Visitors to the Cambodian Fresno Night Market are treated to the sights, sounds, and taste of a traditional event that originated in Southeast Asia. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
In 2014, Fresno Police Sgt. Danny Kim has traveled where he never wanted to return – his Cambodian homeland.
Kim, 47, had not returned to his native Cambodia since his family escaped the Khmer Rogue regime, which ruled from 1975 to 1979 under brutal dictator Pol Pot. Pot’s agenda of punishing minorities and political enemies resulted in the Cambodian Genocide – the deaths of 1.5-2 million people.
When Kim was a month old, her family was forcibly sent to a Khmer Rouge death camp. After three agonizing years, they managed to reach a refugee camp in Thailand around 1978. At age 11 – after living in the refugee camp for seven years – Kim and her family came to the United States in 1986.
They settled in San Antonio, Texas for a time before moving to Long Beach, then a bustling site for refugee programs. Next was Stockton, where Kim earned an associate’s degree. Then he moved on his own to Fresno, where at age 22 he was hired by the Fresno Police Department.
Kim returned to Cambodia in 2014 to accompany his father, who was too fragile to travel alone. During this trip, he experienced firsthand his own culture, especially the bustle and activity of a typical Cambodian street market in the evening.
“A night market is an event there because it allows people to get together on weekends, party and relieve stress,” Kim said. “For me, a night market in Fresno is a program of resilience.”
Kim returned to Cambodia every year until the pandemic hit – helping the community where he was born with charity work with the help of his wife.
Here at home, Kim was able to build relationships with the Fresno Cambodian Buddhist Society, to bring more attention to the culture with community leaders. Kim wanted to help provide opportunities for local businesses to generate additional revenue.
The idea? Bring the Cambodian night market experience to Fresno. This happened in 2019 at the Buddhist Temple at 2533 N. Valentine Ave. north of Clinton Avenue with traditional Cambodian music and dancing, vendors and food. Initially, the Cambodian night market was held every Friday, with a large attendance offering support.
It was a hit, catching worldwide attention online. Kim said a Cambodian in New Zealand wrote a song about it. A Franco-Cambodian family even came to visit us.
The Fresno Cambodian Night Market Facebook Page has also received praise and positive feedback from Cambodians all over the world for keeping the culture and tradition alive for the next generation.
When COVID hit, the Cambodian Night Market was postponed to July 2021. Due to staffing and funding constraints, it takes place on the first Friday of every month.
Kim said he encountered difficulties when the Cambodian night market was first organized in 2019. Some of the small business owners in Southeast Asia were worried about participating, Kim said, fearing that too few people would are presented.
According to Kim, the majority of businesses in Southeast Asia are owned and operated by people unfamiliar with business laws and regulations, which he attributes to fear of being punished for lack of knowledge and language barriers. that could stifle communication.
He’s noticed it in the Latin American business community, too, saying business owners are chastised for breaking rules they may not even have been aware of.
He also faced an uphill battle to convince the Buddhist temple staff to buy into his idea. Kim pointed out that the market will benefit business owners and attract more close neighbors from the community to the temple.
“When community members know each other, they are less likely to commit crimes against each other,” Kim said. “By introducing the community to Cambodian culture, ethnicity and tradition, we can build a relationship and bond.”
The Cambodian Night Market is currently always held on the first Friday of the month from 4pm to 9pm. Kim always encourages all the public to visit and vendors to reach out to be part of the night market.