Friday, March 21, 2014

Lao American speaker possibilities: 2014-2015

It's getting time for student groups and college departments to start selecting their speakers for the upcoming year. As we go into the 2014-2015 school year I'm receiving numerous requests for possible guest speakers from the Lao community who audiences might find interesting.

The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but you have to start somewhere. It will give you some particularly strong leads to go on, based on their credentials, their speaking skills, knowledge, and relative flexibility with your schedules and budget if you're interested in having someone come to your campus, library or institution.

Why might you be interested in a Lao American speaker? 2014 is the 60th year since Laos was recognized by the United Nations and 2015 is the 40th year since the end of the conflict and the beginning of the Lao Diaspora. These two years represent particularly important milestones for the modern Lao community, which has been increasingly recognized for their work nationally and internationally.

One thing to note for the upcoming year is that the SatJaDham, the Lao Literary Project was founded in April 11th, 1995 by four Lao writers living abroad.  2015 will be the 20th anniversary since the organization's founding. Ultimately, the group convened 7 national conferences and produced 5 small anthologies of Lao American writings between 1995 to 2001. The group's name came from the combination of the words "SatJa" and "Dhamma." "Satja" means truth in Lao, and "dham" is from dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha. While the network is not currently active, many of its founders and members have continued to write and contribute to community building through their art, education, civic service and volunteering, including with organizations such as the Lao Heritage Foundation, the Center for Lao Studies and the Laotian American National Alliance.

The four founders of SatJaDham were Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, the founder of Naiku, Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, Amphone (Guy) Phiaxay, and Kongkeo Saycocie.

Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong has spent over twelve years in the educational testing industry. He has created and ensured the psychometric integrity of large-scale educational assessments for the Minnesota Department of Education and for professional and certification organizations. He is an expert in computer-based tests (CBT) and computer-adaptive tests (CAT). He has taught at the University of Minnesota and is an adjunct faculty at Metropolitan State University. Dr. Nhouyvanisvong has published in peer-reviewed measurement journals and regularly speaks at national educational measurement conferences. He has a PhD in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Minnesota..

Dr. Vinya Sysamouth is the executive director of the Center for Lao Studies. The Center for Lao Studies serves both as an academic and a resource center for scholars, the general public, and persons of Lao heritage around the world. Their mission is to advance knowledge and engagement in the field of Lao Studies through research, education and information sharing.

Dr. Khampha Thephavong is currently a primary care physician at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fresno, California. Dr. Thephavong also serves on the Board of the Lao-American Advancement Center. Dr. Thephavong holds a BSN degree from the California State University of Fresno and a D.O. degree from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is the national advisor on the Lao community to the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao received her Ed.D. in Education in 2012. She has been a consultant on issues of higher education, the arts, and non-profits, with a focus on Southeast Asian Americans. Born in Savannakhet, Laos, she emigrated to the United States in 1978 and received her education in Minnesota. She is an editor of the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and was a member of the international SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. She writes a regular column for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. From 2001 to 2013, Dr. Kouanchao has been employed with the Mt. San Jacinto College as a senior administrator. Her most recent appointment was as the Director of Equity, Opportunity and Engagement programs for MSJC. This office includes responsibilities for diversity, leadership programming, compliance, discrimination complaints and recruitment.

Boungheng Inversin is a prominent Asian American activist and community member who plays a prominent role in Laotian refugee resettlement. She has served with the Lao American Womens Association in Washington D.C. and many other causes. With Daniel Duffy, she edited the 1999 short story collection of Outhine Bounyavong, Mother's Beloved:Stories from Laos, presented by the University of Washington Press. Mrs. Inversin was also the personal interpreter for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during her historic visit to Laos in 2012. As you can imagine, her availability is somewhat more limited.

Thavisouk Phrasavath was a 2010 Emmy-winning director whose work was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award (Oscar) and Film Independent Spirit Award. He is an accepted member of WGAW (Writer Guild of America West). He has directed documentaries, dramatic short and music video for independent record label and artists, published poetry and won awards for paintings and illustrations. He is the author of the book Step Out of the Womb (Memoir of the Journey to Land Where the Sun Fall). His background in community work includes assisting Gang Prevention for Youth and Family Crisis Intervention and working with the police as a liaison and consultant for the Lao community. Thavisouk Phrasavath has consulted for the New York City Board of Education. The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) was the film that he was both subject and a filmmaker.

Channapha Khamvongsa is executive director of Legacies of War. She worked at the Ford Foundation and Public Interest Projects, focusing on immigrant and refugee rights, global civil society, civic engagement, capacity building and transformational leadership. She was previously appointed to the Seattle Women’s Commission and served on the boards of the Refugee Women’s Alliance and Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL). She is currently on the board of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) – America. Ms. Khamvongsa was born in Vientiane and came to the U.S. at the age of seven. She studied at George Mason University and Oxford University. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.

