Sunday, July 05, 2009

Arizona reflection

It's hard to say when I've seen so many variations of sand and brown. The temperature wanted to go as high as 120 degrees from the 111 when I arrived on Thursday. My purpose had been to examine and identify the Laotian population in Arizona and see where they were at, and what the community was like.

This was an interesting question given that my previous trip to Arizona had been to attend the International Conference on Lao Studies, and I think it's reasonable to presume that beyond the ivory halls of academia, there must be a significant community there to support such an interest.

According to the Census 2000, there were 1,243 Lao and 33 Hmong who identified themselves as such in Arizona. There are many who feel this is grossly undercounted. It was reasonable to assume that the good majority of them lived near Phoenix, which is where one of the oldest Wat Lao continues to exist. The other major Wat Lao is in Tuscon, Arizona, but I haven't had a chance to visit there yet.

Wat Lao Soudharam, presided over by Ajan Savang Sithisombath, Ajan Vichit Dipraseuth and Ajan Bounleuth Sirivongsack, is one of the smaller wats in the US, with one major building near the center of the compound. The grounds are spacious enough to hold festival events, and the community members there are well connected to one another.

Significant organizations and grass roots groups that have been a part of the Arizona Lao community include Natahasinh Doungjumpa, a traditional Lao dance group at one point coached by Nary Nickolas and Ju Chaen.

The Lao Youth Organization is the local Lao youth group, and the Lao United Soccer Team have also been a part of the Phoenix community.

The famous Silivongxay sisters make their home here in Arizona. Always generous with their time, they bring a great energy to any community service projects they are involved in. Anasone Silivongxay is currently working energetically to raise awareness about issues of Census 2010 while juggling her many other projects, including raising a family and taking classes to pursue her higher education, and also maintaining a fine blog at, among other places. Khonnie Silivongxay is equally engaged with the community and has always been helpful to me on my journeys with her passion for helping others.

Openly Lao businesses such as restaurants and stores aren't very visible in Arizona, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time, and in the short time I had to visit, it's possible I missed them. But I look forward to coming back to visit Arizona in the future. But I'm definitely bringing sunscreen next time.

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