The aunt in this story speaks English well, so language was not a barrier to dialogue. But what she could not understand, or rather accept, was the community demand for dialogue after an incident of violence. The Cambodian community appreciates and encourages social cohesion and therefore her reluctance to participate in dialogue wasn’t an act of individualism as one may assume. Western perspectives of justice may see dialogue and directness as leading to greater social cohesion, but Cambodians tend to believe the opposite: to be indirect is to be polite and saves face for all parties (Chan 2004). In this example, the African American community wanted a restorative process and to hear from everyone including the aunt. She did want to be heard but under the conditions of her culture and social norms.
Given this example, where dialogue is indirect, it may be challenging to implement the restorative practice of circles in the Cambodian community. ROCA, a community organization in Revere and Chelsea, MA, uses circles and serves a relatively large Cambodian population. However, the circles are often used with youth raised in the United States who are Cambodian and from other ethnic backgrounds (Watson 2008). In a Cambodian community context, with its specific social roles, expectations and hierarchy, the circle may be a mismatch because it is intended to be a non-hierarchal form of dialogue. Family group conferencing (FGC), which has no intention of being hierarchal or non-hierarchal, seems more of a match with the social values in the Cambodian community.
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