New Year Baby (2006) - full transcript

Born on Cambodian New Year in a Thai refugee camp, Socheata never knew how she got there. After her birth, the family left the past behind and became American. Her parents hid the story of surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide. In NEW YEAR BABY, she journeys to Cambodia and discovers the truth about her family. She uncovers their painful secrets kept in shame which also reveal great heroism.

We are part of the baby boom generation

We were born after are parents lost everything in Cambodia.

Once they came to America, our parents put the past behind them and never talked about it.

In my family, I am known as, the lucky one.

Years later I realized how lucky I really am.

I was born on the Cambodian new year,
in a refugee camp.

My parents never told me much more than that.

Before I was born everyone in my family;

my parents, my two older sisters, my brother,

all survived the Cambodia genocide.

In 1975 a communist group
called the 'Khmer Rouge' came to power.

Their leader, Pol Pot,
wanted to create a perfect society.

But instead,
2 million people died.

After my parents escaped and moved us to Texas.

They focused on giving us a normal American life.

But who were they kidding?

They never left Cambodia.

My mom still cooks on the kitchen floor.

My dad trims tree's with a meat cleaver.

and he lays around watching Cambodian karoke.

They're Buddhists but we celebrate Christmas every year.

Last year I came home for Christmas

and my mom had all of her kids under one roof.

Suddenly, my mom called a 'family meeting'.

In the back bedroom she told us a secret
she had been hiding for 25 years.

My mom told me that my older sisters
aren't really my sisters.

My brother isn't my full brother.

and my mom had a husband before my dad.

I had a million questions in my head

but before I can open my mouth,

my dad ran out of the room.

get choked up

and he went and sat on the toilet in my bathroom.

and then

yank him off the toilet.

My parents and even my sisters

kept this secret from me for 25 years.

I felt like I didn't know my own family

and I wondered

what other secrets had they left behind in Cambodia.

After the big family secret was out

my mom invited my brother and me to Cambodia for the first time.

they wanted us to meet our relatives.

but I saw it as a chance to finally get what happened to them before I was born.

I knew more about the Holocaust then the Khmer Rouge

I knew even less about my family's story.

My mom was married before my father.

She already had two children.

Her husband and daughter died
during the Khmers Rouge

leaving my brother Scott.

Then my mother's beloved sister died

leaving two orphan nieces.

My mother adopted them and raised them as my sisters.

At some point she met my dad and had me.

But when and where she met him, I have no idea.

I wanted to know how my parents

this mistmatched couple came together.

What do you like about Pa?

So Pa, what do you like about Ma?

That was my chance to finally understand
what my parents went through.

Making a film, gave me the excuse.

I had no memories of Cambodia,

so I read every book I could find about its history.

Growing up in Amearican, I only heard of it as an afterthought of the Vietnam War.

In order to stop the Viet Cong from smuggling weapons through Cambodia, America dropped more bombs on Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during World War II

The Khmer Rouge, the red Cambodians emerged from the jungle to overthrow the government.

On Cambodia New Year in 1975

they marched into the capital city, Phnom Penh and told every citizen to leave.

My parents were there.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to create a classless society.

They forced everyone into labor camps

They canceled Cambodian New Year, and renamed April 17th, Cambodian Liberation Day.

When we arrived at the capital Phnom Penh, I didn't see any signs of a destroyed city.

Cambodia was trying to move on from its past.

The Khmer Rouge had blended back into society.

and most Cambodians don't remember that time.

Three quarters of the population is my age or younger.

As soon as we got settled,

my mom agreed to take me to the labor camp

where she spent three years, living under the Khmer Rouge.

At the labor camp

Ma seemed anxious,

rushing out the door.

We spent all day to get here but we only stayed three minutes.

My mom put up a brick wall just as she had done my whole life.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents

who are the Khmer Rouge?

But they always dodged my questions.

I was left to my own imagination.

In my nightmares, I saw the Khmer Rouge;

faceless men who were out to get me.

I tightened my eyes and hid beneath my pillow.

The Khmer Rouge hid in the shadows.

But I could never see their faces.

Although my sisters refused to return to Cambodia,

they could finally to share their story.

My mother told them to keep quiet for 25 years,

and now they were relieved that they could
talk again about their first family.

What does your father do?

He works for the bank. That's all I know. I know he had a motorcycle.

He rode the motorcycle to and from work.

Sometime he took me to work with him.

I thought that was cool, when I got to go to work with him.

Kindof show me off

and my mom...

She just...

...plain house wife (laughs).

Very loving.

I don't think she's a talker.

Think she's just really quiet and reserved and just...

take care of people around her.

Like all Cambodians, Mala, Leakhena and their parents were forced into a labor camp.

And then I remember I didn't see anything besides the rice field.

And when the rice done, was ready to harvast, they said

now they don't belong to you anymore they belong to angkar.

Angkar simply meant, the party.

Angkar turned the entire society upside down.

