Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Preparing for the USEAA Fresno City College Celebration

This week I'll be speaking at the USEAA (United Southeast Asian American) Program at Fresno City College, which is currently on its 17th year of serving Southeast Asian American students in the Central Valley. It's a great program and one that's badly needed in the community as the statistics show.

 I'll be drawing on many elements of my journey as a Lao American writer, and what it meant for me to come to the US in 1973 shortly before the beginning of the Southeast Asian diaspora that affeted refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, including the Hmong, Khmu, Tai Dam, Iu Mien, Lue, Montagnards, and many others.

I'll be discussing the importance of education and what it can mean for our youth and families, with an eye on the long-term. One element I'll particularly be focusing on is the relationship of the arts to our success, and the importance of being able to tell your stories, not only for yourself and your family, but for your friends and community as we each make our own transitions to a democracy.

It's vital for our youth to learn their history and their culture. It's also vital for them to learn how to speak well not only of themselves, but of others, and to value those opportunities that present themselves to serve others. While our communities have become increasingly connected, all too often I see our voices used to tear down and criticize rather than to constructively praise and empower others. I find this deeply problematic but not insurmountable.

 There are several skillsets I believe it are particularly essential for our students to develop over time as they go on to the next phase in their lives. These include a sense of leadership, scholarship, mentorship, and friendship. It is also important to cultivate a commitment to curiosity, creativity, responsibility, and memory.

 At the same time, even as we build all of this within ourselves, and appreciate the gravity of our journey, we cannot take ourselves too seriously, because that is a route that leads to fanaticism, depression, and dogmatism that runs counter to both our traditions and our opportunities.

 I look forward to seeing everyone in Fresno, and I thank the organizers for inviting me to speak with these fine students who are taking such a momentous journey for themselves.

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