Tiny Toones: Cambodian Break Dancing NGO

June 21st, 2011 | By

Tiny Toones: Cambodian Break Dancing NGO

12/7/2007–Phnom Penh, Cambodia

From left to right: Eh (17), Mala(16), Viet (17) and Wuat (15), are members of the Tiny Toones dance troupe but spend part of their day collecting garbage for recycling. Tiny Toones tries to help out such at-risk kids by offering free dance lessons and membership to the group if they stay in school and off of drugs.

The Tiny Toones break dancing troupe was founded by Tuy Sobil, a 30 yr old Cambodian deported from the United States in 2004. Working out of a shop house in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Sap neighborhood, which doubles as a makeshift community center and dance studio as well as Tuy’s home, the group now has 600 members. Tiny Toones members are are drilled in discipline, honesty, and solidarity and drug abuse is not tolerated. The at-risk kids also learn English from volunteers, usually other deportees from the US, and dance performances allow the kids to help raise money for both Tiny Toones and for themselves to help pay for school fees.

Tuy Sobil, aka “KK” (gang-style initials for “Crazy Crip”), joined the Crips gang in Long Beach, California and dropped out of school. An armed robbery conviction when he was 18 sent his life spiraling downward. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1977 to escapees from the Khmer Rouge killing fields and taken to the US as an infant, Tuy never became a US citizen, and the felony conviction was followed by a decade in jail and immigration detention centers. Like many of the nearly 200 Cambodian Americans forced to return under a US law that allows deportation of noncitizens with criminal convictions, from shoplifting to murder, Tuy speaks Khmer but cannot read or write the language and struggles reading English, leaving him, like many deportees, with few opportunities in Cambodia. Like most of the deportees he is viewed as an outsider, and his gang tattoos and American hip-hop styles mark him as such.

©2007 Stuart Isett. All rights reserved

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