Angkar owned everything.

Your land, your labor, even your children.

It controlled where you lived, what you did, what you said, what you ate, and even what you thought.

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader hid behind the word 'angkar'
like it was a person.

But angkar didn't exist.

So no one was in charge.

and no one was responsible.

I was with Mala sometime.

Sometime we could find like bodies that were executed the night before. Something like that. It's like they aren't trying to hide anything. Do you know what I mean? Just there.

I did run into dead bodies.


I do know what it smells like. far as...

...decaying bodies and stuff.

At one of the camps...

...the first night...

my dad...

...they took him away...

...and that was the last time I saw him.

They took me away from the family.

and put me in the childrens camp.


your in the rice field and your wet all the time.

and sometimes you end up going to sleep wet.

Sometimes there's food.

for us to eat, sometimes there's not.

So you line up to go get food but then they end
up giving you just a piece of rock salt.

Sometimes you just lick that to sleep.

Maybe if you sleep you won't be hungry.

and I know some kids and people, adult too that...

sometimes when they go to sleep, they don't wake up.

I had all these skin infections on me
and that's why I had all the fever.

...and then my mom

she came looking for me.

She packed her lunch

her lunch, ya know, her food in a...

...banana leaf. Ya know to come looking for me...


I don't know, that afternoon she found where I was.

She didn't even know where I was.

She found where I was.

and then she told me, she go...

I have not eaten.

Ya know?


I'm waiting to find you before eating my lunch.

and then she...

She saved part of her portion of her food for me.

She's the reason, I'm alive.

A quarter of the population died in 4 years,

From starvation, disease, and execution

No member of the Khmer Rouge has been brought to trial.

The Prime Minister, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander

said it's time to dig a hole and Cambodia to bury its past.

I didn't understood how a whole country could suffer through this and not demand justice.

After the resisitance I got from my mom. I gave in to why my parents brought us here.

To visit family.

Did you always have a lot of food to eat?

Did you have a lot of cows?

You Cambodian Cowboy.

I'm afraid it's going to cut my feet.

Oh, oh...


What if it kicks you?

This is the cowboy, come on back.

You were born here?

How can you remember it? There are no signs or anything...

This tree?

There's nothing left.

My father was an ex-soldier in the Cambodian army.

The Khmer Rouge told family members to turn each other in.

His family didn't.

But they had to distance themselves from him.

I learned that my mom lost thirty family members during the Khmer Rouge.

She wanted to make sure that my brother and I met her relatives who stayed behind.

We met my aunt.

Second cousins.


...and more cousins.

and for the for the first time my brother met his father's side of the family.

My brother saw his real father's face for the first time.

That right there...that's me.

Ma, how do they still have all of these pictures?

We found this photo of my mom's first wedding.

I never saw her as a young woman before.

She married a man from a rich chinese family.

They lived together in an apartment in Phnom Penh.

My mom's memories were fading.

The places had changed.

Ma shared a lot of happy memories, with her first husband's family.

In my mom's second marriage she seemed to have nothing in common with my dad.

and part of it had to do with the color of his skin.

Skin color is just a symbol of how far apart they are.

It was always a mystery of how they got together in the first place.

So when pa said he liked you, what did you say?

I was getting two completely different stories from my parents.

But it was better than no talking at all.

My mother was getting tired of my constant camera.

So was my dad.

No one wanted to cooperate.

Ma kept saying that their story wasn't special

and she suggested to make a travel film instead.

For awhile, I pretended to go along with it.

He's afraid of using the bathroom here (laughs). So am I.

That's the Cambodian nose there...that's my nose.

After all of the sight seeing we were exhausted.

During a quiet break, I had a moment to ask my mom some questions.

To my surprise, she started to open up.

I had the feeling that Ma was hiding something.

Because my mom was becoming more and more resistant, I continued the rest of the trip alone with my dad.

He came for the chance to spend time alone with me.

But I asked him because he is much easier to direct.

We had a tour of the labor camp.

Where ma met pa.


So why do you think there are more bad guys now?

Then before...why?

That night...

that she died...

Somebody got Ma to come over.

The next morning

It didn't hit me...

It's fine, ya know, she died...


a man came over.

they prepared the body,

dressed her, ya know.

put the blankets on her, whatever...

and they rolled her up and just carried her away.

When they took her body away, I went and washed her clothes, and that's when I was crying at the river. She's actually gone, she's dead.

Did you ever talk to Khmer

Is there anything that you would want to say?

If you could talk to one right now, would you?

I need to tell you what we're doing.

Once when I asked my dad about the worst part about living under the Khmer Rouge

He said, it was the silence.

I wanted to break that silence and confront some of the people who made it my childhood nightmares.

But I was terrified.

Mom Tep was the deputy chief of the Khmer Rouge hospital where people were brought to die.

What was the motivation for working for them and being part of their group.

My guide interrupted the interview when he learned that Mom Tep was in charge of the hospital.

