Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Doxiepunk: Dachshund Adventure of the Week

"Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!"
Monrovia, CA

Pastry Pets Blitz arrives!

Delighted one of my long-time students, Renee Ya, has completed the development of her new game, Pastry Pets Blitz. through Tiger Byte Studios. "The cutest matching game around! Over 20+ Pastry Pets to collect. Can you level up your pets before the time runs out? "

I'm looking forward to finding some dachshunds in the mix later, but in the meantime, this has been very fun, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Happy Birthday, Betsy Huang!

Today is the birthday of celebrated author and editor Betsy Huang!

Betsy Huang is an associate professor of English and former inaugural Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion at Clark University. She is the author of Contesting Genres in Contemporary Asian American Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), in which she examines the political implications of narrative form for Asian Americans who write highly conventionalized genre fiction--immigrant fiction, crime fiction, and science fiction.

She is also co-editor, along with David Roh and Greta Niu, of the essay collection Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media (Rutgers University Press, 2015). Her current research examines plague allegories and racial critique in contemporary speculative fiction.

Techno-Orientalism was an exceptional read that I've recommended to many of my students in order to appreciate the issues that will be considered as we develop the Laomagination project, and other works of Asian American speculative art in the decades ahead. Assuming the Clown Apocalypse doesn't rear its ridiculous yet terrifying head first.

Her work has appeared in Journal of Asian American Studies, MELUS, and The Asian American Literary Review. For CTRL+ALT, she hosted the Nerds of Color Reading Lounge with Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis and Keith Chow and co-curating a series of fan fiction by speculate fiction writers, poets, and comic artists, including myself.

As is so often the case, I first met Betsy in 2008 virtually through mutual colleagues in the Asian American Studies circles, and somehow found myself regularly challenging her to games of Scrabble at the beginning of 2009. Though she's usually careful at concealing her nature as a toaster, make no mistake, she's quite shiny and chrome.

It hadn't been until the Association of Asian American Studies Conference in Evanston, Illinois that I was able to confirm, albeit briefly, that she was in fact quite corporeal and not a very clever AI. It was a delight to have a chance to finally work with her so closely as part of the CTRL+ALT project of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. I also had a chance to meet her wonderful family, and I look forward to all that they will achieve in the decades ahead.

So here's to a great community builder, an imaginative, compassionate and compelling voice and a wonderful friend and educator. Read her words and be changed by them.

Guillermo del Toro's At Home With Monsters

I'm excited for Minnesota because the Guillermo del Toro exhibition At Home With Monsters is coming in 2017 after it's finished at the LACMA. The wonderful Lao American artist Jo Bangphraxay and I had the chance to to see it and it's taken a while for me to process it all because there were so many inspiring ideas on display. It challenges the way we organizing one's imaginative thoughts into action. The exhibit certainly speaks well to the benefits of collecting over one's lifetime. Per the exhibition introduction:
"Guillermo del Toro (b. 1964) is one of the most inventive filmmakers of his generation. Beginning with Cronos (1993) and continuing through The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Pacific Rim (2013), and Crimson Peak (2015), among many other film, television, and book projects, del Toro has reinvented the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Working with a team of craftsmen, artists, and actors—and referencing a wide range of cinematic, pop-culture, and art-historical sources—del Toro recreates the lucid dreams he experienced as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico. He now works internationally, with a cherished home base he calls “Bleak House” in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Taking inspiration from del Toro’s extraordinary imagination, the exhibition reveals his creative process through his collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art. Rather than a traditional chronology or filmography, the exhibition is organized thematically, beginning with visions of death and the afterlife; continuing through explorations of magic, occultism, horror, and monsters; and concluding with representations of innocence and redemption."

There's a visual poetry to the way the Guillermo del Toro has arranged the exhibit, guiding us through five specific but interlocking themes. It's reminiscent of a Cabinet of Curiosities, one with all of the bells and whistles one could have hoped for. It engages you across multiple senses and I applaud that.

We can see the influence of classical artists, as well as more modern voices. At Home With Monsters is arranged in such a way that we can see what's guiding Guillermo del Toro's present work, and what we've gotten away from in horror and the fantastic compared to the early years.

I felt it spoke to the need for an interdisciplinary engagement with speculative art. You can't get the good stuff without reading both highbrow and lowbrow literature, both the classics and pulp material.

You need it all. Visual artwork and sculptures, as well as an appreciation for cinema from the early years to the present. A sense of history, but those things that also have no basis in fact and the empirical. Much of the exhibit also spoke to a sense of Guillermo del Toro being part of a tradition that goes back centuries, and the need for all of us to respect that. Of course there was an extensive homage to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Mary Shelly.

