Thursday, February 26, 2009

Minnesota Artist: Bounxou Chanthraphone

In Minnesota, one of the famous artists of the Laotian community is Bounxou Chanthraphone, who has the distinction of being an NEA National Heritage Fellow and a recipient of the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship.

She was born in 1947 in the town of Savannakhet, in central Laos. She learned Lao weaving techniques from her mother and grandmother, and soon studied more formally, learning the weaving techniques and designs of her native central region and of the northern and southern regions. She also learned the detailed ikot tie dying technique. Bounxou Chantrhaphone's expertise allows her to weave single strands of linen, cotton, silk, and other materials into the traditional patterns, including the intricate symbols and geometric designs. She uses pigments derived from natural substances including berries, roots, and tree bark. Chantrhaphone uses these skills to weave traditional Lao skirts, dancing costumes, wall hangings and other textiles.

Chanthraphone came to the US in 1982 with her daughter, Ladda. As a child, she attended Savannah Elementary School and continued the study of weaving while she was training as a teacher in the city of Vientiane, Laos. In the 1960s she became an elementary teacher, and went back to the city of Savannakhet and taught in Immaculee School for eight years. Ultimately, in 1975 with the end of the war, she and her family fled and spent time in the Ubon refugee camp in Thailand. In Thailand, she was able to support her family through her weaving. In the US she continued to teach her skills formally to many through programs with the Lao PTA and CAPI, the Center for Asian and Pacific Islanders.

She is deeply interested in teaching others her skills. Lao weaving arts have three levels. Each level has many techniques of learning and teaching. She shares her work to prepare young women to carry on this tradition, to support elder folk artists and will teach everybody who wants to learn.

International Lao New Year Festival: April 11, 2009

What promises to be the largest and most important cultural festival of Lao Americans outside the country of Laos will be held on Saturday, April 11, 2009 at the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. This 2009 festival is expected to draw more than 30,000 people.

There will also be an Evening of Cultural Reception at the prestigious Green Room of the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center from 7:00 PM – 10:30 PM. 

The Opening Reception to commemorate our passage to America will take place on Friday, April 10, 2009 from 3-6 PM at Marin Museum of Contemporary Art at Hamilton Field, a historic landmark to thousands of Southeast Asia refugees who came through the Hamilton Army Air Field in Novato, California before transitioning to other parts of the country, making Hamilton Field a Refugee Transit Center. 

The International Lao New Year Festival (ILNYF) 2009, hosted by three nationally recognized non-profit organizations, the Laotian American National Alliance (LANA), Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF) and Center for Lao Studies (CLS), “is an opportunity to unite the people from Laos worldwide to celebrate pride in our ancestral heritage, to showcase the best of Lao arts and cultures through collaboration, and to educate the general public about the plight of Lao American experience in the United States during the past 30 years,” explained Sourichanh (Sirch) Chanthyasack, ILNYF Chair and President of the Laotian American National Alliance (LANA).

“The first of its kind, this inaugural year’s festival provides an opportunity for the overseas Lao community to promote a deeper understanding of our traditions, and to showcase the multi ethnic cultural heritage of the people from Laos,” said Pom Outama Khampradith of the Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF), Pacific Northwest Chapter. “It also represents the coming together of an emerging Lao American community to celebrate an ancestral heritage and to allow us to open our world to a broader general audience.”

“The Lao people celebrate their New Year, Pii May (pronounced Pii-My) or Kut Songkaan according to the ancient Hindu calendar, which falls around April 13th, 14th, or 15th in the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is considered to be the most important and biggest traditional festival in the country which coincides with the end of the dry season and the start of the monsoon season. It is seen as a day of rebirth and purification,” said Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, Executive Director of Center for Lao Studies (CLS).

The first International Lao New Year Festival will feature Lao American cultural exhibits and pavilions showcasing heritage, Kato Lao sport, live concert, music and cultural performances, handicrafts and cuisine. The highlight of the festival also includes the special film screening of Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) co-directed by Thavisouk Phrasavath and Ellen Kuras, 2009 Academy Award® Nominee for Best Documentary Feature and 2009 Independent Spirit Award Nominee for Best Documentary.

A recent update from the Journal of Lao Studies:

For their first issue planned for Fall 2009, the Journal of Lao Studies has chosen four articles which will cover the fields of Anthropology, Economics, Literature, and Diaspora Studies.

