Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Missing: MN Laotians. Or, The A-Team and I...

My long-time Nomi Homies knows it takes a lot to set me off.


Over the weekend I learned that forgetting 12,000 to 25,000 people who've been living with you for 30+ years is one of those things.

As was the case with the organizers of this year's Twin Cities World Refugee Day on June 5th.

photo by Bryan Thao Worra @2010

Now let's be clear: I really like the idea of World Refugee Day. Absolutely. It's important to highlight the journey of refugees to understand who refugees in America and around the rest of the world are. It was my pleasure and an honor to present and perform at the celebration in downtown Minneapolis, even in the rain:

photo by Bryan Thao Worra @2010

World Refugee Day in the Twin Cities began in 2007 but the roots go to 2000, when the United Nations General Assembly established June 20th as World Refugee Day.

2010 is the 35th year since the end of the war for Lao refugees and it's a really big one for us: Northeaster artist Mali Kouanchao just received both an Asian Pacific American Leadership Award and a Bush Artist's Fellowship, with a book about her life coming out later this year.

Laotian Minnesotan Bounxou Chanthraphone just received the $100,000 Enduring Vision Award for her groundbreaking work as a traditional Lao weaver. Previously she's received some of the most prestigious arts awards this nation can give.
photo by Bryan Thao Worra @2010

And Lao Minnesotans have been busy preparing for the national Lao American Writers Summit in August and bringing the acclaimed Refugee Nation: Legacies of War exhibit in October.

So imagine my surprise, when, looking through the website and all of the press releases of Twin Cities World Refugee Day, the complete and utter absence of any mention at all of the Lao refugees. The Census 2010 says there's at least 12,000 of us, and most estimates say it's closer to 25,000.

photo by Bryan Thao Worra @2010

And yet, for a day that's supposed to highlight awareness of refugee communities and our contributions, there's not one mention of us. Not one line. We don't warrant even three letters: Lao.

By all accounts Minnesota has the largest Midwestern population of Lao refugees and is #3 in the country. So where did we go?

The organizers claim there are over 85,000 refugees in Minnesota with the top refugee nationalities in the state in 2006 being Hmong with 21,844, Somali 15,704, Vietnamese 15,023, Soviet 8,294, Cambodian 4,983, Ethiopian 4,799, Liberian 3,481 and Bosnian at 2,380.

I just don't understand how a population of 10,000+ doesn't qualify for mention.

When I asked the organizers, I got a reply that said: "Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. As I'm sure you are aware, there are many refugee communities in the Twin Cities, and it is always a challenge of World Refugee Day to include all of them. I do not mean that as an excuse but only to say that we appreciate people like you who work to ensure that all communities are included."

And I really would have been satisfied with that until I sat in the movies this weekend and watched the A-Team and they mentioned Laos.

Look, when a remake of a 1980s screwball action show can remember Laos but community organizers who've lived with 25,000 people for 30 years can't, I'm sorry, but in my book you gotta be called out on that.

So, we have to be constructive about this. But if it happens again? Well....

(Do not click "Read More")


Anonymous said...

Plus we still do not have a Hmong police officer on the day shift in North Minneapolis.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

Thanks for the post, Bryan. There is one thing I want to add to this, and correct me if I'm wrong.

But out of those thousands of Laotians who live in Minnesota, I believe that a significant number of them reside in north Minneapolis. So this is an issue that especially affects our community.

Anonymous said...

We should get a Lao speaking police officer too. I didn't realize how many Lao's there were here. I bet they are underserved.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit that find a lot of usages of "Lao" and "Hmong" confusing and inconsistent--I've seen "Lao" and "Hmong" used interchangeably, and sometimes "Laotian" used to refer to the nationality, or to the ethnic group. I just wonder if the event leaders let groups slip through the cracks because of terminology, combined with their definition of refugee. Just a thought, since it is bizarre.

Bryan Thao Worra said...

We've definitely had a lot of confusion over the issue, but figures show that 70% of the Lao population lives in Hennepin County and 40% of us live in North Minneapolis, especially in Harrison and Jordan. Minnesota has enough ethnic Lao to make a city the size of Crystal. We have a stake up here. But it will be interesting to see where all of this goes...

Fellow human said...

Quit your whining. It's people like you who have to point out race all the time that cause these racial problems. We're just people, you and me. Quit focusing on our differences and look at all of the things that makes us similar.

Who cares if you're black, yellow, red, or brown?