Creating civic engagement and community change with the Lao community


Sabaidee and hello!

This is a big year for the Lao community in Minnesota. 2013 is the thirtieth anniversary of the Lao Assistance Center, where I am the executive director. I am honored to work with so many amazing people who come from all walks of life.

But we share one thing in common: A belief that working together we can make life better for everyone.  For all Minnesotans, all Americans, and people around the world. It is important we never forget our potential. I believe we must always be engaged in civics. That is what makes a democracy work.

I’m starting this blog at the Twin Cities Daily Planet because I believe in the importance of sharing our voices. That’s a first step to working together.  We might not always agree, but when we share our stories we move forward. We have many, many people counting on us to succeed.

I also want to use this blog as a space to share my experiences with all of you as I go on my journey as a Bush Leadership Fellow this year. A Bush Fellowship provides individuals with opportunities to increase their understanding of, capacity for and practice of leadership to work with others to improve the quality of life in their community.

I applied with the hope to travel to different communities across the country, abroad, and locally, to find out what leadership and civic engagement means to Lao today. What is the best of what’s worked, what can we learn from, and how can we develop a unique Lao leadership style that prepares our families and friends for the challenges of the future?

I want to be able to continue conversations I and my staff began during the Asian Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Organizational Fellowship Program of the National Gender Equity Campaign. During that time we learned about social justice and how direct service organizations like the Lao Assistance Center might be able to bring more of our community’s voice forward.

Often, many members in our community feel Lao are invisible in Minnesota and American policy. But we have opinions on the environment, on health care reform, on immigration, job creation, and the need for education reform. Already, many of the other Lao bloggers on the Twin Cities Daily Planet are trying to raise awareness so that Lao do not fall in the cracks or get left behind.

I’m proud to see that the U.S. Embassy to Laos invited one of our own, Lao Minnesotan Nitaya Panemalaythong to speak to non-government organizations, businesses and community leaders in Laos to help build stronger ties between the United States and Laos. I’m proud that Lao Minnesotan artists have been organizing so well that we were able to celebrate the Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month last August, and will be organizing and celebrating the first National Lao American Artist Heritage Month this year. When we see an amazing Lao American education company like Naiku, established by Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong and his partners, I’m proud to see that innovation in Minnesota, and I ask, how can we encourage even more Lao to innovate and follow their dreams?

I know there are still many challenges our families face in Minnesota that need to be heard. We need systems that go beyond assisting our communities, but empower them to participate in democracy.

I want to hear your ideas and I want to share what I’ve discovered with you. So, welcome to Sunny Side of Life and I’ll be writing more soon!