A significant amount of attention is given to the exploration of the Frankenstein story, which was fitting considering 2016 was the bicentennial of the dare that led to the creation of this classic horror story. I felt the exhibit gave audiences a thorough opportunity to consider and grapple with the meaning of Frankenstein as a text, as cinema, and in the many other art forms he's been depicted in.

For those of us who are making a sincere study of it, del Toro's presentation is quite thoughtful and I think it pushes us to appraise the possibilities in the tale beyond what we've satisfied ourselves with over the last decade or so. In Frankenstein, we see the intersection between art and science, religion, society, alienation and the quest for meaning. But different art forms can add new subtleties and shades of nuance we can expand upon. Take a look at Frankenstein and consider its thematic and visual influences in Guillermo del Toro's films, for example, such as Pan's Labyrinth or Pacific Rim.

Overall the exhibition has more than enough for the causal enthusiast of not only del Toro's work but science fiction, fantasy, and horror in general.

But the exhibit stands out for its meat for professional artists and writers and I would certainly recommend multiple visits as well as visiting the rest of whatever institution it's shared with because I think it's the rare kind of exhibit that stands alone well, but also helps you view the rest of the standing collection of a museum with a new appreciation. See it if you can!

Happy Birthday, Lorianna Izrailova!

Happy birthday this week to actress and model Lorianna Izrailova, whose work I enjoyed in the short-lived series, Limitless, where she played the character "Andrea Who Knows Things," Had the show been picked up for Season 2 she might have become a popular series regular. It would have been great to see her character expanded and fleshed out more.

was based on a film I wasn't particularly thrilled with, but the approach the show took was a surprisingly entertaining, often goofy procedural that took comedic and narrative risks. That's a good thing. At times it reminded me of the classic anime, Cowboy Bebop in the way different episodes played with the tropes of other genres. Very often, they asked questions you never knew you wanted answered. For example, "What if Ferris Bueller had been a Black Ops story?" If you get a chance, binge it on Netflix and encourage them to greenlight a second season.

But in the meantime, here's her current biography, and I look forward to seeing where her career takes her next:

Lorianna Izrailova moved to United States from Russia at the age of thirteen and has lived in Brooklyn, NY since. At a very young age she showed a great enthusiasm for the arts: dancing, singing, gymnastics, performed in local shows and on TV back at home. She attended Edward R. Murrow HS and went on to get her college degree at Bernard M. Baruch College. She was always a great student and a very creative person as well, expressing the love for fashion and taking on a leadership role within her school community.

She was discovered as a model during her late teens and when the opportunity presented itself, she decided to pursue it full time upon graduation. At the same time, she enrolled in various acting classes and discovered her new passion in life-acting; after that her world completely changed. Modeling jobs led to Film/TV auditions and shortly after she booked the role on popular TV sitcoms “Ugly Betty” on ABC and “Are We There Yet?” on TBS. She’s currently filming the second season of new media web series “Back to Basics” and just finished filming two short films; “Sketch” and “Bayonet”, both scheduled to be submitted to national and international film festivals.

Lorianna loves to travel and even studied abroad in Italy for a month. She speaks fluently in Russian, conversational in Farsi and basic in Italian and Spanish. She enjoys basketball, tennis, salsa dancing, cooking, reading and giving back through continuous charity work. But above all, acting is her passion and she’s so excited about her new journey. She says, “I act because I want to experience life” and “I feel alive and related when I am on stage which gives me a great amount of emotional release”.

And of course you can follow her on Instagram at:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Angry Reader of the Week!

This week I had the honor of being interviewed by the long-standing Asian American blog, Angry Asian Man, which celebrated 15 years this February, by my best guess. We discussed what I do as a poet and community builder, and of course, "what get me angry."

I thank everyone over there for taking the time to get to know me and to let me have a chance to share a bit about the work I do with speculative poetry as well as with the Lao American community in diaspora.

Give it a read, and be sure to check out the rest of their posts. They keep you informed and up to speed on a lot of the things you really need to know! And knowing is half the battle!

Resistance, Radio Heart December 8th at Kearny Street Workshop

On Thursday, Decemebr 8th at Kearny Street Workshop, they will convene Resistance, Radio Heart to bring together the community for many reasons including a chapbook launch, a party, and a special award ceremony. The MC will be Paul Ocampo, a Board Member of Kearny Street Workshop.

The aim is to gather artists, activists, citizens of the bay area, in resistance and solidarity. They will dance, drink, and poetry. The exhibit will include specialty books by The Mystery Parade.