Sunny Chanthanouvong and his family emigrated from Laos to Minneapolis in 1984. He first began working at the Lao Assistance Center in 1992 as a Youth Specialist, and became the executive director in 2001. building an award-winning staff focused on community service and involving the community in local and national policy. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mankato State University and completed professional development courses in nonprofit management, real estate, and leadership at Hamline University and the University of St. Thomas. He is a 2013 Bush Leadership Fellow and was a 2011-2012 Humphrey Policy Fellow. He also received a 2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service. He currently contributes a regular blog to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, “Sunny’s Side of Life,” discussing opportunities and his journey in building civic engagement.

Ova Saopeng is an actor and writer from Los Angeles. He was born in Savannakhet, Laos and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a TeAda Productions Company Artist and co-creator of Refugee Nation a play about the Lao-American experience, based on the stories Lao communities across the U.S. ( He received his B.A. in Theater from the University of Southern California and since then has performed nationally with theater companies including the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis, Mark Taper Forum/P.L.A.Y., East West Players, and hereandnow. He is a member of We Tell Stories and Water 's Edge Theater children's theater companies.

Saengmany Ratsabout holds a Master of Arts in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ratsabout has taught Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies at Saint Cloud State University and was interested in exploring the social history of Laotian Americans and how immigration laws and legislations affect the community. He has worked in the non-profit and academic sector for over 13 years in various capacities.Ratsabout has been a Board Member of Laotian American National Alliance and an Executive Board Member of the Center of Lao Studies. In addition, he works as a consultant to the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. As a consultant with LACM, he has worked on the Get Out the Vote project, research analysis, grant writing, planning and evaluation, and community assessment. He currently works with the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota.

Nor Sanavongsay is an artist from Illinois who currently lives with his family in San Francisco. The author of the children's book Xieng Mieng: A Sticky Mess, he is also the founder of Sahtu Press. He is trained in both design and programming of interactive media. He’s created award winning projects for retail giants such as Sears, Motorola, and many others. During his rare off-hours, he donates his time to design posters and flyers for many community services across the US.

Catzie Vilayphonh is a member of the spoken word duo Yellow Rage and the chair of the Laos In The House interdisciplinary exhibition coming to Philadelphia in 2015. Catzie appeared on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam in 2001 and performs at various venues across the country. She has performed with Ursula Rucker, Sarah Jones, Danny Hoch, Beau Sia and I Was Born with Two Tongues. Vilayphonh was the Fashion Director for magazine in Philadelphia, where she also wrote her weekly column Catz Out The Bag interviewing everyone from designers to directors and artists to actors. She was also the Transmit Editor for Theme Magazine, a contemporary Asian American culture publication based out of New York. Visit her at

Saymoukda Vongsay is a Lao American poet and playwright whose passion is arts advocacy. Her work has been published by Altra Magazine, The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, St. Paul Almanac, Lao American Magazine, and Bakka Literary Journal, to name a few. She has taught and performed spoken word poetry from the Midwest to the East and West coasts, as well as in Italy and Japan. Saymoukda is a co-founding member of the Unit Collective of Emerging Playwrights of Color and an active participant with Pillsbury House Theater’s Chicago Avenue Project. She is a 2011 Jerome Foundation/Mu Performing Arts' New Eyes Theater Fellow, winner of the 2010 Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry (NY), and an advisory board member of the 2010 MPLS Asian Film Festival. Her full-length play, Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals, was commissioned by Mu Performing Arts. Saymoukda is pursuing an interdisciplinary Masters degree in Public Policy, Social Work, and Creative Writing at the U of MN.

Pom Outama Khampradith has worked at a national level to promote, preserve, and transmit Lao culture through the arts all throughout the United States. She has been the Artistic Director of the Kinnaly – Lao Traditional Music and Dance Troupe based in Seattle, Washington, where she teaches over 60 second-generation Lao American youth the art of Lao traditional dance in all its rigorous training and original choreographies, while experimenting with and incorporating contemporary Lao music and dance styles. Particularly noteworthy is Kinnaly’s efforts to perform on live music accompanied by a traditional Lao deum band all of the time. Recently she has had the honor of training under Laos’ most celebrated dance master, ajarn Kongseng Pongphimkham. Most remarkable is her gift in generating a genuine interest in her students to explore their heritage beyond dance, integrating into her curriculum the learning of traditional arts and crafts, Lao language and folklore. She has been dancing for over 25 years.

UPDATE:  Because more than a few of you insisted.
Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao American writer.His work appears in over 100 international anthologies, magazines and newspapers, including Innsmouth Free Press, Kartika Review, Outsiders Within, Bamboo Among the Oaks, Tales of the Unanticipated, Astropoetica, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Journal of the Asian American Renaissance, and Asian American Press. In 2009 he became the first Laotian American to receive an NEA Fellowship In Literature. In 2012 he was a Cultural Olympian during the Summer Olympics in London representing Laos. He is the author of numerous books and holds over 20 awards for his writing and community service.

 More speaker suggestions to follow!

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