We had the good fortune of connecting with Jun Wat and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jun, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
My grandma taught me many things, but these words resonated with me the longest. “Never let anger, a short term emotion, ruin love, a long lasting feeling.” I remember all she lost in her life, only to give, give, and give to others. That’s what I strive to do in her honor. We’ve all fallen in life, that’s expected in this journey, but it’s how we rise through it that writes the next chapters in our books of life. I can let hate and anger consume me, or I can repurpose that energy to make something meaningful out of it. Whether it’s a documentary, whether it’s poetry, whether it’s art, as long as it spreads love, I would have honored her words and completed my goal.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Jun Wat and the documentary I’m working on, A Cambodian American Story, is the birth of a movement for me. It’s no longer being afraid of what the world thinks, but fearing, instead, the idea of never sharing the amazing stories of my community and its history. I am here because of the resilience of my ancestors. I share these stories with strangers, friends, or anyone who will listen, and the responses I receive are ones of love, support, tears and empathy. This is what I want to show to the world. To never let history be forgotten.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Here’s the plan post COVID: Start with a long, much-needed hug – maybe a quick cry too. With that out of the way, we’d then head to Aroma Café, a cute little spot on Tujunga in Studio City. It’s the perfect place to catch up – quiet but cool, and the décor makes you feel like you’re at Disneyland. The food is delicious too, especially the vegan chocolate chip cookie. I’m highlighting the vegan cookie here because it’s one of the best chocolate chip cookies, period. It doesn’t taste like a ‘vegan’ cookie, in other words. After that, we’d go up the block to Universal Studios and hop on the tram ride, a nice way to reacclimate to big crowds. As a kid, I was not exposed to many films, but in the last few years, since first visiting Universal, I’ve watched a lot of the classics and have a newfound appreciation for the studio backlot. And on the tram, everything that goes into a film, from the sets to the special effects, is open for public viewing. It’s really cool. And that’s why, if any of my friends were first-timers, I’d head straight to the tram ride. If we had time, we’d then go to the Broad Museum downtown. The building itself is worth the visit, but it’s what’s inside – Cy Twombly, Jeff Koons, Basquiat – that makes this a Los Angeles treasure (and a personal favorite). Many of the employees are working artists with extensive knowledge of the pieces on display. That’s something I miss most, the sensory input of a public space, to get close enough to smell the paint or see the ridges on a sculpture. It’s not something you can do on YouTube. Finally, from Grand Avenue, where the broad is located, we’d head to Chinatown to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Golden Lake Eatery. It’s a small, family-owned place that serves authentic Cambodian cuisine. Outside of Long Beach, you won’t find anything more ‘Cambodian.’ It’s a delicious, hidden gem, a mom-and-pop shop that many of my friends now love. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve mentioned before some very amazing human beings in my life. I want to take a moment to give them a special shout out. Their names are Dillon Dean, and Nathanael Martinez. They are my best friends, my acting partners, my dancing partners, and the ones I can laugh with at any time. An organization I have so much respect for would be The Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, for keeping our Khmer culture relevant in the media and our youth. They’ve inspired me to continue learning my culture as well as teaching others about who we are. There is so much beauty in this world that can easily be forgotten because it is not mainstream. Because we are such a minority in the US. The hope is to put a little more of it’s inspiration out there, to see it blossom more and more each day, where a little Cambodian kid will no longer wonder, why I never see myself in TV, art, music, thanks to organizations like this.