Thursday, May 28, 2015

Twin Cities World Refugee Day coming!

Lao Minnesotan writer Saymoukda Vongsay has been one of the leading organizers to put together the Twin Cities World Refugee Day coming on Saturday, June 20th! It will take place this year at the Arlington Hills Community Center at 1200 Payne Avenue in St. Paul. It's a free event and a great way to see the diversity and the opportunities ahead for refugee communities around the world. Be sure to stop by!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lao poetry memes

Over on her tumblr at, C.C. Thongdara shared some of her memes she'd made for Lao American poet Bryan Thao Worra. She's planning on doing others featuring other Lao writers in the future because she wants to help get the word out about Lao arts and culture.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sabai Sabai exhibit opens Friday, June 12th to July 3, 2015 featuring the work of Chantala Kommanivanh

Sabai, Sabai, an exhibit featuring new paintings by Chantala Kommanivanh at Nych Gallery opens June 12- July 3, 2015. The opening reception is Friday June 12, 6-10pm.

After the United States pulled troops out of the Southeast Asian conflict in 1975, many Laotians were scattered across the world as refugees. “Sabai, Sabai” is Kommanivanh's visual documentation of the Lao American diaspora in Chicago, as 2015, marks their 40th anniversary. His figurative and abstract paintings are a combination of mixed media, oil, and spray paint on traditional canvas that both commemorate and inform viewers about displaced Laotians longing for a place in urban society.

This work is inspired by his family’s migration to Chicago as political refugees, and the struggle with dual identity they shared with many Laotian Americans. Influenced by his hip-hop upbringing, Kommanivanh sampled traditional Lao textile design, and re-presented it by overlapping graffiti marks on top of gestural impressions creating rhythmic dancing pattern. They hope you could join the community in welcoming Chantala Kommanivanh's new paintings at NYCH Gallery​. The gallery is free and open to the public.

Regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 12-7pm and by appointment. Nych Gallery is located in the Pilsen Art District at 643 W. 18th st. Chicago IL 60618

Running Home documentary addreses human trafficking, Lao philanthropy

For Portland residents, Running Home is a new documentary premiering on June 6th looking at the philanthropic efforts of Nang Nonnarath Dunn to build a better future for at-risk Lao youth overseas and to fight human trafficking. Many of us had a chance to meet her during the National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit in Minneapolis in April. You can see the trailer here:

"Our Shared Journey" Lao American symposium and writers summit a success

It was a historic moment for the Lao American community as it recognized 40 years of their diaspora in Minnesota on April 17-18th. Over 125 educators, artists and community organizations were represented from over 13 states, many coming together for the first time in four decades.

The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy from Massachussetts which put much of the Lao journey into perspective and gave many in the audience hope for the coming years ahead. One of the highlights this year was the international representation, which included the award-winning poet Souvankham Thammavongsa who recently received the prestigious Trillium Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.

Dean Ketmani Kouanchao from Mendocino College was there, and encouraged everyone to become more engaged with the community as mentors and mentees. Playwright and poet Saymoukda Vongsay shared her experience with the audience and also was part of a new book release at the Soap Factory on Saturday.

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri debuted his very first book of Lao American poetry "Dance Among Elephants" from Sahtu Press and thrilled the audience with a demonstration of his b-boy skills as well. Nor Sanavongsay, the founder of Sahtu Press, had first shown the audience his plans for his first children's book in 2010 at the firt National Lao American Writers Summit. 5 years later, he was at last able to read the finished version, "A Sticky Mess," retelling the classic Xieng Mieng folktale that he spent over 14 years developing.

Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan from TeAda productions were an enormous hit at the gathering as they helped the participants tap into their creative sides to tell their stories. Oral history collection took front stage as the community saw the many different projects emerging to value and preserve the diverse stories of the Lao in America.

This was Bryan Thao Worra's first reading in Minnesota since winning the Elgin Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His book DEMONSTRA received the distinction of Book of the Year from the organization. The singer Ketsana wowed the audiences with a performance of classic Lao songs, while film-maker Kulap Vilaysack shared footage from her forthcoming documentary, "Origin Story". Champion bodybuilder Ko Chandetka was also in attendance.

