MINNEAPOLIS (Oct. 28, 2018) — The office of the Mayor of the city of Minneapolis recently presented a proclamation recognizing October 10, 2018 as Kaysone Syonesa Day in recognition of the 40th birthday of the Lao Minnesotan artist who has long-standing roots in North Minneapolis since her family resettled in the United States after the Laotian Civil War, including the 5th Ward.
The request was made by the members of the Southeast Asian Literature Interdisciplinary Theater Arts Center, (SEALIT) which recently received funding from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to convene the 20-year retrospective exhibition and workshop series Laomagination in North Minneapolis. Community members cited Syonesa as “a positive mentor and friend of students and families of diverse backgrounds and helped them pursue their dreams; and someone who “has encouraged good character, lifelong pursuit of art, education and civic engagement through personal and professional example.”
Among the community organizations Syonesa has volunteered and worked with over the years were the SEAD Project, Ananya Dance Theater, Lowry Lab, Pangea World Theater, Crisis Point Theater, Green T Productions, the Brooklyn Alliance for Youth, HopeStreet, Sahtu Press, and the SEALIT Center. Community members cited Kaysone Syonesa for her work to help foster literary and artistic diversity and her role as inspiring role model to refugees while rebuilding her life in Minneapolis with her family, pursuing her education against the odds to become one of the leading Lao American performing artists in the U.S.
Born in the city of Khongsedone in the Lao province of Salavan, Syonesa is a Minneapolis-based Lao American theatre artist and playwright, and one of the few Lao in the world with a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota. Her theatre background includes serving as performing artist/actor, director, set/costume designer and playwright. She has several books pending release in 2019 across multiple genres.
Syonesa has directed and devised original theatre work with artists and youth of color as a platform to uplift diverse and underrepresented voices in the Twin Cities. Syonesa has strengths in bringing communities together to create space and devise work to uncover and imaginatively tell stories that reflect the human experiences. In the past she was inspired to raise the artistic voices of women of color and created Moonlight Collective with three theatre artists who were Latina American and African American. Together they wrote, designed, directed and produced a play called Many Routes, about three different women’s stories integrating spoken word, dance and storytelling. She recently organized the successful Motivate Youth Arts Festival in Brooklyn Park in her work with the Brooklyn Alliance For Youth.
Minnesota has the third largest Lao refugee population in the US, with an estimated 13,000 community members in the state, many in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area. In the aftermath of the Laotian Civil War (1954-1975) many families arrived in the U.S. in the hope of rebuilding. This has not always been a smooth process for the community. Over 80 percent of the Lao do not successfully graduate college, and many face disparities including youth gang involvement, teen pregnancies, gambling, alcohol, and tobacco addiction, and untreated depression and multigenerational PTSD, often in limited-English households. Nearly 45 years later, Lao Minnesotans continue to need skilled advocates and community artists who can assist in the reconstruction process to address the vital social concerns of the day.
The mission of the SEALIT Center is to “promote the growth of experimental and non-traditional Southeast Asian literature, interdisciplinary art, and theater-performance arts in diaspora in the U.S.” It is a Minnesota-based grassroots network that had been conceptualized since 2010 at the first Lao American Writers Summit in Minneapolis. Prior to organizing as the SEALIT Center, previous interdisciplinary exhibits the organizers convened in Minnesota include Beyond The Other Side of The Eye (2013) Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities (2010), Emerging Voices (2002), The 5 Senses Show (2002), Lao’d and Clear (2003), Giant Lizard Theater (2005), Re:Generations (2005), and The Un-Named Series (2007). They have recently received support from the Rhizome Microgrant and Springboard for the Arts to convene events and presentations connected to the Laomagination project.