Wednesday, August 31, 2016

President Obama makes Lao history

This week, US president Barack Obama arrived in Laos and became the first American president to ever visit the nation. Lao American artist Nor Sanavongsay did this portrait to mark the historicity of the occasion. You can also get a copy of Nor Sanavongsay's first children's book, A Sticky Mess from Sahtu Press.

President Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in the Year of the Ox. His full name is Barack Hussein Obama II, and he is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office and the first president born outside the continental United States. He was elected twice to represent the American people domestically and abroad, and will leave office at the end of this year. As a note of trivia, he was born the same year that John F. Kennedy took office, and just as the US involvement in Laos was becoming one of JFK's first major policy challenges.

Today, almost 500,000 people in the US trace their roots back to Laos, including Lao, Hmong, Khmu, Lue, Tai Dam, Iu Mien, and others. Many families arrived in the 1970s and 80s as refugees from the Laotian Civil War that ended in 1975. This year is part of the 40th anniversary since the beginning of the Lao diaspora for many.  Laos traces its heritage back to over 600 years to the ancient realm of Lane Xang, but was formally recognized in 1954 by the United Nations following its independence from the French.

In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013.

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