This gathering also recognized the 20th anniversary of the SatJaDham Lao literary project and the deep and profound influence it has had on the community such as planting the seeds for the Center for Lao Studies and the Lao Heritage Foundation.

This year there were many Lao American visual artists gathered including Chantala Kommanivanh, Sayon Syprasoueth, and Mali Kouanchao. Aloun Phoulavan was able to exhibit many of his paintings for the community at Co Exhibitions which was selected as the site for the closing reception. It was standing room only by the end of the evening at CO Exhibitions. The evening opened up with a performance by the acclaimed Kinnaly dance troupe from Seattle, which had sent a delegation of 11 participants. Throughout the weekend they shared their stories and perspectives on maintaining the Lao heritage and tradition.

Because of the overwhelming excitement and energy built up from this weekend, San Diego was selected as the next site the community would convene at in 2016.

The event was made possible by extensive support from numerous agencies and community organizations, including the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the The University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center and many others.

Laotian-American Community of Fresno hosts 3 Lao American Writers

On Saturday, May 30th, thanks to an invitation by the Laotian-American Community of Fresno, Sahtu Press authors are presenting at the Fresno County Woodward Park Regional Library, 944 E Perrin Ave, Fresno, California from 3:00 to 4:00 with a book-signing briefly afterwards. The event is free and will be providing refreshments and beverages for guests.

The Laotian-American Community of Fresno was founded in 2000 by concerned Laotian community members as a source of mentorship, guidance, and support for community members and their families as new lives were being established in the United States. Fresno has a population of nearly 7,000 Laotians.

This is the first time the three award-winning Lao-American authors have appeared in California together:

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, better known as "Binly" is a Lao-American artist and engineer. He was born in Laos in 1988 and came to America with his family in 1989. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2010 with a Physics and Astrophysics Double Major and a Minor in Poetry. His debut collection is “Dance Among Elephants,” published by Sahtu Press. His work has been featured in the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and the Smithsonian’s “A Day In The Life Of Asian America” digital exhibit.

Nor Sanavongsay is an award-winning Lao-American writer in the San Francisco Bay area and the founder of Sahtu Press. He has been a member of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, the National Lao American Writers Summit, the Lao Artists Festival of Elgin, among many others. He is the author of children's books inspired by Lao folktales, such as Xieng Mieng: A Sticky Mess

Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao-American poet. He holds over 20 awards including a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the author of 6 books with writing appearing in over 100 international publications. Bryan Thao Worra’s work is on display at the Smithsonian’s national traveling exhibit, “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story.” He represented the nation of Laos in 2012 as a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games. His 2013 book, DEMONSTRA, was selected as Book of the Year by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

The reading is also a historic occasion because this month is Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month and the 40th anniversary since the end of the war in 1975 and the beginning of the Lao Diaspora. After this, they will attend the very first Oakland Book Festival at booth 16 at the Frank Ogawa Plaza near the Oakland City Hall.

"40 Years. Countless Tears." by Mary Keovisai

Over at the 40 & Forward blog by SEARAC, this week they showcased the art by Mary Keovisai who is a Lao American artist currently living in California and is engaged in social justice issues.
Mary Keovisai is the author of the 2012 thesis, Killing Me Softly: Remembering and Reproducing Violence in Southeast Asian Refugees. Over 400,000 Laotians live as refugees around the United States. Consider adding your voice to this ongoing reflection.

Lao American poet Bryan Thao Worra's "The Last War Poem" featured at SEARAC 40 & Forward

In time for Memorial Day Weekend, "The Last War Poem" by Lao American poet Bryan Thao Worra is now up at the 40 & Forward: Southeast Asian Americans Rooted & Rising blog organized by the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center in Washington DC. This is an ongoing effort to look at the various ways we have responded to our journey during the Southeast Asian diaspora that begin for many in 1975.

"The Last War Poem" was featured in 2014 at the Southeast Asian Globe and was also recently performed live by the acclaimed Catzie Vilayphonh in Philadelphia in a stirring performance at the Asian Arts Initiative.

This poem was dedicated to those who served, those who fell, those who remain, and those whose duty it is to remember.