The Times Trumpets Unlikely Poster Boy Against Deportation
The Times' love for immigrants, including those who commit violent crimes, knows no borders. "K.K.", a Cambodian immigrant to the United States who was deported after being convicted of armed robbery, is the unlikely subject of Seth Mydans' sob story from Phnom Penh, "U.S. Deportee Brings Street Dance to Street Boys of Cambodia."
It may be the only place in Cambodia where the children are nicknamed Homey, Frog, Floater, Fresh, Bugs and Diamond.
And there are not many places like this small courtyard, thumping with the beat of a boom box, where dozens of boys in big T-shirts are spinning on their heads and doing one-hand hops, elbow tracks, flairs, halos, air tracks and windmills. And, of course, krumping.
It is a little slice of Long Beach, Calif., brought here by a former gang member by way of a federal prison, an immigration jail and then expulsion four years ago from his homeland, the United States, to the homeland of his parents, Cambodia.
The former gang member is Tuy Sobil, 30, who goes by the street name K.K. The boys are Cambodian street children he has taken under his wing as he teaches them the art he brought with him, break dancing, as well as his hard lessons in life.
K.K. is not here because he wants to be. He is one of 189 Cambodians who have been banished from the United States in the past six years under a law that mandates deportations for noncitizens who commit felonies. Hundreds more are on a waiting list for deportation. Like most of the others, K.K. is a noncitizen only by a technicality. He was not an illegal immigrant. He was a refugee from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge "killing fields" who found a haven in the United States in 1980.
He was an infant when he arrived. In fact, he was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and had never seen Cambodia before he was deported. But K.K.'s parents were simple farmers who failed to complete the citizenship process when they arrived.
Like some children of poor immigrants, K.K. drifted to the streets, where he became a member of the Crips gang and a champion break dancer. It was only after he was convicted of armed robbery at 18 that he discovered that he was not a citizen.
For some reason that previous sentence failed to have a heart-wrenching effect on Times Watch.
Later, as K.K.'s dancers went to compete in the United States, Mydans lamented:
The real American among them, K.K., deported and excluded from the United States for the rest of his life, must stay behind.
"I can't go," he said over the thump of the boom box, as his boys jumped and bounced around him like tiny springs. "I can understand that they deported me here. I'd like to go visit - only visit, because I live here now. I have a brand new life."