Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Remembering Pom Outama Khampradith


As someone who worked with her frequently on her artistic and community building projects, and understood much of the significance and cultural context of her life's work, I received a number of requests for a write-up regarding Pom Outama Khampradith, who passed away earlier this week.

To make it clear, this is not an official biography, nor can one page ever fully capture a person's life or impact, particularly someone as well-lived as she was. But there are many of her friends who are understandably unsure where to even start, and it is my hope this humble note will give them some place to start.

Please accept my apologies ahead of time if there are any omissions or details you feel should be revised. I'll make corrections accordingly:

Pom Outama Khampradith (1970s-2014)

Pom Outama Khampradith was a key figure in the Lao cultural reconstruction after the wars of the 20th century.

Born Chittraphone Pom Outama in the early 1970s, she was the Director of the Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF) Pacific Northwest Chapter. She also held the position of Public/Community Relations at the national level, furthering LHF’s mission to promote, preserve, and transmit Lao culture through the arts all throughout the US.

She was proud to be the founding Artistic Director of Kinnaly – a Lao traditional music and dance troupe based in Seattle, Washington. There, she taught over 60 second-generation Lao American youth the art of Lao traditional dance in all its rigorous training and original choreographies. Many of her students continue to be active in the arts and the community today.

She lived near Seattle with her family, including her husband William and her son Ravi. When the rain kept her inside, Pom Outama Khampradith loved to "cuddle up with Lao and French literature in their original language." She loved to spend her time with local community children, sharing and teaching her art of naathasiin, the Lao traditional dances. She performed widely at various fundraising events with her students and hoped to keep our heritage alive through the arts.

She was acclaimed for her innovation and experimentation, incorporating contemporary Lao music and dance styles into the modern repertoire.

A dancer for over 25 years, Pom Outama Khampradith set a high standard for Lao dance troupes nationally, insisting that Kinnaly performances be accompanied by a live traditional Lao deum band almost all of the time, rather than using pre-recorded music. She valued her students and their families deeply and inspired many to pursue their dreams.

In 2009, she was one of the lead organizers of the very first International Lao New Year Festival, held in San Francisco. In 2011, she was part of a groundbreaking Lao Cultural Exchange Program in Vientiane, Laos. During this exchange, she and her students met with masters of Lao dance, art and music over 35 years since the beginning of the Lao diaspora. The Kinnaly troupe would return again to Laos in 2013 to meet with the faculty and students of the National School of Performing Arts, sharing ideas and best practices that could be passed on to the next generation of artists and community builders.

One of the first major performances of the Kinnaly dance troupe was in May, 2003 at the History Symposium on Laos at the University of California-Berkeley. Since then, Pom Outama Khampradith successfully worked with communities across the United States and internationally to bring the Kinnaly troupe to events such as the International Conferences on Lao Studies in 2005 and 2007, as well as the 2010 International Lao Artists Festival.

She and her younger brother left Laos in 1982, first moving to France. Her two older sisters had gone to Thailand before resettling in Hawaii with an aunt. In the aftermath of the conflict, her father had been sent to a re-education camp in Northern Laos. She and her family would not be reunited until 1990, rebuilding their lives in Washington after being separated for nearly 15 years.

She was educated at the Lycée François Premier in Le Havre, France, and studied at the University of Washington. She had the honor of training under Laos’ most celebrated dance master, ajarn Kongseng Pongphimkham.

Pom Outama Khampradith was widely recognized for her gift in generating a genuine interest and passion in her students to explore their heritage beyond dance. Her dance curriculum integrated the additional study of traditional Lao arts and crafts, Lao language and folklore.

In addition to her skills as a dancer and teacher, she was well-regarded for her literary talents as both a poet and a short-story writer. Many of her pieces were featured in the literary anthologies of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. This includes her poem "I Learned to..," her non-fiction story "Please Rewind After Reading," and her prose piece "For you, I will..." In recent years she had begun to blog at "House on the Mekong," sharing her reflections on life in addition to many of her favorite recipes from Lao cuisine.

She volunteered as the HR/PR Core Facilitator of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project and helped to organize and attend many of the conferences organized by the Lao writers and artists. Friends and community members have expressed their condolences from around the world, remembering her for her honesty, integrity, kindness and modesty, with a vibrant mind committed to Lao arts and heritage in all forms.

She leaves behind an indelible legacy that will inspire generations yet to come

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Nak of Wat Lao Riverside


A fairly new addition to the temple complex in Riverside, California, this is a guardian Nak at the doorway to the monks primary sleeping quarters. The Nak were completed last year. This year was the first Lao New Year they were a part of the festivities. An auspicious way to end Year of the Snake.

[Poem] Na, 2009

Na 

Her eyes weave stories
Worth seeking

Who can speak of khuam ngam,
The heart, without the spirit?

May as well
Ask rivers to leave the shore,

The moon to abandon the night,
Dreams to leave our lips.

-From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009


Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao from San Diego

San Diego holds claim to the oldest Wat Lao in the United States since the Lao Diaspora began in 1975. On April 19-20th, 2014, they ushered in the Year of the Horse in style as thousands gathered to Wat Lao Buddharam on 44th street.


As in Fresno, rather than major images of a horse, the Tiger was prominent instead. More research will have to be done to discuss the significance of this.


Buddhist monks gave blessings to community members who gave offerings during tahk baht and through many other avenues to donate and build merit for themselves and their families. There were many non-profit organizations reflected at this year's New Year Festival, including Lao Golf Association, the Modern Lao Lady Association, and the Lao Parent-Teacher Association.


Masks and a dance performance from the traditional Lao epic Phra Lak Phra Lam were a part of the weekend festivities.

The youth dancers of Wat Lao Buddharam had a chance to display their skills and talents throughout the weekend to the delight of the crowd.