This event celebrates the publication of Radio Heart; or, How Robots Fall Out of Love (Finishing Line Press, 2016) by Margaret Rhee. Many of these poems were written with the guidance of Truong Tran and Kearny Street Workshop. The organizers want to take time to honor where the poetry emerged from. "We write together, and not alone."

Scheduled performers include Debbie Yee, Oscar Bermeo, Maria Fiani, Virgie Tovar, Sean Y Manzano, Isela Ford and of course, Margaret Rhee.

 A ceremony will be held to honor artist and poet Truong Tran for years of service, mentorship, and friendship to writers and artists of color in the Bay Area. to celebrate and express their gratitude for his indomitable, gorgeous radical spirit fighting for what is fair and good. This award will be given by CAPRE (Concerned Artists and Poets for Racial Equity) in light of the post-elections, and the need for resistance. They will celebrate Truong with testimonials of his mentorship and impact of his art and poetry, they also invite attendees to share their words of resistance in the space.


Truong Tran
is a poet and visual artist. His publications include, The Book of Perceptions (Kearny Street Workshop 1999, finalist in The Kiriyama Book Prize), Placing The Accents (Apogee Press 1999, finalist in the Western States Book Prize for Poetry), dust and conscience (Apogee Press 2000, awarded the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Prize), within the margin (Apogee Press 2004) and Four Letter Words (Apogee Press 2008). He is the recipient of four San Francisco Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Grants in Writing, one in visual arts, An Arts Council of Silicon Valley Grant, a California Arts Council Grant, a Creative Work Fund Grant and a Fund For Poetry Grant.

Truong lives and works in San Francisco and is currently the visiting Professor of Poetry at Mills College. Truong's poetry has been widely translated in Dutch, French, Vietnamese and Spanish. His collection Dust and Conscience was translated and published in Spanish in 2010 . His Artwork has been shown at Intersection for the Arts, Kearny Street Workshop, and the California Historical Society. In February of 2010, Truong had his first solo exhibition at The Mina Dresden Gallery in San Francisco. In 2011, Truong presented both his visual and written work at the Smithsonian Gallery in Washington DC. In the same year, he along with Former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass were featured US writers at The Poetry Festival International, in Rotterdam. Truong's work has been featured in Interview Magazine Russia, The Huffington Post, The Independent UK, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Post. In March of 2015, Truong debuted his installation entitled "Framed Targets" at The California Institute of Integral Studies. He continues to teach, write and make art in San Francisco.

When asked by a student "Why are you here?," he responded "I am here to remind you of what you left behind, what you are leaving at the door, what you left at home and what you left of yourselves so that you could cross this threshold, step into the house so that you can see yourselves written and rendered as other. I am here not just as a reminder. I am here should you need me. I am digging a tunnel beneath the house, rock by rock and spoon by spoon. Follow the trail should you need me, should you choose to join me. Bring a spoon. We will do this together."


Isela Ford, born in Mexico and later emigrated to San Francisco, in the mid-seventies, is committed to improving the lives of marginalized peoples and creating opportunities for their voices to be heard. Growing up in the Mission District during the 1970's and 1980's set the foundation for learning, growing, and appreciating people and cultures from all walks of life. Her appreciation and commitment uplifting disenfranchised people, particularly people of color, led her to work for the SF Department of Public Health, specifically working with adults in SF jails for over 15 years.

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of four poetry chapbooks, most recently, To the Break of Dawn. He has taught creative writing workshops to inmates in Rikers Island Penitentiary, at-risk youth in the Bronx, foster teens in San Jose, bilingual elementary students in Oakland, and to adults through the Oakland Public Library's Oakland Word program. He is a Bronx Recognizes Its Own, CantoMundo, San Francisco Intergenerational Writers Lab, and VONA: Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation poetry fellow. Oscar makes his home in Oakland, with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes. For more information, please visit:

Maria Fiani is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies and Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. Her academic work focuses on P.T.S.D., moral injury, and suicide; in addition to her academic life, she is an ARC fellow, a YBCA arts fellow, co-founder of the Life Writing Student and New Scholar Network and co-founder of an art collective titled (Un)Forbidden: a Valediction

Paul Ocampo was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the US at eleven years old. He earned a Master's degree in Asian American Studies at UCLA and MFA in creative writing at ASU. He has been published in anthologies and magazines including Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace and The New Engagement. He currently works at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.

Virgie Tovar travels around the world lecturing on the social effects of fat discrimination and diet culture. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4 week online course designed for women who want to break up with diet culture but don't know how. She started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. Tovar has been featured by the New York Times, Tech Insider, Al Jazeera and NPR.

