Interview Transcriptions: Arn Chorn Pond
- Who Inspired You?
MARCUS: Who has influenced you in a positive way?
ARN: There are a few people in my life. One of them was my teacher during the Khmer Rouge time, my teacher who taught me how to play music for the Khmer Rouge. They killed him after five days, after he taught me how to play.
… and many young children [influenced me], also in the war, in the battlefield, sometimes many of them run. I picture [them], I know their faces. You know, they run for me, they run for bullets for me. They are dead now, many of them. They're all my friends. So those are, you know, people who influenced me and [they are] always in my thoughts, you know, in my heart.
And here in America, my foster father, Peter Pond, my Dad. He's American, white; an English-American man. He also risked his life to save mine.
And he always encouraged me to speak out about how I feel inside. He knew I was about to explode coming to America, having all of these nightmares and anger. Remember that at that point I didn't know where my family were, and I was just in the jungle last week, and now I'm in high school. I didn't speak English at all, and kids made fun of me, you know? High school in New Hampshire--White Mountain Regional High School--there were no Black, no Spanish, no green, no blue, but [only] White kids, you know? They never saw [someone like] me before. You know--short nose and black hair. They made fun of me, they didn't know my culture or anything like that, so we always have fights. I broke a school window, I ran away from home, and I spit in my teacher's face and all of that. I didn't understand why I had so much anger. My Dad noticed.
- What Can I Do?
ARN: That's all I ask you guys, I ask children, especially Americans, they can do so much. Literally, in the next ten years, we need a consciousness shift; to have young people help saving the world. Please be awake to the suffering of the world. Be awake, fly out and fundraise and help thousands of kids. One of you angels can help millions.
I never thought I could do that. Never thought, never ever in my life, that I could meet the Dalai Lama. I've met Jimmy Carter, I met Bruce Springsteen, I met all these people that people think, they hold them as a peacemaker and role model. I've been blessed, I've been very lucky. I've learned a lot from their lives.
- Music, Art and Human Rights
WANDA: You do a lot of work with music and the arts. Why is music and art so important with doing human rights work?
ARN: I told you that music, art, and performing…it's like the very roof of my culture, right? And I've learned now that it's not only my culture, [but it is] everybody's culture, I think.
Music really triggers your feelings in your core of [what it means to be human], and then you dance and you sing together. That's a really basic human right, to express yourself; to be able to sing.
- Turning Point for Action.
MARCUS: In the terms of your human rights work, was there a moment that turned you to push you to act?
ARN: [The turning point came] When I was able to speak out about my life; I felt better. I learned how to cry, I learned how to cry in public. I remember I spoke at the church. My first speech--not speech, I memorized words by heart--I just said, "My name is Arn. My family [was] killed in Cambodia," a few words. And then there was this little girl [with] blond hair coming and [she] hugged me. Hugged me very tight. She was about ten, [which] my age was when I was in Cambodia. And she looked at me in the eye, she said, "Arn, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for what happened to you."
You know I never--I don't wish anything like that to happen to anybody, to any children. And she gave me a dollar. Said "here, one dollar, maybe you can help other children." I never forget that because that made me feel very good. I think to myself that if I speak about it, there's somebody [who] cares, you know?
- Role of Religion.
MARCUS: What role has Buddhism played in the choices that you have made?
ARN: …I don't know whether religion played a [big] role in what I'm doing with human rights now. I do this [work] because of my experience; what I went through during the Khmer Rouge, too. [I] never want any child in the world to go through what I went through. …
…My father--my American father--he's a Unitarian Church minister.…His religion is this: he said, "Jesus Christ said …love." That's big, love. "Love your neighbor." …He said that those things, Arn, [you must] remember. So not to say, "I help you, because you're Black, I'm White." Or, "I help you because I'm Asian, and you're not, or because you're Buddhist, I'm Christian." No, nothing like that.
And I don't think Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha said anything like that. They all love, and what does it mean, love? Why are we using God's words to bomb, to fight, to kill?
My temple is...everywhere. Now I go even in the rice field. I can sit and just look at the sunset and think about what my dad was saying about, and what I've learned in the Buddhist temple in Cambodia. [I can] take a breath, and enjoy myself. So what I do with the peace work is not [due to] religion very much, but how you live non-violently, how you live your life; be a role model.