Would you like to say sorry to this man who has lost loved ones.

So Paul do you accept.

We also found Son Soeum,

...he was the district chief in charge of three hundred families.

He also controlled the labor camps of where my parents worked.

Do you ever believe in the philosophy of the Khmer Rouge?

You heard the killing?

Were you haunted by the memory of the thousands of dead?

What was the reasoning behind separating families

and forcing marriages.

So pa, were you forced to marry ma is that what happened to you as well.

So how did you?

Did you accept this marriage?

How were did they marry you?

and they said you're married? Or were you in a big room with a lot of other...


Did they make you sign anything?

Khmer Rouge forced my parents two strangers to marry
because they were so different.

After the meeting my father calapsed in exhaustion.

I thought about calling off the rest of the journey.

Maybe I pushed him too far.

I began to question my reasons for this trip.

Was it to understand my parents?

Or just to ease my guilt about being the lucky one.

Mom Tep the Khmer Rouge woman made food to my dad.

She offered to me as well.

Even though I was starving I didn't take it.

I just wanted to leave.

Most Cambodians went on with their lives like nothing happened.

It was as if the life had been squeezed out of them until there was nothing left.

Not even outrage.

In 1979 the Khmer Rouge fell when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia.

Cambodians flooded out of the labor camps.

My sisters Mala and Leakhena were lost from the rest of the family

were liberated from the children's camp.

but they didn't know it.

I remember that one evening

Hundreds, or even thousands of kids just lined up by group.

On the ground like that. Sitting in lines.

...and then my name was called.

I think Mala, she realized that

we were going to be seperated here.

So she stood up and she said that I want to stay with my sister.

and we got to leave together.

You know who let us? Like a 14 yr old. Carrying a rifle.

They want to take the children to the mountains. Close to the mountains.

We had no idea if they were going to kill us then...we had no idea.

They took us to this villiage.

and we got there and we saw this lady and she told us, "follow me".

and she took us to this little one room little cottage. So we climbed up there.

and there is like a mountain of rice. Almost to the ceiling...and she's like take as what you can.

and I remember you told me to take off my shirt.

No your pants. Tie the legs off.

Because I have shorts under.

So she tied the bottom of the legs.

and put the rice in there.

and then we couldn't pick it up.

and then you were like stand up and she put the rice on me and I dropped back down.

So we slowly emptied out the rice because we couldn't carry it.

They told us to take whatever we could carry.

They basically told whatever you want to.

When the Khmer Rouge disappeared, Ma and Pa were also liberated.

They could have gone their seperate ways but my mom wanted to join the thousands of Cambodians fleeing for the refugee camps in Tailand.

Pa offered to take her across the border.

But my mom wouldn't leave without those two little girls.

My parents went from villiage to villiage looking for my sisters.

They depended on the help of friends who sometimes housed them and took care of my brother.

My parents never forgot these friends though they have been seperated for 25 years.

My parents asked every person they met on
the road if they had seen my sisters.

But there was no trace of them.

After months of searching my dad by chance, found Mala and Leakhena in a field digging for potatoes.

I was so happy!

There is an adult, someone I trust, someone I knew. I was so happy.

Your happy. You can actually hug and no one shoot you.

Because you're not supposed to express

love and affection or antying like that.

Ma even told us that we can call him Pa.

and I didn't know all of this back then but I just know that he disappeared for a litle while

and he came back with a dead bird that he killed

and we had meat for the first time to eat.

and right then to me he is my hero and I just thought wow.

I have such a cool dad.

You kindof need

a fatherly figure and you kind of like...

to make a family complete you know.

My father smuggled three children, and my mother now pregnant with me

toward the Tai Border

Sometimes we crossed fields and they told us there are a lot of mine fields in this area.

watch the peoples foot steps in front of you and try to put your foot in...

and you could see dead people to the side just like that.

Next to the path of where you are walking.

So he...

he is what she needed to get all of us to a safe place.

and he was the strength.

he was the...

the one that carried all the weight.

and um....

I think he's the hero in a lot of people's mind.

We returned to the refugee camp where I was born.

The very spot.

But there was no sign of what was there 25 years ago.

In here?

Did you do that when I was born?

It's okay.

You did good Pa.

Did good.

I have a surprise to give.

Well it's for me too.

We're going to the

That's just next door to you...

and we asked them to perform that ceremony.

that you didn't get to perform when I was born.

I wondered what would give my parents peace.

I asked my mom about justice.

Who would they punish?

Who would they punish? Pol Pot is dead.

Ma said, evil like this will not last.

The world will turn right side up one day.

Everything that the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy, my parents instill in their family.

Ma and Pa, you told me that they never had any kind of wedding ceremony nothing really in all this time to celebrate their marriage.

Never had a wedding ceremony or anniversary party...

We have a minister here...

My goodness.

Just like that...

Stand closer to Pa.

Stand closer Pa

Now you have to force feed him.