Sean Labrador Y Manzano lives on the island off the coast of Oakland. He edited Conversations at the Wartime Café; curated the reading series Mixer 2.0.; organized the symposium “From Trauma to Catharsis: Performing the Asian Avant-Garde;” performed as Jose Rizal in the jazz choreo-poem, Das Kapital, Volume 4, Elimination of the Industrial Phase and the Accumulation of Debt. His current projects examine graduate student suicide, H.D. and colonialism, Balikatan, and race and violence.

Debbie Yee’s poems appear in The Best American Poetry, Chattahoochee Review, Fence, and other publications. A Kundiman fellow and past S.F. Arts Commission grantee, she is a lawyer, baker, mom, and your friend.

Margaret Rhee is an artist and scholar engaged in the poetics and technologies of difference. As a poet, she is the author of Radio Heart; or How Robots Fall Out of Love, and the recipient of poetry fellowships from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop and Kundiman. Her project The Kimchi Poetry Machine was sponsored by the UC Invention Lab and selected to exhibit at the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3. Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at the University of Oregon. In 2014, she earned her Ph.D. in ethnic studies, with a designated emphasis in new media studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

Kearny Street Workshop is located at 1246 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103. Founded as an artist collective in 1972, it is the oldest multidisciplinary arts nonprofit addressing Asian Pacific American issues. The organization's mission is to produce and present art that enriches and empowers Asian Pacific American communities.

Thanks, LOSCON!

A big thanks to everyone who came to join us at the LOSCON 2016 panel of Science Fiction Poetry and the after-panel discussion. Like many panels we've convened at conventions across the country over the last few years, the attendance gave us a good sense of how much more there is to go in building a fuller awareness and appreciation of speculative poetry.

Overall, I emerged grateful and energized to keep pressing forward with this, because it's clear there's so much that can and should be done to help one another as fellow poets, as kindred spirits. You can find my photos of LOSOCON here.

A special thanks to Denise Dumars who helped to place the SFPA presence at LOSCON into historical perspective for me, and to Jaymee Goh for helping to get us a formal slot in the programming this year.

It was great to meet our fellow co-panelist Nikia Chaney who had some intriguing perspectives regarding experimental poetics and where that might intersect with speculative poetics.

Also, seriously, you've got to see this dinosaur they had walking around. Kids today don't know how good they have it.

"Clever girl..."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, Brandy Lien Worrall!

Happy birthday to Vietnamese American poet and memoirist, Brandy Lien Worrall! I've had the joy and privilege of reading her work and performing with her over the years, most recently in 2015 in the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin and while sharing a table together at the Association for Asian American Studies conference in Evanston, Illinois. 

Brandy Liên Worrall ( is the author of eight collections of poetry (the podBrandy series), and has been the editor of numerous magazines, journals, and anthologies. She is the owner and editor of Rabbit Fool Press, a small family-owned-and-operated publishing company based in Vancouver. Brandy received her MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA in 2002 and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in 2012. She is represented by the Anne McDermid & Associates Literary Agency.

What Doesn’t Kill Us chronicles Brandy’s journey with an aggressive, rare breast cancer at the age of 31. The book reflects on the parallels between her experiences with cancer, and her American father’s and Vietnamese mother’s trauma and survival during and after the Vietnam War. Her tale crosses borders, from rural, Amish-country Pennsylvania, where Brandy had grown up, to Vancouver, where she lived with her parents, husband, and two young children while enduring aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy.

What Doesn't Kill Us also explores the enduring legacy of chemical warfare on three generations. That both of her parents had been heavily exposed to Agent Orange does not escape Brandy, who searches for reasons why she would have cancer despite not having a family history, as well as having had epilepsy as a child. She also wonders how this exposure has touched her own children. Brandy tells her story with razor-sharp humor and wit, leaving readers a lasting impression of the meaning of survival.

You can get a copy of her memoir, as well as copies of her poetry chapbooks at

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Finding Bryan Thao Worra Books and Writing, 1999-2016

Are you wondering where to start? is one place where I have many examples online to sample my poetry.

Personally, I feel there's something to be said about the benefits of experiencing the print versions, and encourage you to get a physical copy as well if it's affordable for you.

My chapbooks and full-length collections include:
The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: Preludes and Postcards, 2014.
DEMONSTRA, Innsmouth Free Press, 2013.
Tanon Sai Jai, Silosoth Publishing, 2009.
BARROW, Sam's Dot Publishing, 2009.
Winter Ink, Minnesota Center For Book Arts, 2008.
On The Other Side Of The Eye, Sam's Dot Publishing, 2007.
My Dinner With Cluster Bombs (The Tuk-Tuk Diaries), Unarmed Press Chapbook, 2003.
Touching Detonations, Sphinx House Press e-chapbook, 2003.

