Sabaidee Pi Mai and our Lao community

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Sabaidee Pi Mai! Happy Lao New Year!

I want to personally invite everyone to come join us for the traditional Lao New Year this month on Saturday, April 13th at the Crystal Community Center in Crystal, Minnesota from 9 AM to Midnight. From 2-6 we will have the Nangsankanh and traditional dance and talent show, with live music and entertainment from 7 until midnight. The tickets are $15 but free for youth under 18. 

New Year is about looking forward and looking back.

For me, the Lao Assistance Center has been a part of my life almost from the start when my family and I arrived in the United States in 1984. I began working at the Lao Assistance Center in 1992 as a Youth Specialist. In 2001, I became the executive director. It’s amazing to see we’re celebrating 30 years now.

I am also happy to see that another group of Lao Americans,  the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project is celebrating it’s 18th anniversary since being founded on April 11th, 1993. They held several national conferences and produced five collections of Lao American creative writing. They believed in Lao culture and heritage.

One of the founding members, Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, has been a role-model for Lao Minnesotans. Dr. Nhouyvanvisvong founded Naiku, a high-tech company in Minnesota that wants to improve the way everyone educates our students and assess their progress. This year, with the Lao New Year Committee, the Naiku company is co-sponsoring the first  Lao New Year Essay Contest for our youth. I hope many of our youth will apply and remember all of the amazing things they can become.

Many other members of SatJaDham, like Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, went on to become the executive director of the Center for Lao Studies, which organizes the International Conference on Lao Studies among other good work.  The Lao Assistance Center has worked with Dr. Sysamouth in the past to collect Lao oral histories.

I think the work of SatJaDham inspired many of the Lao artists in Minnesota. Being creative helped them understand others and themselves. It helped to build our community voice and encourage others to be civically engaged and not afraid to share their dreams and stories.

Looking ahead, I hope you will all be excited with me in October, when the Lao Assistance Center has its 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner.

This month, Lao Minnesotans will be welcoming back a familiar friend, the organization Legacies of War, who worked with us in 2010 to host the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibition at Intermedia Arts. Their Lao Voices tour will allow Minnesotans to hear the experiences of those working on UXO issues in Laos.

The upcoming visit from the Lao Voices tour has encouraged a new philanthropic grassroots group, Women of Laos for Peace and Hope. They are holding their first fund-raiser to support the tour.  I hope many others will continue to set good examples because there was a time we needed help from others, and it is time we begin to return the favor and help others who are in need.

I also want to say congratulations to the Lao Student Association at the University of Minnesota, who recently put on a successful Lao Student New Year.  It’s not easy to be a college student. I remember when I was studying computer science at Mankato State University. Back then we wondered, how do you balance work, studies, family and your community?

For many of our children they are the first in their families to go to college.  So I am filled with pride to see them proud of their culture and heritage and interested in sharing that with others. I hope they will remember these moments as the start of something special and be excited to see where the skills they learned can help them in many parts of their lives in the years ahead.

As we remember our past, I want it to be forward thinking. We come from many places but we can all be civically engaged and work together to celebrate our stories and create the society we want to see.

Please celebrate with us, and thank you all for making Minnesota a good community to build our lives.