Last Friday, 30 October, 16-year old Melody Ross was shot while leaving Wilson High School’s Homecoming football game. She was an honors student, on the school’s track team, and college-bound: Student at Long Beach’s Wilson High fatally shot after homecoming game. At the time of the incident and a few days after, no perpetrator had been identified and Long Beach City Police even offered a $20,000 reward for concrete leads on the shooter. Friday, 6 November, two 16-year olds, Tom Vinson and Daivion Davis, were charged with first degree murder for the death of Melody Ross and attempted murder of two other men.
In reading several articles on this story, what stands out to me is the fact that Melody was the daughter of Khmer refugees, Chantha and Vanareth Ross. Her parents and other family members escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime to Long Beach, California, home of the largest Khmer community in the West Coast.
During college, I took a course on the refugee policy in the context of the refugee flows out of mainland Southeast Asia in light of the Second Indochina War. One of the salient points my professor made regarded the ways trauma from the violence experienced in their homelands traveled with the migrants through refugee and transit camps to their eventual country of resettlement. For Melody’s family who escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide, how does her death as an innocent bystander speak into her family’s history? Living in a city with a high crime rate and gang activity, Melody’s parents had even moved their family to a safer neighborhood. Her uncle, Sam Che, commented to the press on his niece’s death, “It’s so senseless. We escaped the Killing Fields.”
In attempting to understand the Khmer refugee experience of displacement and resettlement, Melody’s death brings together both the trauma of her family’s flight from Cambodia and the pains of the immigrant’s life in the US. Both Vanareth and Chantha work 10-12 hour days, six days a week to provide a better life for their children. Vanareth, her father, expressed, “I have a little regret we didn’t have more time for her.”