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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Cambodian-Americans confronting deportation

The number of “Khmericans” being sent back to their homeland is on the rise. Meet one young man yearning for the old days in Lowell, Massachusetts, but committed to starting over.

 SOKHA CHHIM rarely heads to work without a black Red Sox cap propped on his head. He makes sure his Nikes stay flashy and white, that the legs of his baggy jeans drape at just the right angle. Sometimes he’ll don a royal blue jersey featuring Tom Brady’s No. 12. But in a concession to his new homeland, Chhim hangs a black and gray scarf called a krama around his neck instead of the gangster chain he wore on the streets of Lowell.

Chhim is an outcast, one of 30 or so Cambodian-Americans lawbreakers from Massachusetts sent back to Cambodia in the last 10 years. He was deported to Phnom Penh in May 2011 after violating probation in the shooting of a rival drug dealer, arriving penniless and unwanted. He speaks broken Khmer, has no family to lean on, and needs a map to navigate this zigzagging city of nearly 2 million. Yet he is putting down roots in native soil he never knew. And unlike most exiled “Khmericans,” who seethe over their loss of American residency, he is finding his own redemption.

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