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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Cooking school for diabetics

The New Mexico State University, Sandoval County Cooperative Extension Service will be offering a four-week cooking class series for people living with diabetes. The school will teach participants how to prepare their favorite traditional recipes while keeping diabetes in mind.   

The classes will be offered on the Tuesdays of April 23, 30, and May 7 and 14, from 3:00 pm until 6:00 p.m. at the Extension Office, located in the Court House—711 S. Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo, NM.   

The series is limited to thirty people on a first-come-first-serve basis. Ruth Baldwin, a diabetic educator, will be the instructor.

To register, please call Nicole Lujan, home economist at the Sandoval County Extension Office at 1-800-678-1802 or 867-2582.      

If you are an individual with a disability and need an auxiliary aid or service, contact the extension service by April 16.

Holocaust remembrance and genocide awareness days

—Doris Fields, PhD

Members of the Placitas Holocaust Remembrance and Genocide Awareness Group are planning their fourth annual commemoration at the Placitas Community Library. Members of the group note that peacemaking begins with the individual, and that each of us is responsible for working towards peace in our communities and homes; the first step is working toward peace within ourselves.

Toward that end, this year the group is planning two events. First, on April 7, at 1:00 p.m., the group will host “Gaining insight, a community dialogue and discussion about genocide, its origins, its manifestations, and its impact.” Cecilia Chavez of Competitive Edge Consulting Inc. will guide participants in understanding the anatomy of dominance versus otherness, and how the negative aspects of dominance can lead to genocide. Participants will develop creative strategies and share their insights, to strengthen our community and to keep our community healthy and safe.

April 7 is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide, which is an official UN observance.

Second, on April 13, at 2:00 p.m., community members will view and discuss the Daniel Jonah Goldhagen film, Worse Than War. This documentary details genocidal atrocities in various parts of the world, shedding light on precursors to genocide. Both events will include a traditional candle lighting ceremony in remembrance of people who have been killed and people whose lives have been impacted directly by genocide.

The events this year are designed to strengthen bonds and deepen friendships among the people of Placitas. This annual commemoration promises to be as artistic, educational, inspiring, emotionally moving, and uplifting. Refreshments will be served.

Skulls in Glass Genocide Memorial  Photo credit: Thomas J. Ashe

Turning the page on history

—Daisy Kates

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge defeated the American-backed army of President Lon Nol and marched into Phnom Penh—just two weeks before the fall of Saigon. After they sealed the country, the Khmer Rouge embarked on a brutal campaign of social and political cleansing, attempting to rid the country of its urban and educated class, with the ideal of creating a pure and self-sufficient peasant society under the totalitarian government of Pol Pot. This orchestrated purge claimed, at the very least, 1.7 million lives, a full twenty percent of the population of Cambodia. They died of starvation, forced labor, torture, and execution. 

As our young Cambodian guide took us through S21—one of many “interrogation” and torture centers utilized during the reign of Pol Pot—and then to one of the Killing Fields, which completed the extermination process after confessions were obtained, she spoke personally and emotionally about the era of the Khmer Rouge. She was the granddaughter of a grandmother who had endured that period of history in the Seventies in Cambodia and had lost most of her own family at that time. My own visceral reaction to the unspeakable tortures committed at S21 and the mass killings and mass graves at this particular Killing Field were ever-present as we toured these two sites. The tall glass tower at the Killing Field was a startling memorial, filled with thousands of decapitated skulls unearthed from the graves there. They reminded me of the footage of skeletal bodies being discarded into mass graves at concentration camps in Europe. My own family’s history in Germany and this repetition of man’s inhumanity to man convinced me that lessons are rarely learned from the past and that the patterns of genocide continue to repeat themselves with some intrinsic components including the indoctrination of a youth movement, a deranged power figure, unconscionable acts of violence and the elimination of a dehumanized target group.

At Tuol Sleng prison, or S21, we met and embraced Chum Mey, one of only a handful of survivors from that appalling facility. Feeling the responsibility that comes with living through this ordeal, he has bravely testified at the tribunals being held for the remaining officials of the Pol Pot power structure, now aged in their eighties. He was a simple car mechanic who lost his wife and four children at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and was brutally forced to confess that he was an agent of the CIA, an organization he had never heard of. Chum Mey never tires of telling his story to visitors and journalists, and his life is centered on documenting the tortures the prisoners endured at S21 and honoring those who ultimately died.

I felt a strong connection to the tour guide as she recounted some of the details of those years through the eyes of her grandmother. She spoke of the forced mass evacuation of the residents of Phnom Penh who were assured that they were only being displaced temporarily in order to protect them from American bombings. In fact, they were not allowed to return for over three years, until the Viet Cong entered Cambodia and after most were worked, or starved, to death in the fields or killed for any association to the extricated power structure or the more affluent and intellectual classes. When the remaining population did return to Phnom Penh, they could have occupied any house they preferred, with the city now a ghost town and with so many dead and gone. But they chose to crowd themselves into small apartments, feeling more secure by having others around them and paranoid that any remaining Khmer Rouge or the newly arrived Vietnamese would identify them as other than members of the proletariat and subject them to more brutality.

The guide’s grandmother had confided to her that she was compelled to turn the page on that terrible era of her history, or she would never have had another happy day in her life. At the University in Saigon, the very sophisticated professor who lectured us about the historic and cultural background of Vietnam referred to the differences in the attitudes of Southeast Asians vs. Americans, one being that Asians prefer to forget the past and move forward, whereas Westerners seem to re-hash and dwell on their previous experiences. Although I found this alternative approach quite appealing, my own formative years, steeped in psychology and the age of Freudian thinking, was shaken by these comments. It was hard to truly comprehend a progressive philosophy that chooses to ignore a thorough analysis of the past.

After the lecture, when I spoke at length with a university student in the classroom and the conversation turned to the gun violence now prevalent in the U.S., she said, “We shouldn’t be talking about that while you’re here on vacation. Let’s talk about more pleasant things.” I was somewhat taken aback by her comment and wondered if this was an example of re-directing one’s attention from unsettling thoughts. And was this a survival mechanism borne of the need to forget a past fraught with hardship… or is that just my Western perspective in play again?

I learned that the horrific realities of the years under Pol Pot are still not taught in the schools in Cambodia. Apparently the excuse offered by the government is that the tribunals need to be completed first in order to validate all of the facts. That appears to be a delay tactic that could go on for many years to come. So far only one man has been convicted of his role in directing inhumane acts against the innocent victims of the torture centers and killing fields, and the truth and details of that period may never be revealed to future generations. The reasons for this are not clear and may be connected to how many young soldiers enlisted from the countryside were unknowingly drawn into the barbaric acts associated with the Khmer Rouge, and the reluctance to bring that incriminating history into the consciousness of the younger population. I was also told that the 97 percent of Cambodians living in poverty are well aware of the intrinsic corruption at every level of the current political system, and that those three percent serving as government officials live in blatant luxury and drive the conspicuous high-end cars scattered throughout the country. But the people do not object, preferring to avoid any further conflict or violence in their lives.

It will be an uphill battle for Chum Mey to keep the memories of the Khmer Rouge atrocities alive in hopes of exposing and holding accountable those who were responsible and preventing such an event from repeating itself. I wish him well.

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