This year’s Boun Phra Vet festival for the Laotian refugees in Minnesota coincided with many events including World Refugee Day on June 20th. With nearly 2,000 participants throughout the weekend, this year was one of the best attended celebrations in recent years with friends, family and supporters gathering from across Minnesota and out of state to join us.
The traditional Lao food, dance, music and arts and crafts were a strong part of the event, but something that struck me was the necessity for so many of us to drive over 45 minutes one-way to Farmington to celebrate our heritage and cultural traditions. With over 7,000 Lao living in North Minneapolis, and 17,000+ living in Hennepin County, I wonder what would happen if more of our resources could be spent in our own neighborhoods.
Lao events have a good record for safety and quality, with comparatively modest needs, comparable to Cinco de Mayo, the Dragon Festival or Juneteenth. They’re as vibrant, colorful and cost-effective as any, and Minneapolis has many locations where such celebrations could be a strong part of building and revitalizing the community for everyone.
Festivals play a strong role in building personal and professional skills of our city’s residents, teaching budgeting, marketing, technical and logistics skills, even team-building and public speaking. They provide many of our non-profits and small businesses excellent opportunities to build awareness of our services and when organized well improve our quality of living in the short-term and the long-term.
When I read articles that venues like the Minneapolis Convention Center are having a hard time booking their space, or when I see our parks barely being used, I think that’s a pity.
I hope in the years ahead, we’ll see more support for local community festivals. It’s not a solution for every problem we face, but for many of our cultures and communities represented in the Twin Cities, not just the Lao, we could see so many benefits as well that would more than justify the effort.