In addition to these articles, they have commissioned three reviews of groundbreaking books in Lao Studies in the fields of History, Art, and Political Science. They also have plans for short summaries of recent events in Laos and an interview with a eminent Lao Studies scholar. Because of the high volume of article submissions for the first issue, They are working on issues two and three, and highly encourage submissions for them.

The Journal of Lao Studies (JLS), published by the Center for Lao Studies, is an exciting new scholarly project which is expected to become the first and most prestigious venue in the many disciplines under the umbrella of "Lao Studies." For more information on the Journal of Lao Studies, please visit the Center for Lao Studies website at To submit an article for consideration, please send to:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wat Lao notes: Mae Torani

A statue of Mae Torani (alternately spelled in a variety of ways, including Thorani or Thourani) protecting Buddha is found in many Wat Lao. She is also called upon as a witness during certain ceremonies to share the merit they have made with the deceased. Examples include during ceremonies for weddings, dead ancestors, ordinations, house blessings, etc.

Considered an Earth Goddess in most literature, she was a witness of Buddha’s enlightenment. 
At one point, according to traditional versions of the Buddha's life, the evil Mara sent his three daughters to seduce Buddha and then his army to stop Buddha from attaining enlightenment. The Buddha touched the ground and Mae Thorani, a Goddess of the Earth appeared. She wrung the water from her hair (representing the good merit accumulated by Buddha in his previous lives) and this caused a flood that swept away Mara's daughters & army.

In the Wat Lao in the US, there are a variety of styles to appreciate- almost no two are alike as you can see in the following examples:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthopy Fund MN/CA Groups

As many of you know, I was recently in Oakland to attend a gathering convened by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. 

This was part of the National Gender & Equity Campaign, which celebrated an important milestone February 18, 2009, with a $2.7 million investment in twelve Asian American organizations in both California and Minnesota. This was a major undertaking organized as part of the prestigious NGEC Organizational Fellowship Program. 

For Minnesota, the organizations selected were the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, Centre for Asian Pacific Islanders, Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, Shades of Yellow and Mu Performing Arts, all of whom I've known in one way or another over the years.

In the coming months ahead, I'll be profiling them on my blog and discussing some of the ideas they're working with and whether or not those concepts can work in other states such as the ones I've been traveling to recently as an NEA fellow.

The NGEC believes that Asian American and Pacific Islander grassroots leadership is a vital part of building a more inclusive, effective, and lasting social justice movement.  There will be many changes ahead for all of these groups and those from California, but I believe the trust is well placed and we can expect great things from them.

“NGEC and the Organizational Fellowship Program really represent the core of AAPIP’s commitment to a vision of philanthropy that views community leaders and organizations as critical partners in determining how best to invest in their communities,” Peggy Saika, AAPIP Executive Director said in a statement. “This commitment could not be more important than now – when the need to invest in all communities in the face of a struggling economy is even more important, and valuable gains might be lost without continued support. Philanthropy has a responsibility to step up. And now is that time.”

Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy’s National Gender & Equity Campaign is a demonstration project created by Asian American women to support, engage and strengthen the infrastructure for social justice movement building. 

You can see many of my pictures from the event on my flickr account.

The Lao in Texas

As we take a look at the Lao in Texas, it's important to understand they are the 2nd largest concentration of Lao in the United States, although this figure is in close contention. Minnesota, for example, is considered the third largest state with a Lao population.

Texas is believed to have at least 11,626 ethnic Lao at a minimum living there, according to the Census 2000, but most locals believe this was a grossly undercounted number.

And, of course, it is the home for the first internationally known Laotian American cartoon character, Kohng Koy Kahn Souphanousinphone from King of the Hill.

The major non-profit organization connected with the Lao community in Texas is the Lao American Association in Houston, which was founded in 1997 and Pon B. Chantharaj was among the figures whose name is connected with the group.

Houston maintains a sizable population, as does Dallas/Ft. Worth and particularly Saginaw according to many. There are at least 5 wat lao in Texas: Wat Lao Buddharam in Amarillo, Wat Lao Santidhammaram and Wat Lao Thapnimith in Fort Worth,Wat Phouthasamakhy Lao in Houston and Wat Lao Siribuddhavas near Rockwall.

