Today I saw a Lao caterpillar while visiting the Viengxay caves in Sam Neau where the Pathet Lao had their underground headquarters. I was reminded of the Khmer proverb that states parents don’t want their children to be butterflies because they forget their identity and past lives as a caterpillar.
I feel like a Lao American butterfly who has forgotten her past life as a Lao village caterpillar. This Legacies trip has enabled me to explore my past history in Laos; thus learning about my heritage and my country. Without Legacies, I would never have known about the Tham Piu caves where over 300 villagers died due to a targeted bombing raid of the caves or the Viengxay caves, where over 20,000 Laotians were forced to live for nine years to hide from the U.S. bombing campaign. The guide asked us to imagine what it would be like to live in the caves where there was no electricity or running water, where food was not plentiful, where you lived in fear of planes dropping bombs everyday. And I couldn’t. I’ve lived a privileged life as a Lao American where I have plenty of food, running water, electricity, and freedom.
We heard stories of survivors of the bombing raids and how they struggle to make a life for themselves and their families. And they still live within a 10 miles of the original bombing raids where they lost family and friends. They do not want to move away from their beloved home.
Our cave guide had an opportunity to leave for the U.S. in 1981 and he chose not to. He wanted to be near his family. I think of my own parents and what they had to sacrifice to leave Laos. I never got to meet my grandparents. I didn’t get to grow up with my cousins. In fact, I met them for the first time in 31 years in Vietianne last week.
While I love my new life as a butterfly with the freedom of spreading my wings in America, I am also remembering what I loved most about Laos, the people, the beautiful rolling mountains, and the lush, green landscape. I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams the beautiful scenary that unfolded as we drove from Xieng Khouang to Sam Neau. It so reminded me of Vermont. Then I remembered why my parents moved us to Vermont in the first place; it reminded them of Laos. For this butterfly, I am finally remembering my past life in Laos as a caterpillar.