Recently, a student in my program was preparing a speech, and she was moved by the words of the late El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz who said “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” I was impressed she had come across those words and wanted to take them to heart. She was the first in her family to go to college, having escaped the conflict in Iraq with her family. All too often it can become easy for the children of refugees to give up on their sense of the future.
After I returned from the recent Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education conference in San Francisco I was inspired and energized. The conference also reminded me of how much we need to keep getting our stories out there. And as Dr. John Hoffman always taught me as I pursued my doctorate, we need to remember to pay it forward.
How many students today know the story of inspiring Asian American activists like Grace Lee Boggs, an award-winning writer who founded Detroit Summer, a ground-breaking multicultural intergenerational youth program. She blazed a trail as a regular columnist in papers like the Michigan Citizen in a time when Asian American women were rarely heard. Then there’s the tireless work of Yuri Kochiyama on behalf of those put into Japanese internment camps and other civil rights issues. Many of her inspiring words in her 1998 book Discover Your Mission still speak to us today.
I bring this up because there are so many stories we could be sharing to encourage people to speak up and get involved. I particularly wonder where we will hear Lao American voices in the years ahead.
I was recently asked by a student in Fresno about what I saw as a significant problem in the Lao American community.
While it is true our issues are complex, I hate it when people suggest complexity justifies apathy, indifference and non-involvement. I hate seeing many won’t even try to examine root causes and take action. Problems may be complex, but that doesn’t mean we can turn away from them.
Education is one issue we constantly discuss. There are many families involved with their kids success, but we have to help them keep involved at the next level. Once our kids try to explain concepts such as internships, scholarships, and the importance of extracurricular activities, something breaks down and many parents start to give up, because it’s something they never experienced. But when we find such areas, we must not think it can’t be learned or understood. We can’t be afraid to ask for help. We need to celebrate asking questions.
At both the family level and the cultural level, we need to reinvest in our true traditional values of valuing education. Not just give lip service to it. We need to see education as a treasure and create a community of passionate, curious seekers.
Without that fundamental curiosity as a key part of our cultural character, all of our other efforts to succeed will always be a struggle.
Saying “Lao pride” is not enough. You must embody it through the pursuit of education. Not just for the degrees and validation of others, but for the actual gain of knowledge you can take with you and share with others.
You don’t wait for education to happen. You make it happen, and prepare for it today.