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Hey, look at the elephant in the room! Lao Americans and Activism

There’s no doubt that what we’re seeing unfold is something to take notice. There’s discontent from the dissent. People are pissed there are inequities. Politicians are anxious people aren’t happy with them. And of course, nobody seems to really ‘get it’.  ‘Occupy this’ and ‘Occupy that’ is the new slang in households nowadays. So what is brewing? Is this the new generation of social justice crusaders? This begs at my main question: Where are Lao Americans? Are we even ‘Occupying’ anything?

As someone who works in the human rights field and being one of only two in the organization who are representative of the constituents we serve, it got me thinking about these questions a lot. What about Lao Americans and activism? I get this burning question more than once when confronted with the status of Laos and the scope of communist power. Activism happens through the very few who are passionate about what hits at the very core of our hearts. Humbleness, forgiveness, and kindness is what defines the Lao soul- the epitome of a true advocate. I know a Lao American woman who started her first advocacy org specifically for increasing UXO-related funding to Laos. I know a Lao American attorney who facilitates ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops for low-income Lao families. I know a Lao American writer who shares the untold stories of Lao villagers who were written off popular history books.

I know many Lao Americans are just trying to survive the 9-5 grind and make our economic and educational goals happen, but we allow time for our social life to happen; so what about our commitment to our community that we grew up with? We were struggling at one point in time (some still are), we were fresh immigrants at one point in time, and at the end of the day, our shared history doesn’t escape us. It should define us and continue to be the reason why we support issues that we’ve experienced growing up. Don’t leave the work of activism and advocacy to the privileged who’ve never experienced our issues, our hopes, our dreams.

Big or small, anything you say or do impacts some youth, some teacher, someone who’s listening. As we think about this, let’s look at issues that have come up recently. If these issues don’t generate a familiar feeling of  “WTH” or a fleeting moment of inspiration, then question yourself about why you think that way. Does the anger pass? Is it not enough to feel empowered? If we continue to let our behavior of oblivious passiveness go on in fear of retribution, then we will continue to be enablers of our own internal oppression. By saying, “it’s okay, they’ll get over it”, you give them the full access to reduce the dignity of you and your community.  ‘They’ don’t ever get over it, because you told them it didn’t bother you. These reoccurring situations don’t shuffle under the rug and stay there. They keep resurfacing and stalking us like the elephant in the room. So make your pick for the issue that won’t stop bugging you and keeps boiling inside of you. Say something. Do something. And stick to it. Our community and our future needs you to be an advocate for yourself and for us.

Story on Elizabeth Tolzmann, a Lao Minnesotan immigration attorney and activist on UXO issues:

Call for release of imprisoned Lao student protesters:

The Asian American bullying crisis:

Model Minority Myth and stereotyping Asian Americans in news media:

Racist rant from rival supporter to Hmong Minnesotan candidate, Bee Xiong:

Occupy Honolulu: Hawaiian Musician Makana Performs Protest Song to World Leaders at APEC Summit:

Story on WCCO reporter perpetuating the stereotype of ‘Asians eating dogs’ in a false report:

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