As in many states, there are also a number of Lao Christian churches in Texas, including the First Laotian Baptist Church in Dallas, the Laotian Baptist Church and the Thai Lao Baptist Church in Fort Worth and the New Hope Lao Baptist Church in Haltom City.

The visual artist Vongduane Manivong calls Texas home. Many other businesses including restaurants, grocery stores and trucking companies that have been identified as part of the Laotian community here. I hope to highlight many of them later as this project goes on!

Kundiman Poet's Retreat: July 8-12, 2009

2009 Kundiman Asian American Poets' Retreat
July 8 - 12, 2009, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

In order to help mentor the next generation of Asian American poets, Kundiman, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Asian American poets, is sponsoring its 6th annual poetry retreat where nationally renowned Asian American poets will conduct workshops and provide one-on-one mentorship sessions with participants.  Kundiman hopes to provide a safe and instructive environment that identifies and addresses the unique challenges faced by emerging Asian American poets.

*  Myung Mi Kim (author of Commons, DURA and Under Flag)
*  Rick Barot (author of The Darker Fall and Want)
*  Staceyann Chin (author of The Other Side of Paradise and pioneering spoken word artist)

To keep the cost of the retreat low, participants are not charged fees for workshops.  Room and Board for the retreat is $325.

Application Process
Send five to seven (5-7) paginated, stapled pages of poetry, with your name included on each page. Include a cover letter with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address and a brief paragraph describing what you would like to accomplish at the Kundiman Asian American Poets' Retreat. Include a SAS postcard if you want an application receipt.  Manuscripts will not be returned. No electronic submissions, please.

Mail application to:
245 Eighth Avenue #151
New York, NY  10011
Submissions must be postmarked by March 2, 2009

For more information, log onto our website at
Questions?  E-mail queries at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nerakhoon up for an Oscar

The big buzz for the Laotian community this month is the Oscars. Nerakhoon was nominated earlier this year, and we'll finally find out if this accalimed documentary will receive the nod it deserves. 

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” goes up against:

  • “Encounters at the End of the World” (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser.
  • “The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy.
  • “Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall in association with Red Box Films Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn.
  • “Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

  • Of course, I've got a bias, but Nerakhoon honestly has very good odds of walking away with the Oscar this year.  

    This film fulfills all of the qualities of a good documentary: An engaging subject presented from a distinctive perspective, and qualities that transcend the historical to the artistic and the aesthetic without ever compromising. 

    I would classify this as a distinctly unique document of one family's experience through the war and resettlement years, one that thankfully also has meaning for both the Laotian and American culture, and for any community in a stage of existence as refugees.

    And it is this unique aspect that I believe will carry it forward as an example of how documentaries can be made. 

    But we'll see on Oscar night! :)

    MN Artists: Playwrights Center Many Voices Program Now Available!

    The Playwrights’ Center invites writers of color residing in Minnesota to apply for a Many Voices playwriting fellowship. Made possible by a grant from the Jerome Foundation, Many Voices provides cash grants, education, and opportunities to develop new work with theater professionals. The program is designed to increase cultural diversity in the contemporary theater, both locally and nationally.

    To serve writers of different levels of experience, two types of fellowship are offered. Two beginning playwrights (with little or no previous playwriting experience) will receive a $1000 stipend, $250 in development funds, and a structured curriculum of playwriting instruction and dramaturgical support. Three emerging playwrights (with previous playwriting experience and/or training) will receive a $3500 stipend, $1000 of development funding, and dramaturgical support. The program also offers each artist a public showcase opportunity and a one-year Playwrights’ Center Membership.

    It's an excellent opportunity. Be sure to check it out!

    Texas Artist: Vongduane Manivong

    Vongduane Manivong is a Laotian American painter popular for her depictions of the daily lives of Laotians around the world, in addition to her figurative work. As part of the first generation of
    Laotian American artists, she exhibits widely across the US including the Midwest,California, Rhode Island, and her home state of Texas.

    Her style evolves frequently and she is regularly commissioned for private portraits reflecting both the subject and her distinctive approach to art. You can visit her online at

    1. People often talk about how the get started in the arts, but less so why they remain in the arts. What's been the driving motivation for you to keep creative?

    Vongduane: Ever since I could remember, art was just something I always wanted to do. I never talk much ever since I was a child, so, art always been cathartic, a way to express and share my emotion without talking about it. I knew that I may not be blessed enough to make a living with my art, but I knew I need to share and grow the gift that have been given to me. Art has been my loyal companion through some rough times, and it has become the strongest ambassador to my passions. Art is a link between love and life. For a moment, you share true, universal emotion with another person.

