Saysana Pommalath is one of Minnesota’s community builders, and like many of them, he has a background in the arts and roots in Laos. Little Laos on the Prairie writers have often run into him at community events across Minnesota, including events organized by the Lao veterans.
We spoke with him about his family’s journey, and some of the project he sees himself and his family working on the coming years ahead.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family? When did you all make it to the United States?
My name is Saysana Pommalath. I was born into a military family. My father was a Royal Lao Army Colonel. In 1975, my father lost his life to the “Secret War” in Laos and my mother was imprisoned in the concentration camp for 5 years. When she was released, she brought my siblings to the United State in 1981, and then I came later in 1987 with my grandparent. We were refugees and we had nothing.
We got help from the Human Services Agency (welfare department) and got our clothes from the churches. It was a tough time for all of us especially for a single mother. I am just glad that we all made it and we owe it all to my mother and all the people that helped us.
Now, looking back I realized that we have come a long way. I am thankful every day that I have a great family of my own, a wonderful wife and two beautiful children. On top of it all, I am currently working for the same Human Services Agency that had helped me in the past. The same building I came to line up for help. I have been working here for over 12 years as a Senor IS Analyst running systems that enable our workers to help people in need. My life has come to a full circle and I am now giving back. I love it here, because I know every day I help people stand on their feet and making a difference in someone’s life.
What are some of your favorite things about being a part of the Lao community?
I love our Laotian community for our hospitality and social interaction. I always have a great time being among Laotian people and the community. What can I say, we are fun people!
What was your favorite subject in school? What was the most challenging for you?
My favorite subject in school was Art and anything that involves creative thinking. My worst subject was math. I love problem solving, logic and analytical thinking but I don’t like numbers. What’s why I am an IS analyst by trade. I use my analytical skills to find problems and apply my creative thinking process to solve complex problems.
Saysana sharing his life story with the community in November, 2013
What inspires you?
Inspiration comes to me at many angles. It doesn’t take much to inspire me. If you have an open mind and a positive outlook all kinds of possibilities and inspiration present itself to you. Believe this! It’s how I live my life.
What are your favorite Lao dishes?
I love all kinds of Lao foods. There’s no one particular dish that I don’t like. I just can’t get enough of it. Most of the hardcore Lao dishes come with lots of vegetables and special ingredient that make up a healthy meal. I try to encourage my family to eat home cook meals instead of fast food restaurants. I know it’s not easy to cook good Laotian food but we try each day so we can be healthy and live well.
What do you see as your next big project for yourself?
I try to stick with one project at a time. Currently, I am working hard to fundraise for the Hmong and Lao monument project. I honestly believe that this project is the most important project for our community. The monument will puts us on the map and it will tell our histories everyday as long as it stands. To me, this monument is the highest honor and pride we can attain as Laotian in the United State. There’s nothing like it. It’s priceless! I just hope that other can see its true values.
What advice do you have for young Lao who want to be successful?
Success has different meaning for different people. For me, having a good family foundation and able to provide for my family is a definition of success. My success consists of four components; work hard, play hard, try hard, and have heart.
Saysana Pommalath the Lao veterans and MN State Senator Foung Hawj during the holidays
At top: Saysana and his wife Setha Pommalath during a veterans memorial fundraiser in November, 2013