Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thanks to the Lao Artists Festival of Elgin, IL

A big thanks to everyone who helped make the Lao Artists Festival of Elgin, Illinois a success. During this time, many Lao American artists were recognized and thanked by the community, including Minnesotans Mali Kouanchao and myself. I received the Literacy Award from the Lao Professionals of Illinois. It was a unique honor and privilege.

Saymoukda Vongsay, Catzie Vilayphonh and DJ Kool Akiem all journeyed with me, and there many other familiar faces in attendance.

The festival gathered many amazing artists from other fields, including acclaimed photographer Khampha Bouaphanh, the Kinnaly Dance Troupe of Seattle, Alex San Dinero, Mino Sundara, fashion designer Kevin Vong and Thavisouk Phrasavath, just before he won the Emmy.

Ajahn Malavanh Douangphoumy and Ajahn Bounseung Synanonh amazed the audience with their traditional musical forms, as did Sisavanh & Oulinthong Sihanath, a husband and wife team who practice traditional jewelry, sculpture and other plastic arts.

Refugee Nation's Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan came after a whirlwind 3-state journey in 2 weeks, and we also saw legendary singers Voradeth Ditthavong and Silavong Keo recognized by the community as well for lifetime achievements. Gumby performed and Vannasone Keodara served as the MC with Mino Sundara.

We all said goodbye to Nor Sanavongsay, who will be moving to San Francisco and the Bay Area soon, but we're also hoping finding time to finish his Kiwi the Koala project and the long-awaited Xieng Mieng stories as well. It was a great conclusion to an epic month of Lao arts across the country. Thanks to everyone who's been a part of this!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lao American Writers Summit a success

On August 13-15th, we reached well over 120 people throughout the first national Lao American Writers Summit.

Over 14 award-winning Lao American writers and activists from across many disciplines worked with both Lao and non-Lao community members including Hmong, European American, African American, Thai and Tongans to discuss the importance of art, community and the approaches Lao American culture uses to remember our history and traditions.


Of course, support from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council was a significant part of helping us to obtain support from many other organizations and foundations, including the Jerome Foundation, the national Association for Asian American Studies, the national Asian Pacific American Librarian's Association, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, the Center for Lao Studies, Asian American Press, and the Lao Student Association of the University of Minnesota.


We were able to energize and inspire our youth audience, who comprised a majority of the participants, as well as elders who'd never been to facilities such as the Loft Literary Center and the Open Book.

Many of our elders were excited at the opportunity to come forward and tell our stories and their journey, including one elder who'd lived in Minnesota for years, quietly working on a history of the Lao people and a dictionary. He hadn't realized there were so many writers and artists across the country and he was overjoyed that there was a young generation who wanted to continue the study of art and culture.



We learned many things from the process and have discovered many ways to improve our process. But most importantly, we had unfettered opportunities to speak our hearts and share our experience.

We're all looking forward to providing a full overview of the Summit, which was even selected as a literary event of the week by the Pioneer Press, and picked up by Asian American newspapers and bloggers in California, Tennessee, Georgia, Vermont, Philadelphia, Illinois, Washington D.C., New York and many others. But I feel the most important consequences of the Summit will bloom over the course of the next several decades within both our elders and the younger generation.

Thanks to everyone who came and I look forward to working with all of you again in the coming years ahead.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Legacies of War Celebrates Convention on Cluster Munitions


Legacies of War joins the thousands of cluster bomb survivors in Laos and around the world to celebrate the Entry into Force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Convention on Cluster Munitions is the most significant disarmament and humanitarian treaty in more than a decade; 107 countries have signed the treaty and 37 countries have ratified it.

Lao PDR, the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history, and one of the first countries to sign the treaty, will host the convention's First Meeting of State Parties in Vientiane, Lao PDR, in November 2010.

Legacies of War is a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace.

"We are pleased that the First Meeting of States Parties will be held in Laos, which accounts for the most cluster munitions casualties worldwide, as a result of massive U.S. bombings during the Vietnam War-era. We would encourage the U.S., who hasn't signed the treaty, to attend this historic meeting in November," said Brett Dakin, Board Chair of Legacies of War.

On average, the U.S. spends $2.7M per year, compared to the $17M per day (today's dollars) it spent during the 9 years of bombing (1964-1973). "Legacies of War is calling for an increase in U.S. funding to $10M per year over the next 10 years in order to make a significant dent in the current cluster bomb problem in Laos and save thousands of lives in the future," Dakin added.

The meeting will create an action plan to be used by all states to complete the legal obligations of the treaty, including support for clearance, stockpile destruction and victim assistance.

As a lead up to the First Meeting of States Parties, campaigners around the world are holding public events in August to mark the official Entry into Force of the treaty. On August 1, the "Beat the Drum" campaign featured drumming events in 70 countries to welcome the treaty into force and highlight the treaty's significance in communities affected by cluster bombs. Although the United States has not signed the treaty, events are being held around the country to participate in the international campaign. In Portland, OR, drumming circles, student groups and local musicians will join forces for a large drumming event on August 14.

Cluster bombs have a devastating effect on civilian communities as many bombs fail to detonate at the time they are dropped. Laos has been hit particularly hard by cluster munitions, which have killed or maimed as many as 50,000 civilians since 1964 (and 20,000 since 1974, after the war ended). Each year, there are 300 new casualties in Laos; 40 percent are children.