The desire to learn about my history has not always been met with an equal desire by others to help me fill in the many blank pages about the events that led my family to leave Laos. When I was younger, I used to ask my parents about it (admittedly, because of one school project or another, which required me to dig into our family history and the place of my birth). My parents would respond with the briefest of answers and barely any details. But my desire to learn about where I came from grew deeper. The fact that most Americans don’t know anything about Laos – its history, people or culture – fueled my desire even further.
I can’t identify the exact moment it happened, but my desire grew into a need. I could never fully answer the questions (usually put forth by my elders). “Why do you want to know about history? Why drag up the past? Live for the future,” they pleaded with me. But I knew I couldn’t freely move forward with my future or know my purpose, without knowing how I got from there to here. How I became Lao American.
Although I moved to the U.S. at the age of 7, it was not until college, that I learned the finer details of the why and how we left our homeland. I learned about the war in Laos and the role the U.S. government played in it. Then I learned that Laos the home to my parents and their parents and grandparents and great grandparents was the most heavily bombed country in history. Little by little, I have discovered the broader social and political conditions, which left my parents and well over 700,000 Laotians, or one-third of the population, uprooted and seeking refuge in other countries.
Maybe the past hesitation of my elders to discuss our history was a fear that I would be stuck there – in the past, paralyzed by history. While my Lao American identity might begin as a result of war, it didn’t and couldn’t, end there. It was not until visiting the beautiful people and places of Laos that I am able to see – with great humility – that my history is only a brief addition to the vast land that holds the rolling hills, winding rivers and resilient people, which has made up the tapestry of Laos for nearly 700 years.