Lao leader addresses cultural issues with refugees in financial crisis
Housing is one of the biggest parts of the American Dream. As a Lao refugee, it was a good feeling for me to work as a realtor to help families build their dream and gain a sense of belonging in this new country. As refugees, we come from all over, because of wars and other troubles. Owning a home means setting down roots. As refugees, owning a home means obtaining a space that allows you to practice your culture and raise a family.
In Laos, when people buy homes, the intention is to stay there forever, which ultimately builds strong neighborhoods. These neighborhoods establishes a community that allows people to rely on one another for help and support for generations. Things are different in America, but I still believe community and strong neighborhoods are important no matter what country you live in.
The foreclosure crisis in America has hit the refugee community very hard. It has disrupted not only the American Dream for many refugee families, but has broken up that sense of community and belonging. At the Lao Assistance Center, I work as a housing counselor to help families with foreclosure challenges.
In our culture, we don’t seek for help regarding financial challenges because we are afraid to lose face. This can cause bigger problems for them and our families over time. It takes at least 3 months to really help someone through their foreclosure problems. But I often see families seek help when it’s too late in their foreclosure process, which makes me sad.
When someone has fallen behind on a payment, they should contact a housing counseling agency right away. There is often help available. With enough notice and support, a bank can lower a payment, or there are other good ways to help a family keep their home. But each family has its own situation and should talk to someone trained and qualified in order to understand what all of their options are. It is important to know that is ok to ask for help.
This year, the Lao Assistance Center became part of the nation’s first network of housing counseling organizations dedicated to serving Asian Americans facing foreclosures with the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD). This is the first step towards providing the much needed services and resources to help our communities through these challenging times. We know there’s much more work ahead.
Modern housing issues are complex and in order to solve the problems we have today, we must all work together, no matter where we come from. The solutions must be fair and allow all of us a chance to pursue the American Dream.
Pany Siharath is the Chemical Health Outreach Worker and a Board member of the Lao Assistance Center in MInneapolis. He has been a realtor and trained on issues of chemical health, unemployment and foreclosure prevention with NeighborWorks America. A former aviation specialist, he also has been a Bilingual Parent Liaison for the YMCA, working with youth and was also a liaison for Lincoln Elementary where he worked with Lao children and families. He can be reached at [email protected].