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Tiny Toones Cambodia

The Tiny Toones break dancing troupe was founded by Tuy Sobil, a.k.a. "KK", a 44 yr old Cambodian-American and former gang member from Long Beach, California who was deported from the United States in 2004. Working out of the Toul Tom Pong neighborhood in Phnom Penh, the Tiny Toone's house runs a drop-in center and community center for at-risk youth and street children in Phnom Penh. Dance classes, as well as English lessons are offered at the center, with other deportees helping KK run the program.

The kids at Tiny Toones have been taken under KK's wing as he teaches them the art he brought with him, break dancing, as well as hard lessons in life he learned in the US justice system. KK is not in Cambodia because he wants to be. He is one of over 500 Cambodians who have been banished from the United States under a law that mandates deportations for legal residents, but non-citizens, who commit felonies.

Hundreds more Cambodians are in the US fighting deportation and like many, KK is a non-citizen only by a technicality. He was not an illegal immigrant. He was a legal resident and 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.

Like many children of poor immigrants in the 1990s, KK drifted to the streets, where he became a member of the Crips gang but also 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 and was going to be taken away from his family, a second sentence.

I met KK in 2006 while working on a 25 year long project on Cambodian youth which I started in the US in the early 1990s. Over three years traveling back to Cambodia I spent hundreds of hours with Tiny Toones and KK documenting their lives on the streets of Phnom Penh. I eventually managed to get the story published in The New York Times which led to a flood of support for the program which continues to this day under KK's guidance and leadership.

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