When I think of the Midwest, I think of gorgeous weather from May through October, the grit that comes with surviving harsh winters, and the warmth and cordiality of its people. More recently as a transplant to Seattle, I think of the way that most of the rest of the US sees Minnesota – which is to say, there’s virtually “nothing there,” and I emphatically defend it as being one of the best places in the nation to live.
It’s been about almost two years since I left to make a new home in other places, but the nostalgia never seizes to make me miss everything about it – including homemade pho and koy paa, and the smiles and laughter of Lao people at family functions. Despite being away for the last couple of years, I have learned from them and from the Minnesotan refugee community that compassion is learned through taking care of each other – and Lao Minnesotans have certainly have done that. We have seen in their robust social service system as well as various established community spaces (well hello, Somali malls and Hmong farmers markets!) And, if you have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with a Lao Minnesotan, you might have found that they are likely one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Being part of the Lao Minnesotan community has given me the privilege of understanding refugee life and the challenges many families still face even decades after settlement. The state has served as a living place for over 90,000 exiles of war since 1979 and continues to welcome refugees moving from other US states. It has given Lao Minnesotan kids like myself an opportunity to know more about human rights and about diaspora that aspire to shape their identities through community, memory, and creativity. State policies continue leveraging innovative community-based knowledge that would meet refugees where they are and tap into their social capital for public good. As a result, the general political climate of Minnesota supports stronger livelihoods and identity formation among refugee groups, both old and new, helping Lao Minnesotans thrive to the best of circumstances.
To this day I consistently draw comparisons between Minnesota and the rest of the nation that I have resided in. Sure, you don’t have to shovel snow in Seattle or experience frostbite when it gets only down to 35*F in Western Washington – but rough weather and trying times make Minnesotans tough, and Lao Minnesotans even tougher. And although compassion and care is innately part of the Lao people, our capacity to take care of each other becomes stronger over time.
-Vorada Savengseuksa, Guest BLaogger