There are approximately 200,000 ethnic Lao refugees in the US in the aftermath of the bloody war for the control of Laos (1954-1975). This war killed and displaced over half a million people.
35 years later, while many have successfully rebuilt their lives, nearly a third still live at or near the federal poverty level. Many are women who are widows, the elderly and single mothers with limited education and English fluency. Nearly 50% of Lao refugees are under 18, and less than 7% have bachelor's degrees. Many continue to live in linguistically isolated households. Less than 1 out of 100 have an advanced degree, particularly among Lao women. There are few Lao American books, journals, papers, films, TV shows or art exhibits after nearly 4 decades, causing a significant impact on internal and external community advocacy and awareness of key issues for social change.
There is a strong correlation between the arts and academic, professional and civic success among Southeast Asian refugees.
Minnesota has the third largest Laotian population. At least half of the Lao community resides in Hennepin County. The city of Minneapolis has the largest Lao population, followed by Brooklyn Park and other surrounding Twin Cities suburbs. There are several other areas with sizeable Lao populations: Olmsted County, Nobles County, Roseau County and Stearns County, as well as Mountain Lake, Warroad and St. Cloud.
Minnesota is home to several Lao artists, writers, educators and musicians, most notably award-winning, nationally recognized women artists like Malichansouk Kouanchao, Phouninh Vixayvong, Bounxou Chanthraphone and Saymoukda Vongsay among others.