How Cambodian refugees found a new life — and crisis-proof wealth — in Southern California’s jewelry market

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On a spring day in 1975, as Khmer Rouge forces launched a coup that would unleash four years of genocide in Cambodia, Jerry Young grabbed a fistful of jewels from his store and fled for his life.

He walked and hitched rides to the border of Thailand, where he waited days before reuniting with his family in a camp.

“I was so scared. I ran,” said Young, 68. “I was so lucky.”

When they moved to the U.S., those jewels — a few cut rubies and sapphires — became the seed funding for a business that has become common in Cambodian American communities: the jewelry store.


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