For my speculative poetry work, On The Other Side Of The Eye, BARROW, and DEMONSTRA stand out the most in this regard, Tanon Sai Jai, a little less so, but there are still elements of speculative poetry within many of the poems in that collection as well.

The Tuk-Tuk diaries: Preludes and Postcards remixes all of my work between 1991-2012 together for consideration, creating a very different experience for my work, but it also becomes a very long introduction to my verse. A relatively complete list of my publications up until 2016 can be found here, although I'm looking for a more practical location to share this file in the future.

My short horror stories include:
"What Hides and What Returns,” Historical Lovecraft, Innsmouth Free Press, 2011.
“A Model Apartment,” Innsmouth Free Press, Issue 4, 2010.
“The Dog at the Camp,” Tales of the Unanticipated, Autumn, 2006.
“The True Tale of Yer,” Bamboo Among the Oaks, MN Historical Society Press, 2002.
“A Dream of Laaj,” Paj Ntaub Voice, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2000.

I hope that helps!

Mad Shelia: Chinese take on the themes of Mad Max

It's no secret I was a very big fan of Mad Max: Fury Road even as I've been less than impressed with recent efforts in Hollywood such as the remake of Ghost in the Shell with its techno-orientalism or the constant attempts to make a live-action Akira repositioned in New York. My objection to the latter stems from so much of the power of the Akira narrative being derived from a bold proposition of what the future culture of Japan and Neo-Tokyo would look like, and how the traditional values and subcultures of Japanese society might change in the years ahead. And of course, recent questions from Dr. Strange.

So, that all leads to the very interesting trailer that's just been released for Mad Shelia. From the first looks, it appears to take on the themes and tropes of the Mad Max series and wasteland apocalypse films in general. Will it be successful in its efforts? We might well ask if it will be playing it off for comedy as in Kung Fu Hustle or taking things somewhat more seriously in the tradition of The Heroic Trio?

In any case I remain optimistic, aided in part because I do have a fondness for the low-budget films who are forced to be somewhat more creative with their visual and audio shorthand to create an overall effect that a more polished studio-backed film would have. One might liken it to Deadpool or El Mariachi in that regard.

But in any case, here's the trailer:

Hey, I think I have those goggles.

But back to the subject. It almost makes me wonder if we should get Mattie Do and the team at Sleepy Whippet Films fired up to do our own take from a Lao perspective, roaring down the highway to Savannakhet.  I suppose the result would look like the tuk tuk chase from Ong Bak with more leather, BeerLao and sinh. But I could be wrong. What say you?

[Spotlight] Last Night I Dreamed of Peace

In 2007, the diary of Dang Thuy Tram was published as Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. She had been a doctor during the Vietnam War. I'd come across the book based on a news story on NPR. As they noted, an American soldier and his interpreter were burning documents believed to have no military value. As the story goes:
"Whitehurst and Nguyen Trung Hieu, his South Vietnamese interpreter, were standing by a 55-gallon drum.

"I'm throwing things in there and they're burning, and over my left shoulder, and I remember this, Nguyen Trung Hieu was looking at the diary and said, 'Fred, don't burn this. It has fire in it already,'" Whitehurst says.

The diary was that of 27-year-old Dang Thuy Tram.

"My interpreter was a very loyal soldier to the southern government," Whitehurst says. "The fact that he would put himself at risk by saying 'Don't destroy her words' was very impressive to me. And if you read just very quickly into the diary four and five pages, you can see this is something that needs to be preserved."
Publisher's Weekly noted:
In 1970, while sifting through war documents in Vietnam, Fred Whitehurst, an American lawyer serving with a military intelligence dispatch, found a diary no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, its pages handsewn together. Written between 1968 and '70 by Tram, a young, passionate doctor who served on the front lines, it chronicled the strife she witnessed until the day she was shot by American soldiers earlier that year at age 27. Whitehurst, who was greatly moved by the diary and smuggled it out of the country, returned it to Thuy's family in 2005; soon after, it was published as a book in Vietnam, selling nearly half a million copies within a year and a half. The diary is valuable for the perspective it offers on war—Thuy is not obsessed with military maneuvers but rather the damage, both physical and emotional, that the war is inflicting on her country. Thuy also speaks poignantly about her patients and the compassion she feels for them. Unfortunately, the writing, composed largely of breathless questions and exclamations, is monotonous at times, somewhat diminishing the book's power.

This is one of those texts where I think it's still worthwhile to consider it and to see what lessons might be extracted from the experience. If you're in the middle of the war, see how much your writing sounds like Shakespeare or Tolstoy while you're getting bombed.

