Little Laos on the Prairie organically grew after my long-time friend Danny Khotsombath and I decided that we needed the space to write and tell about our experiences as Lao Americans growing up in Minnesota. It’s been almost two years in and we have lots of blog followers and over 200 Facebook fans– a diverse bunch from artists to professors. We have no particular subject that’s popular, but people always love food, humorous stories and community highlights. We wanted to tell people: “Hey, here’s why Lao Minnesotans are awesome. Remember us.”
Aside from the auto response that my parents are my heroes (which they are, of course), my role models includes the long list of community activists and artists that have inspired me and shaped my focus towards community work. On the literary side, my first love was Nancy Drew books. I loved reading and watching suspense, mystery and classic noir.
I’d love to see investment in a Little Lao Town somewhere in Northside Minneapolis, where the majority of the first Lao immigrants started in the late 80s. I think it’s sad to see the post-housing crisis literally wipe out some of these neighborhoods into ghost towns. I enjoy doing sustainable development work, so I’d love to see an area where I can bring my daughter to Lao classical dance classes, buy my Lao textiles and rent out Lao films and books. I think it’s possible only if we see the economic potential in our own community.
In a nutshell, my parents’ first choice was America in 1987. Dad was a former senior lieutenant for the Royal Lao Army and our family of seven was put in ‘seminar’ labor camps. It’s a funny story because my mom was in so much pregnancy pain and was close to giving birth to me, when she was brave enough to petition for my dad’s release at the time. Then after a couple of years in refugee camps, the UN finally sent us to Minnesota and the Minneapolis area has been our home ever since.
you going? What are some of the best practices you learned from working with mainstream organizations that you wish the Lao Minnesotan community would adapt?
I can’t pinpoint how I got started in community work, it seems being an ‘activist’ has always been at the heart of everything I had to confront or come across– whether it was advocating for social security benefits for my aging parents to promoting the importance of Lao heritage in Asian groups I led from high school through college. Activism is a part of me.
There’s always the few doing this kind of work. I think many people in my position want to believe there’s a ‘best practices’, but I’ve realized that with any framework we use to address social justice issues, we have to remember two things in our community: the people and their best interests. Without these two important factors, our approach would never be effective. No matter how good of an intention we think we have in mind. We sometimes forget to keep involved, listen carefully, and understand the real issues. Only then will we know where to start and what our role is in the scheme of things.
Network, network, network. We lack the connection between the professionals in the private and public sector, re-connecting with our elders, and involving our youth. It pains me that our elders won’t be around long enough to pass on the skills, talents and history that enriches our cultural identity. Where’s our ongoing network of mentors, professionals and artists we can learn from? I started a Lao Professional Network on Facebook and in Minnesota, in hopes that others will take the initiative in sharing our resources and wealth of knowledge.
When I see the small successes that lead to the bigger successes (which isn’t always guaranteed), I can feel that what I’m doing is right and I’m content with it. At the end of the day, it’s easy to get burnt out. I always feel tempted to throw in the towel, but when I see things like youth who come to me for letters of recommendations to a mainstream institution including the Lao in a research study, I take comfort in those small successes.
I want to see it as a trusted source of news and creative outlet for the Lao community. I want to see it as a full fledged dot com website like Angry Asian Man (maybe an Angry Southeast Asian Woman, more like it). I want to be able to learn and share the stories and experiences of our community in the most meaningful way.
This is tough. I LOVE food. When I think of a Lao dish that comforts me the most, it would have to be freshly steamed sticky rice with chicken laab and soup. My parents always made it a family affair. I did the prep work, mom did the cooking and soup, and dad did the mixing.
I miss school, honestly. It’s been 5 years since my undergrad and I needed to go back to school to advance my career path. Growing up, my parents made sure I knew that knowledge is power. Working in the field of development, I need to learn more methods and ways to be an effective agent of social change.
My main advice for those considering grad school is to take into account where you’re at in life. Ask yourself if you’re ready. Do you need to go back to school to achieve your goals or are there other ways? School isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of commitment and the investment in time and money needs to be doable. And for goodness sake, don’t go back just because you’re addicted to school.
11) Are there any issues you think should really be on our radar in the Lao community?
There are many but locally here in Minnesota, we need to look at the elders, youth and organizations that need emerging leaders to be involved in the issues that impact our community the most. I think since the 80s, about 80% of the majority of Lao have moved out to suburbs and we’ve forgotten about our friends and relatives who are still stuck in a stagnant state. It’s overdue time to work together.
You can visit Little Laos on the Prairie at: littlelaosontheprairie.wordpress.com