In 1976 a group of Cambodians established the Cambodian Association of Illinois (CAI) to respond to the needs of newly arrived Cambodian refugees who fled from atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime that had taken over the country in 1975. During the next four years, more than two million people died from torture, hard labor, untreated illnesses and injuries, and starvation.
In 2004, the Cambodian American Heritage Museum & the Killing Fields Memorial was established under the auspice of CAI.
The Museum & Memorial is the only museum of its kind in the US, which dedicates its programs and activities to the Cambodian genocide awareness and social justice, advocacy for genocide survivors and their families, healing arts, and youth leadership development in social justice. During the past 10 years, the Museum & Memorial has made significant impacts on the Cambodian community both locally and nationally, and on the general public.
The work we do at the Museum & Memorial has become the core value of the Cambodian community across the U.S.
Our permanent exhibition, "Remembering the Killing Fields", led the State of Illinois in 2012 to become the first state to formally adopt the Cambodian Day of Remembrance. The national and local Cambodian communities have recognized the invaluable role that the Museum & Memorial plays in their community. They inspired us to set up the Museum & Memorial as an independent institution, while it remains a part of CAI. In 2015, the Museum & Memorial obtained its own 501(c) (3) status as the National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial (NCHM). At the same time, we developed our Living Museum Model to guide our work.