Sabaidee Pi Mai, happy Lao New Year!
We had a long journey in the last year with many changes for our community. The arrival of many new faces, and the passing of many we will always remember. This year saw many changes for many people including new jobs, new graduates, new opportunities. I am thankful we accomplished so much together and we can see some together ahead of us.
This week, I want to take special time to welcome everyone to “Our Shared Journey: A Symposium on 40 Years of Lao in the United States.” They have worked very hard to bring you an exciting celebration of our experiences together, so we can see and hear all of the amazing voices and talents in our Lao American community. They will be gathering at the University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center in North Minneapolis, and I’m delighted they are bringing such a historic convening here.
I give a special thanks to all of our sponsors and all of our volunteers who put in many long hours for the last few years to make this weekend possible. It began as a positive vision of civic engagement and inclusion. They did not choose the theme of “Our Shared Journey” lightly. A journey is filled with challenges, but it also filled with hope and a sense of a positive destination ahead.
Minnesota is the third largest Lao community in the United States. Laos has a very long history that is centuries old of youth and elders, families, working together to preserve the culture to make a bright future.
We work hard to make everyone civically engaged and to bring something positive to life in Minnesota and wherever we go. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Lao diaspora and many of us are holding events to talk about our culture, and to show our children where we come from. We still have many challenges ahead. Lao voices are needed on issues such as immigration reform, health care access, economic development and education reform.
Some of the guests who will be at the symposium include scholars such as Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao who did her dissertation on the holistic identity development of Lao American college students. She grew up in Minneapolis, and now she is giving back to her community in amazing ways. This will be the first time the award-winning writer Souvankham Thammavongsa will ever come to Minneota thanks to the Canadian Arts Council. This will also be the return of the Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan who wowed our community with their production of Refugee Nation at Intermedia Arts in 2010.
Channapha Khamvongsa, the executive director of Legacies of War will also join us. This year is the fifth year since the UN Convention of Cluster Munitions went into force, and I’m looking forward to hearing what Minnesotans can do to celebrate this important piece of international policy this year.
We will see wonderful visual artist from across the country such as Chantala Kommanivanh, Mali Kouanchao, Sayon Syprasoeuth, and Aloun Phoulavan who have all volunteered with their communities to show new ways to see ourselves. I enjoyed many of their works at the Refuge of the Invisiblao exhibit now on display at the Brooklyn Park Library for a few more weeks. When I reflect on how positive the response has been to these exhibits I am so happy because 40 years ago, I don’t think many of us could have imagined how much talent we would see shared with the world.
We must look for new ways to reach out to each other to make sure that our community has the skills that are ready for the new types of jobs in the future. We must ask ourselves how we will stay in touch. This weekend, we will all be a vital part of that conversation, but what matters most is what we do with those lessons going forward.