    2. When is a piece finished, to you?

    Vongduane: It is often difficult to decide when a painting is finished. I'd have to critique the painting from time to time adjusting flaws in a value contrast or color temperature, etc. When painting, I have to be careful adding elements from the imagination without any reference to look at. The will effect the scene in many ways, and things must make sense to be believable. Otherwise, the viewer need not be an expert to "feel" something is wrong with what they are looking at – they just know it. I'd come to the finishing point when I am satisfied with the result and cannot do better.

    3. What's been the biggest surprise for you about the creative process?
    Vongduane: Painting becomes more enjoyful when it provides constant surprises, both in the form of the entire painting and the minute details of a small area. I often work on at least two paintings at once and these will in some way offer parallel and opposing responses to the same emotional moment.

    The more you create, the more ideas come to your mind. Like any other talent or endeavor, the more you do it, the better you become. There's a creative confidence that also grows with every painting. I am always thrilled when anyone asks me about the emotion of my art. Every piece of my art has its own story and its own emotion, and I sincerely enjoy sharing that story with those who are interested enough to ask.

    4. Who have been your persistent inspirations for your art?
    Vongduane: Although other artists, nature, people and relationships have tremendously inspired me, I have arrived at my style through my own experience, my own thoughts and my own philosophy. I have always painted what concerns me as a person and how I view things. A show for me is like opening my diary for people to see. Every show is a reflection that teaches me and gives me another tangent to follow. My fascination with the human emotion and form can be easily felt when viewing my work in person.

    5. What was your most difficult piece to complete so far?

    I would say I haven't had the most difficult piece so far. 

    However, I have found that working in the art industry has provided me with a very fortunate challenge. Keeping up with the demand from galleries and collectors while still balancing my home life has been challenging.

    6. What are some of your next projects you're working on?
    Vongduane: I have lots of ideas and views of what I wanted to paint for my personal projects. I am currently working on pieces that depict the Lao children and their surroundings. The newest piece of work I am pretty excited about is titled "Children at Play/The Marble Shooters."

    The everyday lives of people and their surroundings are my inspiration. I love the interplay of light and shadows and the details in expressions. I constantly accept commission work from clients as well.

    In addition, I will continue to travel, meet people and be inspired to create. I have been blessed with many wonderful years in art, and like many, I look forward to the years to come. I won't be putting away my easel any time soon – in fact, I never will!

    Chicago Artist: Chantala Kommanivanh

    One of the emerging Laotian American visual artists in Chicago is Chantala Kommanivanh, who was born in 1982 in the Thai refugee camps to Laotian parents. He has studied at Northeastern Illinois University and engages in a wide range of artistic disciplines, including audio work as part of a hip hop duo. He's performing and presenting widely.

    From July to August, 2008 he was part of an exhibition at All Rise Gallery in Chicago, with his series 'One Sole Journey.' 

    Here is an interview with him on Vimeo:

    Artist Chantala Kommanivanh from Lao Music on Vimeo.

    It's always encouraging to see new voices and perspectives emerging within the community, and Kommanivanh demonstrates a great deal of talent that will make him one to watch in the coming years ahead. New City Art also has a nice interview with him.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    New Poem on CHA: An Asian Literary Journal

    I have a new poem up at Cha, a Hong Kong literary journal. I always enjoy having my work presented there. A special heads up regarding the work of my colleague Ching-In Cheng, who also appears in this issue.

    She is releasing her new book, The Heart's Traffic, this year.

    I'm very excited for her, and hope to have an update for you very soon about her work and process. Congratulations, Ching-In!

    I've previously interviewed her: 


    The Royal Lao Classical Dancers of Tennessee

    One of the great treasures of the Laotian community in Tennessee and arguably, for the Laotian community living abroad, are the Royal Lao Classical Dancers, a troupe founded by the former Royal Lao Dancers Khamdy and Bangthong Chindavanh in 1997.

    With their love of the cultural heritage and a goal to preserve the beauty of Lao culture, the Chindavanhs along with Mr. Sonnikhom Vanachitt, Ms. Vilayphone Kounlavong, and Ms. Thongchanh Sounthonevichit formed the Royal Lao Classical Dancers. Initially, the dancers were the children and relatives of these founders, but over time the RLCD grew bigger and better every day and continues to be in great demand across the country and around the world.

