Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Technology and Lao American story telling

Learning about the Secret War is a series of hard lessons. But it's important for youth to understand they are capable of the gift of life. This is a very powerful notion. We need to instill in our youth the knowledge that the everyday person has the strength to stand up and say no to the worst in human nature and to stand up for what's right. That's what it would have taken for us to avert some of the worst moments in human history.

When I speak to young Lao students I try to emphasize that even in the worst times, there were brave, heroic people who chose the moral and the ethical acts, who put their lives on the line to help people. This is very much within our tradition.

In planning conversations for the Living Arts Outreach project, the decision has since been made to focus on developing a Lao American storytelling corps in North Minneapolis that effectively grows our neighborhood memory while finding innovative ways to share and express that journey.

Thanks to support from CURA's ANPI program, we have been doing the majority of our work at the Harrison Community Center. This has been chosen because it's where our community feels most connected to Lao Assistance Center services for close to a decade now. Our core constituents are Lao American refugee families historically been underserved by the arts. Hopefully in future years, other communities across the country will be able to find similar programs that will invest in such a process.

Today there are approximately 230,000 Lao in the U.S., many whose stories have yet to be documented. Technology will be instrumental in keeping the lessons of the Lao diaspora alive for tomorrow's generations. Films, photo galleries, interactive exhibits, digital books, documentaries, even writing contests for schools and other techniques will all be essential, and hopefully avert future wars involving our community.

Technology has changed much, especially the ways we communicate with one another. We know that the seeds for conflict, for hatred and oppression are still very real. But we also have opportunities for victims to be heard and to find advocates for their struggles. This will not be without challenges however.

Overall we need to remember that the arts and artists can play a strong role in community revitalization efforts and we can see extensive growth as a result of this process. We need to ask how can we build the leadership and power of low-income communities, communities of color, youth, people with disabilities or other historically excluded communities? We can't be afraid to start by focusing in a neighborhood or specific geographic area.

Traditionally, Lao elders have provided stability and have been the bearers and gatekeepers of culture and tradition. Our elders provided wisdom and experience that was necessary for the survival of the family. However, immigration to the U.S. brought the need for knowledge and skills different than that required back in Laos. So to many, the knowledge held by Lao elders in the U.S. has come to be viewed as obsolete, resulting in a deterioration of their status in the community.

Preparing youth with advanced educational degrees (i.e., law, medicine, education) is viewed as an investment in the future which serves to empower the extended family (including the elders) and the Lao American community as a whole. We can make a big difference through effective story telling. But that doesn't come from telling just the success stories. We need to be upfront about our stories to include genuine struggles and challenges.

No comments: