Monday, November 11, 2013

An evening with US Senator Al Franken

Had a chance to meet with US Senator Al Franken and other community builders in N. Minneapolis. It was fascinating to see all of the diverse walks of life he drew from.

The event was hosted by Terra Cole, Outreach & Inclusion Officer of MYDFL, Ilhan Omar Co-chair, SD 60 and New Americans PAC, and Andie Whitaker - President, MYDFL, it was an inspired and energizing meeting with standing-room only in the Heritage Park Neighborhood.

Hmong and Lao were also in strong attendance for a Sunday night, including Little Laos on the Prairie editor Chanida Phaengdara Potter, who recently finished facilitating the inaugural Lao Leadership Institute for the community for the Lao Assistance Center. It was also a great opportunity for me to catch up with my longtime friend, Roy Magnusson, who'd always done so much over the years to ensure Southeast Asian students are civically engaged. I can see so many of his students succeeding today because of his support.

Senator Franken spoke eloquently of the need for young people to be engaged in the process and also of the health benefits of volunteering. He was candid and enthused about the opportunities and challenges ahead for all of us as a community and as a nation.

I thought he had a great perspective and vision on the role government plays in creating jobs and keeping the economy going. I wish more of our community had had a chance to attend.

The evening was also significant for observant members of the Lao community who noticed Lao Minnesotan artist Mali Kouanchao's paintings in the background as Senator Franken spoke.

In his years of service, Senator Franken is one of the few congressmen who has taken time to visit Laos and keep informed about the various Hmong and Lao concerns going on over there. He and Representative Betty McCollum get particularly high marks from me in this regard. Hopefully, in the coming years ahead he'll do what it takes to ensure immigration reform includes a progressive and humane approach to deportation of Lao and other Southeast Asian stakeholders. I'd also like to see him continue to do what he can to support UXO clearance in Southeast Asia, and more support for education and reducing barriers for small businesses. This would go a long way for helping refugee communities rebuild as their story becomes interwoven with the larger tapestry of America. I think he has a strong chance of support from the Lao community.

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