SAN FRANCISCO (October 7, 2010) – The Center for Lao Studies recently launched its online Lao Oral History Archive or LOHA at www.laostudies.org/loha. The project was made possible with initial grant support from the California Council on Humanities and the Asian Pacific Endowment. It documents the untold stories of former Lao refugees in California and Minnesota through audio and video media and developed an on-line archive of interviews, videos, and historical documents directly related to interviewees’ involvement or personal loss during the “Secret War” in Laos, their experiences in the refugee camps, and transition in the United States.
Four decades ago, Laos experienced unprecedented political upheaval and war. In the rampant Cold War climate of the mid-20th century and the ensuing Vietnam War, the American CIA launched a covert “secret war” against the communist Pathet Lao, resulting in a massive bombing campaign in Laos. By 1973 an estimated 200,000 people lost their lives in the conflict and nearly twice as many were wounded, according to the 1997 History of Laos, by Martin Stuart-Fox, Cambridge University Press.
When the Pathet Lao gained control of the country in 1975, hundreds of thousands Lao refugees fled their homeland between 1975 and the mid 1990s, majority of them immigrating to the United States. Based on the 2000 U.S. Census, California is home to the largest refugees from Laos with an estimated 180,000 and Minnesota as the third largest with approximately 51,740 people.
Currently, there are almost no existing oral history projects and little academic research focusing on the ethnic Lao refugees in the U.S. By creating a Lao Oral History archive.
“We are creating awareness within the Lao-American community and the general American population of the history, culture, and contemporary realities of Lao refugees in the U.S. as well as the tragic impacts and legacies of Secret War in Laos,” states Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, executive director, Center for Lao Studies.
This project disseminates the voices of underrepresented population, whose stories of immigration reflect unique moments in both Lao and American history, thereby building bridges between the past and present and between disparate cultures.
“An oral history project such as LOHA can teach us lessons about the endurance and resilience of the human spirit in the face of staggering loss and hardship. In these stories there is suffering, but there is also survival and hope. These are stories that everyone needs to hear because they bring a voice and human face to the pressing global issues of war and cross border migration,” he concludes.
Center for Lao Studies (CLS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 2006 with a mission to advance knowledge and engagement in the field of Lao Studies through research, education and information sharing.