A question for me would be how will we gather the stories of the men and women who served in similar capacities during the Laotian Civil War? Particularly the stories of Hmong, Khmu, Tai Dam and Iu Mien, among others whose stories might seem to fall outside of the traditional narratives.

Muay Laobots? And other important questions for the future

Still processing through my thoughts on my first DesignerCon in Pasadena, CA this week, and with a number of deadlines and reports coming up due before the end of the year, I'm going to kill a couple of birds with one cyberstone. 

Here's a Chubu MechatroWeGo robot configured for Muay Thai kickboxing that should hopefully spark the imagination for members of our Laomagination project about how a Laobot might look in a similar configuration. It's also my reminder to all of you to get in your poem submissions for Brian Garrison's Robots! issue of Eye to the Telescope that he's guest editing. He wants them in by December 15th!

Only 3 Irawaddy Dolphins remain in Laos

The population of freshwater Irrawaddy Dolphins in Laos has fallen to just three, bringing into question the species' survival in that country, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, and in three rivers: the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar), the Mahakam (Indonesian Borneo) and the Mekong. The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit a 118-mile stretch of the river between Cambodia and Lao PDR and are scarce—between 78 and 91 individuals were estimated to still exist, but that estimate has drastically fallen. These dolphins have a bulging forehead, short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of both jaws.

The Possible Realities of Lao America Under a Trump Presidency

The editors of Little Laos on the Prairie and I recently completed an updated assessment of the possible shifts in US foreign and domestic policy under the Trump presidency that may extend well into the next decade.

There are some interesting questions ahead regarding trade, immigration, and creating a functioning society for all of our community stakeholders, particularly our most vulnerable citizens and residents.

For many in our community, they do not come from a strong news tradition that was not state-run, verging on propaganda. We've seen a lot of concerns raised with the rise in fake news sites and disinformation, or projects that undermine the trust in American data and analysis. As we continue our journey of post-war reconstruction, it is necessary for Lao and indeed, most Southeast Asian Americans to create a culture shift that lets our community have media justice.

This includes access to accurate and thoughtful information, which is more vital than ever to ensure good faith access and trust in the democratic process and the markets, both financial and intellectual.

In January, 2011 the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the Knight Foundation, conducted a nationally representative telephone survey of U.S. adults exploring local news consumption habits. They reported that "Overall, the survey indicated that most adults follow what is happening in their local communities and that the local news ecosystem is complex. Rather than relying on one or two main sources of local news, most adults use a wide variety of both traditional and online sources depending on which local topic they are seeking information about." Unfortunately, I'm not certain how well the reports were able to reach Southeast Asian American refugee communities, but I think the broad question is interesting, leading back to my concern over the last two decades of how we build an effective communications infrastructure internally and externally.

Another interesting report connected to this from the Knight Foundation was addressing the idea of "promoting greater civic engagement and investing in the capacity of citizens to engage with civic information and one another to solve public problems." It was one of the top recommendations made by the Knight Commission. Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication, a new policy paper by Peter Levine, "calls on community and elected leaders to adopt sensible strategies to strengthen civic communication and citizen engagement." How might that work for communities with ties to both the US and Southeast Asian nations where the principles of media are somewhat different?

There's much to consider as we move forward with the next steps for our community to share and exchange ideas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Countering Lao Nazism

In 2017, one of the issues the Lao community will be facing in the United States is a question of the relationship of our youth and young adults to Nazism and white supremacy/white nationalism. While this isn't an intuitive question for the Lao, it is one that will be better to head off at the pass sooner, rather than later.

In May, 2017, the trial will begin in Canada for Lindsay Kanittha Souvannarath and Randall Steven Shepherd who are accused of plotting mass murder at the Halifax Shopping Centre. The pair are charged with conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit murder, uttering threats and other charges. Their lawyers are trying to get an earlier court date, however.

How a Lao American girl falls in with white supremacists is a troubling question that calls for serious inquiry rather than dismissal of her journey as that of a lost and wayward youth who just needed more parental guidance and family support. 

Is Lindsay Kanittha Souvannarath a true Nazi, or was it more an expression of nihilism mixed with depression and other mental health challenges? Could she be reformed, recover and reintegrate into society? If we can't solve this, what does that say of our methods and approaches as a refugee community?

While the Lao have valued harmony, compassion, and peace, we also have a tradition of respecting karma and a sense that the universe doles out punishments and rewards that are largely out of our hands. So there's any number of ways this could go.

As a writer, I approach the case with interest because I understand how many Lao, as victims of war or the children of refugees, can turn to dark thoughts, grappling with disturbing imagery and a fascination with the macabre and the horrific. Media reports suggested she referred to herself as the "Nightmare Nazi" in her role-playing game circle when she was 16. Over the next 7 years, she continued to build upon that persona, and fell in with a man who was clearly serious about committing mass murder in Canada that would rival Columbine, intending to commit suicide afterwards with his compatriots.

