Next year, the Immigration History Research Center is partnering with the Lao American Writers Summit to host a symposium marking 40 years of Lao in the United States. Saengmany Ratsabout framed the event by noting ‘Lao refugees have been resettling in the United States since 1975, following a civil war complicated by U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.”
“Lao American and Historical Contexts” is planned as an interdisciplinary symposium at the University of Minnesota where they will explore the history of Lao immigrant and refugees in the United States as well as contemporary issues. From the perspective of Lao writers who will participate, we should ask what do we truly need as a Lao artistic community to flourish? Looking at the current dearth of literature in our community, we can easily see that we can’t wait for permission to change things.
We cannot wait for someone outside of the Lao community to have a sense that our words, our experience are something they can profit from. We must see the value in our own voices, our own souls. A look through the 90s and early 2000s shows Lao artists took a bumpy journey to get to our various destinations. It was often frustrating to determine if there was going to be something consistently organized that we could plan for. Will there be a conference? Will there be a festival? This was never a certain thing in many states for years.
Going forward, we need events that can meet the needs of writers and artists who are demonstrating a commitment to their personal and professional development. We need something for people who are motivated to advance their journeys as artists with a high standard of excellence. A robust Lao American literary tradition can only happen when we are participants, not just observers.
We have learned over the years that our most successful programs go beyond the physical convening. Among best practices we can include is helping participants access individualized mentoring. The thrust of such mentoring is on practical techniques that include leadership training in a Lao American, polycultural context.
We should be centered on building a supportive environment where we can have customized development of our skills, including our arts leadership skills. Because like it or not, those are badly needed in our community. Without it, we can hardly expect great Lao American publishing houses, production companies or film producers to emerge. Ideally, they will become institutions that are culturally sensitive, innovative, and relevant. Our ultimate outcome should be an enhanced network of Lao American artists across the country with exceptional skill sets that will be in demand not only in the present but that are also ahead of the curve.
In the arts, we have to keep a little philosophical. Such gatherings can never be definitive sessions, but interrogative ones. They ask questions to challenge ourselves, and hopefully draw us back time and time again with joy and excitement for the future ahead.