Thursday, November 03, 2011

Lao festival vendors: Expecting more

If you've been to Lao celebrations across the US over the last few years, you know one of the consistently frustrating things is finding good examples of Lao art and literature. Culture. Food, yes, culture, no. Increasingly, expressing our culture is pushed to the background in favor of quick sales and easy cash.

Over the long-run this undermines our community efforts to preserve and transmit our heritage to the next generation.

Typically, we see tents set up like this:

Cheap, disposable culture. We can't be too surprised when it leads to scenes like this at the temple:

Among other dramas.

On the one hand, this is a festival, and it's not the environment to be bringing in priceless antiques. But at the same time, as a community we can and ought to do more to encourage vendors to seek wares to sell that are of genuine interest for our community and build community character.

We wouldn't put up with a Lao festival that doesn't sell tom mak hung or awesome barbecue. Why do we put up with festival vendors who are basically toy weapons dealers or trying to peddle shoddy goods that promote the cheapest vision of what our culture can be?

We can and must expect more. As we approach 2555, the Year of the Dragon, we should approach it with good humor and a festive heart, but we also need to show some spine and be clear that vendors should offer something that adds to the true spirit of the event.

This isn't to say everyone must sell the same thing. Far from it. in fact, were we to actively encourage it and support it, it could become quite exciting to see all of the amazing approaches people have to express their sense of connection to not only our tradition, but our vision of the future. Things beyond slogans.

Without it, pretty soon, Lao festivals will degenerate into little more than mere gatherings, with no greater sense of cultural expression than a t-shirt or two with 'LOA PRIDE' scribbled on it and kids wondering why we bother to call it a Lao event at all. And they'd be right to call us out on it.

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