Last month, Little Laos on the Prairie celebrated its 4th Anniversary promoting the Lao renaissance in writing and arts. An idea sparked by the founder’s drive for creating a better world for her daughter, today, the blog finds readers in every corner of the Earth.
Narratives, whether you know it or not, are being written about you, all the time.
That mom, she is always frayed in the morning,
rushing her kid off to school.
Why is she so short with him?
That mom, she is always telling me what to do.
I want to finish playing, finish my chocolate milk, before I go.
Oh, my head hurts.
Why is so so impatient with me?
That mom, she is a little protective, don’t you think?
We do the best, it was an accident.
Does she not know we have many kids to look after?
Recently at a conference on kids’ social emotional health, the universe seated me at a table with someone whose work I had been following; who creates space for people whose conversations have moved me to tears, hearing their stories on the radio. Dave Isay of Storycorps, was a guest speaker.
On stage, Dave used his speech to share how conversations, stories were creating change in the world. The vignettes he chose of two people interviewing each other touched upon the most rawest, and sadly mundane at the same time: race, poverty, illness, love, inequality — all personal choices within the context of our social and political world, all devastating and loving at the same time.
I wonder what interview I would do if given the chance.
I flashback to childhood. 4th grade.
My teacher wanted to show off my desk to her new student teacher.
“Look, isn’t she so organized?”
She lifted up one of those old storage-type desks and underneath it, i saw my crayons, pads of paper, pencil box. I was puzzled, it didn’t look that clean. But my teacher saw a nice, obedient, somewhat shy, little Asian girl. Which probably meant studious to her. To me, it was just a mundanely-organized desk. To her, I was a model student.
Yes, of course I know who I would interview.
I’d ask, “Grandma –
What made you want to become a seamstress? Why didn’t that happen? What were you like when you were 15? What was life like in Luang Prabang?”
I’d ask because she wasn’t just a cleaning lady at the old Subaru dealership in Anchorage. Or the prep cook at our family Lao-Thai-Vietnamese diner, all noble jobs in themselves. But she had a life full of stories, tragic, happy, fun – before turning a refugee at 52.
I wish I had just a few more conversations at dinner, out shopping, just sitting with Grandma. It also strikes me that I could do an interview with every single member of my family.
How many times has our family story been told for us
“They came here, for a better life”
“The American Dream”
“Such hard workers”
We left, and arrived,
desperately seeking home, any home
escaping war. “ohp-pa-yop”/refugees.
And then a family, a church, took us in.
That’s the outline of course, not the narrative.
Sometimes we don’t have the power to change our lives immediately
day to day.
Longterm change requires conversations
narratives you have to re create,
not buffered by well, actually, sorry, or but
“Yes, what I think/know/feel is _______”
Fill in that blank. Ask those questions.
Most importantly, claim new narratives.
~Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum was one of the founding members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. She has over 15 years experience in the nonprofit sector with a passion for human rights and social justice, including issues of equity, education and public health.