“I was born on the Cambodian New Year in a refugee camp,” narrates Socheata Poeuv. “But my parents never told me much more than that, only that I was the lucky one.” As she goes on to explain in her remarkable documentary, New Year Baby—airing this week as part of Global Voices—her mother and father, along with her sisters and brother Scott, survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, escaped Cambodia, and moved to Texas while she was still an infant. Socheata’s childhood memories were shaped by her parents’ efforts to give “us a normal American life”: family photos show the children celebrating birthdays and smiling in amusement park rides.
Her family’s experience is good for everyone to remember during the Memorial Day holiday. Poeuv’s film is punctuated throughout by provocative, assured images, asking viewers to consider their own relationships to this difficult history and the future that stretches before us. While the film doesn’t probe the complicated and frankly shameful U.S. part in that history—including so-called “secret” bombings in Cambodia and Laos—it does reveal, quietly and insistently, the ongoing effects of war trauma. While it is wretchedly familiar in its broad outlines, the story here is both devastating and detailed, personal and resonant.