Of course, this all seems a little ironic considering that Laos was considered the least anti-Semitic country in the world in 2014

Compare that to neighboring Thailand which has flirted dangerously with Nazism, especially in the early 2010s. Take the 2012 case where a Thai Catholic school thought that a Nazi-themed "Fancy Dress Sport Day" could go over well. The excuse was the students and staff had a poor understanding of history, but should we take it casually, or be proactive, going forward? In neighboring Cambodia in early 2016, they had a row over the repurposing of Nazi propaganda in a local community news outlet.

Presently Nazi chic is trendy across many parts of Asia, but what if it goes beyond fashion appreciation?

In an ideal scenario, I feel I would deeply prefer it if the Lao community both in the US and abroad were able to say we had a comprehensive conversation on the allure of Nazism and an understanding of why we would reject it as a culture, seeing it incompatible with our standards and values.

Beyond the obvious need to reject models of White Supremacy as counter to the majority of ethnic Lao interests, an effective anti-Laozism program needs to stave off those elements which would-be despots could exploit based on Lao history, especially efforts to associate itself with the former realm of Lan Xang.

Classic Nazism in Germany was obsessed with irredentism that felt entitled to "lost" territories from previous ages when they felt they were at the height of their power and influence. It also embraced a theory of national racial purity, prizing an Aryan ideal. For Laos, with over 160 identified ethnic groups, for any one group to assert itself as being racially, socially, politically and economically superior and to act upon it would certainly have grave consequences.

Historically, the Lao have largely encouraged and embraced an inclusive, collaborative model for building society. It is one of our strongest values, even under various governing models we have attempted over the last few centuries. This was the practical and profitable approach for almost everyone involved. I would think we should not lose sight of this approach.

The Nazis of Germany rejected a notion international class struggle, but did suggest a class struggle between nations, framing themselves as a proletariat nation vs. plutocrat nations, and worked to identify itself with lower and working-class Germans. This is certainly an element of Nazi theory that might appeal to some Lao, even as the applied policies were in fact far from this ideal.

Nazi gender theory believed women had only three roles: "Kinder, Küche, Kirche," or Children, Cooking and Church. Needless to say, this would be a very dramatic setback for Lao around the world, even as we do struggle with these persistent attitudes in the traditional culture. The Nazis of Germany had a very strong stance against the GLBT community that believed they should be exterminated. Considering how much of Lao American culture has become possible because of Lao GLBT, this is an area where many of us need to be quite vocal.

The Nazis went to great efforts to use a mock-form of Christianity stripped of the elements that would oppose the implementation of their policies. What would the Lao Nazi equivalent be? Possibly an expression of state or community-sanctioned Buddhism that never challenged disparity or violation of the 5 precepts or other Buddhist tenets, certainly. This is a question that needs further elaboration in the future. To see how dangerous this scenario could get, we can look at nearby Myanmar where an anti-Muslim Buddhist monk has been riling up the community, recently declaring that Donald Trump was very similar to him.

German Nazis were both anti-communist and anti-capitalist, which put them in a seeming philosophical bind, but they were definitely pro-totalitarian.  For the Lao culture, we are barely 40+ years into living in functioning democracies. We are familiar with knowing what it's been like to live under colonial rule as well as under monarchies and as a vassal state. I think it would be fair to say that many of us in the United States are at various points on the political continuum because of what we've experienced compared to what we want. 

I would strongly encourage greater conversations on what it would mean for Lao to be fully engaged in the various democracies and societies they're a part of. In the end, I think more needs to be done to help Lao in diaspora engage with topics like this if we are to have a full rejection of Nazi principles or a version adapted to suit a Lao totalitarian's needs. 

What are approaches you would suggest that could help to prevent the rise of Lao Nazism over the decades ahead? 

Cambodian Space Project: Silent Is The Night

One of my favorite bands, Cambodian Space Project has the video for their latest song Silent is the Night out. Be sure to give them a listen and catch them in concert if they come through your area. I hope they keep fearless in their exploration of all that Khmer rock and speculative art can be.

As their biography notes:
The Cambodian Space Project (CSP) is recognised as one of the few truly Aussie Asian hybrids in contemporary music. Since 2009, it has been at the forefront of an astonishing cultural revival in Cambodia, since singer Channthy Kak and musician Julien Poulson teamed up in Phnom Penh, to sing back to life the lost divas and rock legends of Cambodia’s golden age of music, all but wiped out by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

The Cambodian Space Project sound is definitely for the 21st century, mashing tradition with rock’n’roll, rare groove, soul, and trippy visual spectacle. They perform re-imagined Khmer classics, alongside originals speaking of Cambodia today like Not Easy Rock’n’roll, Have Visa No Have Rice, and Whisky Cambodia.

