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Celebrating Lao Minnesotan Artists Heritage Month
One of the big discussions of the last few years in the Lao Minnesotan community has been the issue of civic engagement and participation in community building. In 2015, we will see the 40th year since the end of the war for Laos, which changed our lives dramatically. In the months leading up to that anniversary, we've been engaged in a lot of reflection about what that will really mean when we hit that milestone.
Although Lao hail from the Land of a Million Elephants, there's been one particular elephant in the room that's concerned many of us, and that's how our stories intertwine with the Minnesota journey. Even after nearly half a century with each other, there is much we don't seem to understand about each other's heritage and the many legacies we all strive to preserve.
To me, one key aspect of our mutual experience together has been learning the power of grass roots, which is so essential to creating a truly reflective democracy. So, following a series of conversations with my fellow artists in Minnesota and across the country, a simple letter was sent to the governor, asking him to recognize August as Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month. Granted, we were going to celebrate this occasion whether he approved our letter or not, but much to our delight, he and his office issued a certificate of recognition to us as a community, for which we are grateful.
To keep things in perspective, August is also "Panini Month" and "What Will Be Your Legacy Month" among many other possibilities, but amid all of our busy schedules, we wanted to take the time to recognize and appreciate the contributions Lao Minnesotan artists have made to our international, national, and local communities.
In our request letter, we wrote "The Lao arts embody over 700 years of intergenerational dialogues on peace, harmony, the pursuit of wisdom, diversity and the rejection of violence. At their best, Lao arts encourage unique voices and approaches to living as a people. With over 160 ethnic groups living within the borders of Laos, it is important to see and hear these many diverse stories to remember not just what has been, but what can be."
Over the years I've been blogging at the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I've shared many parts of the Lao Minnesotan experience. We are home to over 50 Lao American artists in different stages of their careers, from musicians to writers and traditional artists.
Among those artists have been figures such as Bounxou Chanthraphone, who is the first NEA Heritage Fellow from Laos, celebrated for her preservation and advancement of Lao traditional weaving, and who also holds an Enduring Vision Fellowship from the Bush Foundation. We also have the example of Mali Kouanchao is a Bush Artist Fellow whose work has appeared across the country to address social justice issues, including unexploded ordnance in Laos. Saymoukda Vongsay was the inaugural recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word and has performed in Italy, Japan and across the US.
As a state, we've been the host to national Lao American exhibits and gatherings including the National Lao American Writers Summit, Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities, Lao'd and Clear, a SatJaDham Conference and many others. Lao Minnesotan artists have been recognized by the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans for their arts leadership and lifetime achievements, and many other accolades across the country. But many of our youth are just starting to understand not only their heritage, but their potential.
As we welcome more New American communities, we wanted to make sure they, as well as emerging Lao Minnesotan artists, could see the role the arts have in our lives and legacies. We wanted to encourage diversity and genuine, constructive plurality to build stronger communities where we live, work, learn and grow in.
Hopefully, this recognition will continue to inspire and energize others to add their voices to the great American tapestry, and to treasure the great stories and visions within themselves and all living beings.
Thank you, Minnesota, for celebrating with us!