James HengProfile Photo

James Heng

Khmer Health Board and Interpreter

My name is James Heng. I was born in Chumnich Village, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. I am the second generation that was held in Cambodia.

About 100 years ago, my grandparents migrated from China to Cambodia.

My grandpa was a hardworking man. Many years later, he owned a small business. He was able to make a good living for his family. Unfortunately, he lost everything during the Khmer Rouge’s occupation. He lost his home and some of his children.

Our family grew up in the countryside by the Mekong river. There was no running water or electricity. Our survival depended on the Mekong River, where we fetched water for cooking, bathing, swimming, and fishing for food. Our family survived the Khmer Rouge Regime.

I have ten siblings. I am the eldest. I have two sisters and seven younger brothers. Life was tough during my childhood. Daily, we barely had enough food to eat.

In 1983, I escaped Cambodia with my uncle, my aunt, my two and four years old cousins, and my uncle and aunt-in-law. We paid the smugglers about an ounce of gold per person to smuggle us to Thailand by boat. At dawn, they dropped us off at a remote area of one of the islands in Thailand called Ko Kut, about 20 km from Koh Kong, Cambodia. Then they left.

By morning, the Thai Navy took us into custody. Three days later, they pointed guns at us in the evening and ordered all 29 of us into a small abandoned boat. Its engine was broken. We were so scared and confused. They tied a rope to their Navy ship and towed us into the ocean. After a few hours, they abandoned us. With pitch darkness, we saw nothing but the sky.

For 18 days, our boat drifted. The pirates robbed us on several occasions. They took our gold and money. They kidnapped six women, including my aunt and my aunt-in-law. After ten days of starvation, my 2 & 4 years old cousins died. We were skin and bone. During the ordeal, we collected rainwater to drink whenever it rained.

Fortunately, we were rescued by a fishing boat. Then we were transferred to a refugee camp where I lived for four years.

I came to Seattle in 1987. In 1991, I graduated from Cleveland High School. In August of 1991, I started to work as a free-lanced Khmer medical interpreter while attending community college. I love my job. So, I decided to work full-time at Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) as a medical interpreter until 2012. I am still working at PacMed with a new position as an internal Marketing Rep for Uniform Services Family Health Plan (USFHP) Marketing Department.

I am a DSHS-certified Khmer interpreter. I continue to provide interpreter services in medical, social, court, and immigration settings.

I was a former Khmer Health Board Member. I am also a Khmer Promoter. I organized Khmer concerts to entertain our Khmer Community in Washington State.

I have three children. They are 22, 21, and 12, and have a grandson. He is 3.

Cambodians—Let's talk about the Khmer Rouge, (James Heng S1, Ep 10)

Dec. 14, 2022

Part I of our conversation on the Cambodian community with James Heng, a DSHS-certified Khmer interpreter and Khmer Health Board Member. In his free time, he organizes concerts and entertains the Khmer community in WA state.…

Guest: James Heng