Monday, May 09, 2011

Laotian American heritage: May 9th

I'm always excited to celebrate Laotian American heritage during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Perhaps it comes from my background as an adoptee, but I still find new things to appreciate each year and it's a constant learning process. 

When you have 31 days in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, you could take the time to learn about a new country every day.

If you were take on this task, you could study:
Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma/Myanmar (Shan and the Karen, among others), Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Federated States of Midway Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii's, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Laos (Hmong, Lao, Tai Dam, Khmu, Iu Mien and over 82 different ethnicities who live there), Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Nauru, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Zealand, North Korea, Northern Mariana Islands, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tahiti, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tibet, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, and Vietnam (including the recently arrived Montagnards (Rhade,Bahnar, Jarai, Koho and Mnong).

And that's just a start.

What are the signs of a culture? What are the elements of our heritage? Besides just learning the history, you should learn the dreams and see the different arcs and strains of thought a society has had throughout their journeys to be a people.

Today one of my projects was trying to identify Lao American writers and artists who could be included in an anthology covering 1991 to 2011. I was delighted to be able to quickly identify over 70 of us.

I admit, I was filled with a deep desire to see the great Lao American Library produced, where we might see at least fifty, if not more, of these writers and artists bring a book forward.

Books that might be considered an essential part of the intellectual and cultural body of every Laotian American home, so that we as a community might see the many fascinating ways each of us has explored what it means to be Laotian, American, Laotian American and human in this time, in a way that might speak to tomorrow's youth and wisdom keepers.

Not all 70 are anywhere near ready to have a book come out, but I know that in 36 years we've seen less than a book a year come from our own voices, on our own terms, and that troubles me for a community of over 200,000 rebuilding their lives here.

Today, when I sit in a bookstore, I see all of these vast rows and shelves and it's hard to imagine filling even a single case with books by our community.

The matter becomes somewhat tragic for me when I run into fellow writers who've felt great defeat and despair, who tell me of their friends and families who told them they couldn't do it. That no one would read them. No one would care about their stories or their perspectives.

It breaks my heart to hear so many people who've heard that. I've heard it, too. I still have people who occasionally come up to me and suggest I just give up as a writer, but I ignored it and pressed on. Still, I wonder how many amazing stories we've lost because we wouldn't treasure the voices among us in our own lifetimes.

I look at many a bookcase today and see the books that should have been there. And I write. I hope in celebrating our heritage, others, too, will say it matters, and add their voices to the great tapestry of the human journey, as best they can. That, in my estimation, would be one of the best ways to celebrate our heritage.

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