Monday, April 06, 2009

Lori Phanachone Takes A Stand, Loses NHS Membership in Iowa

According to a new release by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Storm Lake School District in Iowa just revoked Laotian American senior Lori Phanachone's National Honor Society membership as part of the repurcussions for her refusal to take a demeaning and racist English proficiency exam. 

The AALDEF is calling for the immediate reinstatement of her membership, and I wholeheartedly concur and stand behind Lori Phanachone on this matter. The Storm Lake School District's oppressive treatment of Lori Phanachone is unconscionable and reprehensible. 

As a former National Honor Society Key Member and a recipient of the Deborah Kolander Memorial Scholarship for Service (Saline, Michigan chapter) this revocation strikes me to the core and offends me at the highest level, and I intend to protest to the national office of the National Honor Society on this matter. 

Lori Phanachone is engaged in a credible and meaningful act of conscience. It had been my sincere hope that the Storm Lake School District would do all that is possible to bring this protest to a peaceful and satisfactory resolution that can meet the needs of the entire community. This unfortunately appears to be less likely with each passing day.

Lori Phanachone had been an exemplary student with a 3.98 GPA, a model of original thinking and outstanding character. As the daughter of refugees, she has time and time again been asked to adapt to new situations and excel. She has fulfilled these requirements well above and beyond what is expected of her and she has my deep admiration for achieving this. 

As a Laotian American, Lori Phanachone comes from a community that survived a devastating civil war for our homeland, a war that killed, maimed and displaced over a million of our people. Today, over 400,000 Laotians are attempting to rebuild our lives in the US. 5,000 of them live in Iowa.  

This transition has not always been easy. Many of us live below the poverty line. But we recognize the importance of education and the role school plays in our lifelong success. An old Laotian aphorism says a head full of knowledge is worth more than a tray full of money. Lori Phanachone has clearly taken this lesson to heart.

According to the Census 2000, less than 7% of the Laotian community had graduated from college at the time. Less than 1 out of 10. I hope you can see why our community is so deeply interested in her case and why we hope for the best for Lori Phanachone.

Lori Phanachone represents a new generation of bright, intelligent youth of good character with unlimited potential to make a positive difference in our community and the world.

Laotians fought and died for freedom and the highest principles along with our allies. Given many conditions of our world today, now, more than ever, we, who have lost so much in that fight, cannot turn our backs blindly. To do so would dishonor the memory of every veteran and our families who wanted a better society for us, who sought a world where we would be free to express our heritage and to work with one another to make something far greater than the sum of our losses.

It is my hope that Lori Phanachone's case will be resolved humanely and that her protest will be taken in its proper spirit, as an exercise of democratic principle and idealism. I hope the residents of Storm Lake can recognize the greater importance, not in the mere lockstep exercise of policy, but the exercise of compassion and reason, removing references to Lori's suspension and disciplinary action from her records and refraining from further punitive action.

I hope Storm Lake can recognize the unique and positive treasure Lori truly represents and support her in her efforts to continue to achieve and excel, not only for the good of her people but for all people. I have no doubt she will ultimately succeed in life, and it would be a much greater story to say that she succeeded because of, not in spite of, the educators and families of Storm Lake.

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