It's a very modest campaign, only seeking to raise $2,500 within the next few weeks. But it would be an immensely valuable first trip back to Laos for Somphet Pheauboonma, who I consider to be a talented artist and community builder. She has not been back since her family first came to the US in 1986.
I feel her art and life's work over time would benefit strongly from community support. I have often encouraged her to submit to the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and other journals calling for the voices of Lao and Southeast Asian communities. Decades from now, if not sooner, we will likely recognize her as a pivotal voice of the Lua’ culture, wherever that may take them.
She has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to her community and is a driven, thoughtful and introspective soul. In my estimation, through her many expressive works, she embodies a progressive and compelling vision of who the Lua’ can become. Their journey, intertwined with those of the Lao are only now just beginning to be fully articulated. She is one whose voice is particularly unique and distinctive.As she explains in her appeal, this is a groundbreaking journey for her, but it necessitates her taking almost 4 weeks of unpaid leave from her work, which is being supportive of her time off. In this day and age, I don't have to remind anyone how rare that is.
I empathize deeply with her situation. 2013 marks the 10th anniversary since I first made my journey back to Laos, a land I had not seen in 30 years since my family left in the course of the conflict. Without rehashing my story for the umpteenth time, I will say I did not get the opportunity to reunite with my birth family until I made that journey. Until I made that fateful trip back, Laos was an abstraction, and while it was in my heart, it was difficult to fully understand the land where we came from. But that first trip utterly changed the course of my writing, letting me speak of my homeland and countrywomen and men with a greater sense of who we were. And who we could be. I suspect she, too, will be remarkably transformed by her voyage.
For Somphet, she hopes to conduct anthropological work that will help her build a scholastic portfolio that will serve her in her journey to grad school. And of course, to learn something of the cosmos in the ways a classroom alone cannot convey.
We have no figures for how many Lua’ have successfully pursued higher education beyond a bachelor's. But I think we can be certain she will be setting a significant precedent for her people, and for all Lao, considering less than 10% of us hold a degree. But whereas many have noted the Lao who have never returned to assist and rebuild their community after receiving their education, Somphet has the strength of character that I know she will make a critical difference in her generation's efforts to heal, to grow, to flourish.
And maybe, one of these days, she'll change the world with her art, as well. The world is filled with infinite possibilities. And if you consider donating to this historic first journey of hers, I believe it will open many wondrous doors for all of us.
You can visit the campaign at: http://www.gofundme.com/somphetpheauboonma