    They practice every Sunday from 1 to 4PM at the Lao Buddhist Temple of Nashville in Antioch at 14131 Old Hickory Boulevard. You can e-mail them at or call 615-962-4926 for more information.

    Here's a brief interview with several of the senior members of the dance troupe:

    The Green Mango in Tennessee

    In Murfreesboro, The Green Mango is a Laotian-owned business that broke new ground in the city as the first shop to serve bubble tea there. The Green Mango is located near the Middle Tennessee State University campus at 1513 E. Main St.

    Like several businesses established by Laotians in Tennessee, The Green Mango blends several functions to meet the diverse needs of its clients. In addition to being a coffee shop, it features free wi-fi internet, entertainment via a 47" flatscreen TV, a Southeast Asian deli and a small grocery store, and the Khammoungs are expanding several offerings depending on the interests of their regular customers.

    Founded by brother and sister Jack and Tina Khammoung in November, 2008, after Jack was bought out by Nissan, this is a very fun little shop that's just starting to make itself known.

    There's a lot to recommend about the shop, which is well-decorated and well-stocked, providing a great atmosphere for shoppers and students for either quick visits or extended stops to visit and study between classes.

    The Lao in Illinois

    Current estimates suggest there are nearly 6,000 Laotians living in Illinois with 517 in Chicago, 1,190 in Rockford and over 4,000 in Elgin and nearby areas like Handover Park, Streamwood, South Elgin, St. Charles, Carpentersville and Algonquin. This figure, like many across the US, is believed to be undercounted. As a side note, the Lue community has a significant population near Rockford.

    In Chicago, locals believe most Laotians reside in Albany Park and the Uptown neighborhoods and a few in Niles. Uptown was particularly affordable during the original resettlement period of the early 1980s.

    The average income is believed to be about $42,445, with many from the first generation working in factories, while second-generation Laotians with more education are working in more skilled professions.

    Currently, there are five major Wat Lao in Illinois: two in Elgin, one in Hampshire and two in Rockford.

    There are several known organizations in Illinois including Lao American Organization of Illinois, the Lao American Community Center, Lao American Community Services, Lao Community Health Project and the Southeast Asian Youth Program at the YWCA of Elgin.

    There are also at least two regularly practicing Laotian visual artists, and a number of writers, musicians and film-makers based here.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    The Lao community in the Bay

    California is, of course, the state with the largest population of Lao in the United States for many different reasons. Here, there are many issues the community faces along with many other refugee and immigrant groups. In April, I will be traveling to do more research about the current state of the Lao community and differences in the ways of life in the Bay area, the Valley and other parts of the state as part of my NEA fellowship. But here are some photos from my recent trip to the Oakland/San Francisco/Richmond area, and a meeting with Dr. Vinya Sysamouth from the Center for Lao Studies.

    Monday, February 09, 2009

    A Big Thanks To Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo

    One of the great things about my recent travels was being able to reconnect with the great poets Barbara Jane Reyes (Poeta En San Francisco and Gravities of Center) and Oscar Bermeo, who took me on a great tour of Oakland after the APIP/NGEC Conference in February. (More details on that later.) A very special shout-out to them for their amazing hospitality and for always reminding me what a joy it is to be in the company of fellow writers passionate about the craft. And I got to see Jack London and Punk Zebras this time around...

    Here are some other recent shots from my trip to Oakland!

    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    My 2009 NEA Work Sample

    As previously promised earlier this year, for those of you who are curious, here is my NEA Work Sample in order to help future applicants de-mystify the process and to see the examples of my writing that were presented to the NEA review committee.

    NEA Literature Fellowships are awarded to published creative writers of exceptional talent in the areas of prose and poetry to advance the goal of encouraging and supporting artistic creativity and preserving our diverse cultural heritage. The NEA was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, and the Endowment is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts.

    This year, out of over 1,000 applications received from across the country, only 42 were awarded after being judged by 10 of the country’s leading poets. The award for poetry comes only once every 2 years. The award also comes with $25,000 for I and other poets to continue our work.

    Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    A Heart At Home in Many Places: MTSU Reading 2/3/09

    Here are some pictures from my recent reading at Middle Tennessee State University. It was a great performance, and one of the classic ones I'll treasure for a lifetime. Thank you all for your amazing support, and I look forward to the next time we can all come together! :)

    A very special thanks to the Virginia Peck Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Yuan-ling Chao and the many MTSU departments and Laotian American Outreach who all made this evening possible!

    Laotian Americans in Tennessee

    Here are some first glimpses of the Lao community in Tennessee, particularly near the Murfreesboro and Nashville area. Tennessee has a population of nearly 7,000 Lao who began arriving in the US as early as 1972.

    Many are employed by companies such as Nissan, Bridgestone and previously Samsonite. Local residents typically cite at least five to six Lao-owned businesses in Murfreesboro, including grocery stores like the Oriental Food Market on Church Street. The Oriental Food Market has been one of the oldest businesses owned by Lao for nearly 20 years. There are two Lao police officers in Tennessee.

    There are a few new Lao businesses emerging, including the Green Mango on 1513 E. Main Street. Green Mango operates as a bubble tea wi-fi cafe and international grocery store, and is owned by first-time business owners Tina and Jack Khammoung. They started the business in November, 2008.

    Another interesting example of Lao-owned businesses in Tennessee is the Golden Express, a Murfreesboro restaurant located in a multipurpose building that houses several other businesses including a grocery store, a hair salon and an auto repair shop.

    One of the most active and effective organizations in Tennessee is Laotian American Outreach, reflecting a contemporary energy and interest in community engagement and empowerment. Other organizations that have been part of the process include the Laotian Refugee Resettlement Association and the International Lao American Organization.

    There are approximately 10 Lao churches in Tennessee, with the oldest of these being the Lighthouse Lao Thai Baptist Church in Antioch. Most have congregations between 40 to 100 people. Their activities range from revivals and hosting guest speakers from Laos and Thailand to fundraisers for the church and special causes. The majority of the Lao churches are Baptist churches.

    One of the earliest locations where the community resettled in Tennessee was in the Bridge Avenue government housing projects, but eventually almost all of the families moved out to live in their own homes around the state.

    Many Lao funerals have been held at the Jennings and Ayers Funeral Home and the Woodfin Funeral Home in Murfreesboro. In Nashville, the Woodlawn Funeral Home is the one that sees the most frequent use by the community.

    Many Lao students aspire to go to University of Tennessee but also often choose Middle Tennessee State University because of its price and location near their families. Tennessee State University is another popular college choice.

    Tennessee is also home to the Royal Lao Classical Dancers, who currently practice in the newer of the two main wats in Tennessee.

    Many Lao get their news from a Lao Language program on Channel 3 public access TV.

    Chantho Sourinho is the first Laotian to resettle in Tennessee, arriving in the state in 1972 as a student and remaining after the end of the war in 1975 to assist others in resettling in the US. Soy Mountry and Gai Phanalasy and their families are excellent examples of the emerging youth leadership in Tennessee, working together to mobilize the community and reaching out to other cultures across the state to build a positive understanding of one another.

    The Laotian American rock singer Ketsana also makes her home here.

    Tennessee is also the home for Laotian American writers Kanya Lai and Addy Willoughby, among several others. Many Lao in Tennessee have very eclectic tastes in literature and their writing reflects very unique personal priorities.

    A wide range of entertainment is available in Tennessee for those fond of both urban and outdoor activities. True to form, soccer remains one of the most popular activities for the Lao here, in addition to basketball. Snowboarding is also gaining popularity.

    In the nearby cities, there are several bars and live music cafes for many different musical tastes. There are no casinos in Tennessee. Most would go to nearby casinos in Mississippi or else to Las Vegas, where many hold bachelor or bachelorette parties.

    Consistently, Lao in Tennessee stress the importance of education and preserving culture through language and the arts. Some, like the Royal Lao Classical Dancers, lament that many of the best programs they could present are not possible because of a lack of funding despite the great interest by many inside and outside of the community for their work. Overall, there is much to remain optimistic about, considering the significant growth and advances of the community in the last 37 years already.

    I'll be sharing more thoughts soon!

    Wat Lao, TN

    This is the oldest wat in Tennessee, located along a quite drive through the countryside past an old Civil War battlefield and cemetary. It's a quiet compound, with wide space and great care taken maintain the grounds. Here, the temple is kept safe by many kittens and there are several roosters who also wander freely around the complex.