We’ve already talked a little about the recent fire that destroyed the Wat Lao in Colorado. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to visit Wat Lao Sida Ounnaram earlier this year to take some pictures and to speak with the monks there, who were very generous with their time and hospitality. I would strongly encourage donating to them to help their reconstruction efforts.
Founded in 1988, the loss of Wat Lao Sida Ounnaram is a tragedy not just for the Lao of Colorado, but for all of our communities across the US. It served the Lao for almost 3 decades as a community center and many of the best memories of the Lao community in Colorado were created here. For those of us in Minnesota, it should also make us ask some questions of ourselves.
With a population ranging from 12,000 to 25,000 Lao depending on the figures you hear, Lao are the sixth largest community in Minnesota, and we are the third largest Lao population in the US, after California and Texas. At a minimum, we should be a community of over $288 million in economic and social activity. We are the home to award-winning, nationally recognized artists, educators and community activists, and the first Asian American Miss Minnesota is Lao. That’s quite an achievement. But we can not rest on our laurels and we need to push ourselves further, even as we come together closer.
Can we honestly look at where we’re at as Lao Minnesotans and say that if a tragedy were to befall our own Wat Lao, or any of our businesses or cultural institutions, we would be able to quickly raise the funds and marshal the resources needed to effectively rebuild our institutions?
When the Lao Student Association of the University of Minnesota needs help, is it clear who they can turn to for resources and support? Do we have the ability to make sure our elders have good options that allow them to remain active participants in our community, to live with dignity? If we wanted to start an all-new business or even many interconnected ventures to form a Minnesota Laotown, could we do it? If we needed to help victims of human trafficking or unjust deportation, could we do it?
If we can not, then we must ask, why not, and what are the key barriers we must overcome to expand that capacity and build a future for our children and elders. On far too many occasions, it feels like we enjoying success by chance, not effective strategy or vision. We need to address this, and soon.
We enjoy many things in Minnesota, things we can all be proud of, but there are also many who we risk leaving behind, and that’s unconscionable.
As we approach the Year of the Nak, where do we see ourselves going in even ten years? This does not have to be an abstract question. But we must call upon each other to make things happen and to reach for the best within ourselves.