Presenting on Science Fiction Poetry at LOSCON 43

As the new President of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, I'll be discussing Speculative Poetry at 5pm this Saturday at LOSCON in Los Angeles, and will be there throughout the day to meet with poets and readers along all points of the speculative literature continuum!

I'll be speaking along with noted SFF scholars and writers Jaymee Goh and Nikia Chaney!

Per the panel description:
Speculative poetry is a rising professional field in our infinitely diverse genre! The Science Fiction Poetry Association elected Bryan Thao Worra as its new president; new markets have arisen offering professional rates for cutting-edge poetic forms; new stars are coming out of the poetry field exploring the speculative in what is a very experimental form. Find out more about where you can read such works and where the field might head into next!

Jaymee Goh is a writer, editor, and critic of science fiction, also known as the "steampunk postcolonialist." Her fiction has appeared in Expanded Horizons and Crossed Genres, and in steampunk venues such as the Steam-Powered Series and Steampunk World. She has been quoted in Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, as well as The Steampunk Bible, and has written steampunk-related non-fiction in The WisCon Chronicles 5 & 6 and Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution. Her blog, Silver Goggles, tackles postcolonialism and racism in the various forms of steampunk. She is currently working on a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside, where she is writing about steampunk material culture and a critique of its aesthetics. Beyond steampunk, she is interested in issues of radical womanism, utopia, sustainability, critical race theory, agriculture, and botany.

Nikia Chaney is the current Inlandia Literary Laureate (2016-2018). She is the author of two chapbooks, Sis Fuss (2012, Orange Monkey Publishing) and ladies, please (2012, Dancing Girl Press). She is founding editor of shufpoetry, an online journal for experimental poetry, and founding editor of Jamii Publishing, a publishing imprint dedicated to fostering community among poets and writers. She has won grants from the Barbara Demings Fund for Women, Poets and Writers, and Cave Canem. She teaches at San Bernardino Valley College.

And for completeness sake:
Bryan Thao Worra is the president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an international literary organization celebrating the poetry of the imaginative and the fantastic. A Lao American writer, he holds over 20 awards for his work including an NEA Fellowship in Literature and was a Cultural Olympian representing Laos during the 2012 London Summer Games. The author of 6 books,his work appears internationally including Australia, Canada, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, and Pakistan. You can visit him online at for more news on Asian American science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

LOSCON is Los Angeles' longest running Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention, held Thanksgiving weekend by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). This year's Guests of Honor include David Gerrold, Peri Charlifu and Nick Smith!

Be sure to come join us at the Los Angeles Airport Mariott at 5855 W Century Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 9004

Remembering President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Today marks the 53rd year since the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. For the sake of history, here's an April 25th, 1963 newsreel from Britain discussing his speech on Laos and efforts to stop the emerging conflicts there.

Here's an example of the stamps in circulation in Laos at the time depicting the work of the Red Cross:

Although most people in Laos at the time never saw this newsreel, this would have been a few weeks after the main Lao New Year celebrations for Year of the Rabbit. This footage took place 10 years after Laos was recognized as an independent constitutional monarchy in 1953.

Previously, Laos had been part of French Indochina. 70 years earlier from when this footage was shot, Laos had been incorporated into French Indochina in 1893 in the aftermath of the Franco-Siamese War.

Here we can see a photo by Marie Clai of soldiers giving out food in 1963 in Laos:

In August, 1963 Laos will receive its first four modified T-28 Trojans for the Royal Lao Air Force to combat insurgents. In December, 1963, King Sisavong would promote Vang Pao to Brigadier General in the Royal Lao Army.

For Lao, November would be memorable to many who were alive during the time as the beginning of the disastrous Battle for Lak Sao in the Lao province of Bolikhamsai, led by General Phoumi Nosavan, that would last until January, 1964.

As a consequence of this battle, the Royal Lao Army will lose a general reserve force, and it constituted the second major military defeat of the the Royal Lao Army under the command of General Phoumi Nosavan, who was defeated at the Battle of Luang Namtha in the previous year.

For a little further context: John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States, serving from 1961-1963. He died a the age of 46. He had roots in Brookline, Massachusetts, and served in the US Naval Reserve in World War 2 as a lieutenant. He was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, although his death continues to be controversial among many conspiracy theorists. He is also remembered by many for nearly taking the world to war with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961. He is one of four sitting US presidents in history who've been assassinated, along with Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley.