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    What is in a Name? A Reflection by Empress Khmera Rouge on the 40th Anniversary of the Cambodian Genocide

    khmeraWho are you? What do you call yourself? Who do you think you are? Our names and identities are such a major part of who we are that many of us don’t even think about how much power they hold until someone tries to take them away. We recently witnessed this with the “Real Names Policy” fiasco, which occurred and played out on Facebook late last year, impacting many local performers and drag personalities. People fought back for ownership of their identities, causing the social media giant to recant and review its policy. It was “Dragctivism” (Drag+Activisim) at its finest.

    But what exactly goes into a name? Many people create a drag name for themselves just for fun. My stage name is Khmera Rouge. Before starting out as a performer and drag queen, I thought about and adopted a moniker that had particular special meaning to me. To many, it sounds just like any other simple, playful drag name. But those who know the inspiration and meaning behind it realize just how much darkness and pain is attached.

    This Friday, April 17, will mark the 40th anniversary of when Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge communist regime and the Cambodian genocide. This set into motion a diaspora of the Cambodian people, displacing and separating countless families and causing one of the most horrific genocides and periods in our recent past where an estimated 2 million innocent lives were lost due to famine, torture and execution. There is such a heavy history behind the name. So why did I choose such an awful name? I’m a firm believer that beauty can be found in anything, even something so heinous.

    I chose it because I felt many people forgot, or refuse to talk about, who and what the Khmer Rouge were and what they did. For many, April 17 will pass by as just any other day would without a second thought. To me, that is a tragedy. Many have no idea the atrocities that were committed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. I took it upon myself to make sure those that suffered and lost their lives would never be forgotten.

    My family members were refugees during this time, and were fortunate enough to be sent to camps in Thailand and the Philippines before being resettled in Washington State, where I was born. Growing up, I came to realize that people in my community would shy away from talking about what happened, which is understandable. For many, my mother included, the wounds and memories were still too fresh to bring up. But as a result, something that occurred not too long ago is fading into history and obscurity.

    It was my intent when I chose my stage name, in direct reference to the Khmer Rouge, to constantly remind and educate anyone who was curious enough to inquire about it. That was always my goal—if just one person who did not know before asked about it, and I was able to share what I knew and to start a dialogue, then my name would serve its purpose.

    This weekend, on April 18, in remembrance of the 40th anniversary and to honor those who perished, I will be kicking off a year of fundraising as part of my role as Empress, along with my Emperor Kevin Lisle, and raising funds for Wat Opot Children’s Fund in support of Changing the Course, a collaborative effort led by Brian Reyes at Beaux, 2344 Market Street, from 4–7PM. The program’s mission is to support Cambodian adults and youth impacted by HIV/AIDS who live in extreme poverty in rural Cambodia. The program offers education, including on the arts and dance, as well as training and resources concerning sustainable agricultural practices.

    Going forward after that, we will be holding a monthly fundraiser at Beaux every second Saturday of the month from 4–7PM. The event will feature an open show where tips from performers will be donated. Jell-O shots and raffle tickets will be sold. There will also be other fun surprises, all in an effort to raise money for some amazing local causes and organizations. All proceeds raised will benefit our Monarchs Charity Fund, which will allow us to support organizations such as AIDS Emergency Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund and Project Openhand. These are just a few of the charities that we will be focusing on raising funds for over the coming months.

    Khmera Rouge is the reigning Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco. Khmera currently serves on the board of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and was elected as a delegate for the California Democratic Party, Assembly District 17. Before being elected Empress, Khmera was the Queen of Hearts for the Grand Ducal Council of San Francisco as well as the 25th Miss GAPA (Gay Asian Pacific Alliance).