Imagine a meeting room filled with 20 elders and then being the only young person in attendance and you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with this picture? I found myself asking that this past weekend when community leaders (the majority being elders) packed a room at Harrison Education Center. It was the first time that over 13 organizations and associations decided to finally move forward in collaborating together for a Lao New Year event. The timing couldn’t be more necessary as it was momentous.
As I was scanning these quickly aging faces, it was clear they held years of tirelessness but a sense of hope to see that a young professional was present at the table. We went around introducing ourselves, and each and every one of the elders expressed their gratitude in finally seeing leaders come together to revive our community for an annual celebration.
After a year-long hiatus over temple debacles that tore at the very core of the Lao community, many were left wondering, well, where do we go to practice and celebrate our cultural traditions? We had nowhere to go. It was a crisis year and it was unfortunate that personal politics and poor leadership left our community without the space and place to worship and participate. That big blow proved to be debilitating when the annual Lao New Year celebrations that were typically held in April and Boun Pravet in June passed by in pure silence. What once was a community expectation every year since I was a kid, had stopped and became stagnant in my memory. This was one of the saddest and most unfortunate moments for Lao Minnesotans last year.
So I sat at the table listening and wondering: where are the rest of the young Lao professionals here? There are plenty of us in the state. Are we too busy trying to meet our own personal goals? Every year we let a cultural tradition pass is another year’s worth of heritage we erase from our history. We need to be in the conversation. Our elders and the vibrant culture they hold is right next door to us. It’s apparent our elders are appreciating our emerging role in the community and they’re asking for us to work with them. It’s a torch that they don’t want left burning with no one from the next generation to pass it to.
After the meeting, one of the elders came up to me and expressed, “Well, well, I remember when you were just a baby. Your parents must be so proud to see their daughter contributing to a community that most your age don’t care about!” I felt the tinge inside. I realized it’s one big torch that the few of us can’t carry on our own, because every day our community is threatened by the fact that with every passing year, we may lose an elder from the table that they’ve been waiting for us to come to for so long.
If you’re a young professional interested in helping plan this year’s annual new year celebration, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!