City Hall Tuesday. (Item Photo / Reba M. the new mayor coming in because, in the previous administration, we didn’t go anywhere further than a ‘hi’Saldanha) or ‘hello,’” Saing said. “When I walked into Mayor Kennedy’s office about a month ago and met with her chief of staff, Claire Cavanagh, and addressed this concern from the Southeast Asian community. To my pleasant surprise, they opened up.” Saing has been living in the U.S. since 1982. He spent two years in Kampuchea learning the Khmer language and continued researching and studying on his own in the years after his move, which enables him to work as the mayor’s Southeast Asian liaison. “The people and the language are called Khmer, the country is actually Kampuchea, but somehow we became known as Cambodia and Cambodian, and the country just accepted that,” Saing said. “If you go to Kampuchea, my homeland, in Khmer it will say Kampuchea and in English it will say Cambodia. I just wanted to point out that Khmer is the right terminology.” He said the Khmer people wanted to have their issues addressed, but because of language barriers, they did not know who to talk to. In fact, he said many did not know that City Hall was a public building. “Mainly, I put the face in the office so they now feel that there is a Southeast Asian person in the Mayor’s office when they could go up there and meet with me to address their issues,” Saing said. “They do have issues, generally, for the Cambodian community. It is mainly the deportation issue.” In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a deportation law between the United States and Cambodia. Since this happened, Saing said that families will sometimes have a member of their family being deported. Due to a lack of representation, they do not know where to turn to prevent it. “We have no leadership voice, no associations,” he said. “All we have is what I call a Khmer Professional, and what that is is a group of Khmer people like myself who work for different agencies. When a situation happens in the community, they would call any one of us and then all of us get together to see what we can do. We direct them to find a lawyer that would fit with that and then we would help them communicate it with a (state) representative and work with them to ask for a letter of support, and then I act as an interpreter for language services and go from there.” Saing said Khmer families also have trouble navigating the public schools and helping children complete their homework. In Cambodia, he said a teacher is viewed as a parental figure, which is a

major cultural difference. Saing also lends a helping hand in his position as Union Hospital’s manager of interpretive services and community outreach, where it is his goal is to build a bridge between the Southeast Asian community and the hospital. “I view my life now as the saying, ‘I am at your service,’” Saing said. “I want to say, on behalf of the Southeast Asian community in Lynn, that we are living here and we do want to work and build that relationship with the Mayor’s office. We never really got to that until Mayor Kennedy was elected and we do want to work with any agency that thinks we can do anything to support, and vice versa. We want to work as a community and show our support, but due to the lack of English and not knowing how to navigate within the system, just came to a stop. We have the desire but not the path. Hopefully, through the Khmer Professional, we can open up a way for the next generation that can work effectively with the community at large.”

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