MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 12, 2020) — In 1975, thousands of people with roots in Laos began a global journey that took them around the world following the 20th century conflicts for the future of Southeast Asia. Many began to rebuild their lives in the United States, with over 230,000 Lao, including Tai Dam, Khmu, Iu Mien, Lue, and over 260,000 Hmong.
In 2019, the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota and Bryan Thao Worra received the Joyce Award to explore and understand the diverse journeys experienced by the community and what lessons it might have for everyone today regarding refugee and immigration policy, civic engagement, health, housing, and arts and cultural programming. Traveling across the U.S. interviewing community members, we developed a sense of our shared history, who we have been and who we might become. Lao American theatre artist and poet Kaysone Syonesa also provided key support for the project and performances across the globe.
The artists gave presentations of the project at various stages of its development across the United States including Cleveland, Ann Arbor, New York, Washington D.C., UC Riverside, Oakland, Seattle, Ohio, Indiana, San Francisco, Merced, Minneapolis, Grand Lakes, Laos and more. The project sought to use the arts as a way to connect and to heal, and to provide enduring responses for the present and future generations. By the project’s end, they created over 30 works and 15 videos drawing upon archival photographs, interviews, and other materials to present a variety of stories and experiences we learned.
Initially planned for a physical exhibit at Indigenous Roots in St. Paul during 2020, the exhibit was ultimately moved online because so many members of their community are in high-risk groups during the pandemic. Community conversations were held on various social media platforms using the #Laomagination45 hashtag and the main exhibit can be viewed at https://bit.ly/Laomagination45.
The Joyce Awards, the only program supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities, aims to strengthen cross-cultural understanding by bringing diverse audiences together. The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation has awarded $3.7 million to commission 69 new works since the program started in 2003.