April 10, 2023

By Sunny Chanthanouvong

In 2010, we enter a new decade, and for many of us, it is 30 years since we arrived in America after the wars and refugee camps.  As an executive director of a non-profit, I hear many stories similar to my own journey from Laos. Some are truly amazing as families struggle to reunite and rebuild our lives. And it’s time for us to say everyone counts, and no one should be left behind.

The Census 2010 is here this month and it’s a key to understanding who is out there, and our potential.  In the US a census helps us celebrate our accomplishments and find where our help is needed most. The census only takes 10 minutes, but it helps so much to determine policies that truly reflect our communities.

As recently as ten years ago, it was not a very good picture for Lao. Very few of us graduated from school. We saw many growing up without role models or hope for college or something better for themselves. But lately, I’ve been happy to meet so many young college students with great hopes and ambition.We were able to make many of these dramatic strides because of information we gained from the Census. The Census is a start, just as voting is a start, to creating change. But there are also many other things we need to do.

Even with our successes, every day we still see some struggling. We wrestle with issues of high unemployment and foreclosures, a confusing medical system and families seeking to give their children and grandchildren a future. Many adapted well, but this does not mean we can forget those who still need our help. Younger people ask me what we will do in the future.

To me, it is important thing is work to ensure people’s fair access to the services and opportunities great cultures should aspire to provide.  I hope we all understand how important it is to make our voices heard, and to listen to others. Young and old, women and men, everyone. As the Census shows, there are so many ways we’re living, with different needs and different hopes. But we can build a great nation from this.

In America we can exchange great ideas to find solutions and see interconnections to help others. This is what the best of Lao tradition teaches us, as do so many other traditions. We need to keep working to live up to these lessons.  Working to encourage everyone’s voice and value those ideas that bring out the best in us. Our dilemmas are complex and interlinked to history and policy, so we must expect the solutions, too, will be complex. But we must not be afraid to begin looking for solutions, vision and action.

There are so many ways to create change. Some by art, some by teaching, some by protecting others, others build. There’s a thousand ways. Let’s always be proud of our diversity and never stop trying to make a difference together. The motto of this decade’s Census is “It’s in our hands.” And they’re right in many ways.

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