A true Laotian is…

the girls Ginger’s post at Laoplanet, ” What it means to be a Laotian” motivated me to write a response to what I think it means to be Laotian. The main reason why I started this word blog was because I wanted to open a dialogue about Laos and what it means to be Laotian. I grew up in a very traditional Laotian household and am convinced that many people, my generation included, have forgotten what it really means to be a true Laotian. There are so many people I know from my generation who have become americanized since they have emigrated here. It’s one thing to assimilate into the American culture to fit in, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget your own culture! If that is the price to fitting in then it’s not worth it to lose your own cultural identity! It saddens me to see such a large number of Lao people who have forgotten or are ignorant of their roots, their culture and heritage. Screaming ” Lao pride” or “Lao forever” is not going to cut it! That doesn’t prove that you are a true Laotian. It only shows that you have a big mouth! Actions speak louder than words! What I find ironic is that some of us can’t even say ” Lao pride” or proud to be Lao in our own language. This is a tragedy because how are we to impress upon our children the importance of keeping our language alive if we have to explain it by using the English language only. How can we expect our children to have pride in their cultural beliefs and traditions if we don’t value it enough to remember or model it. Parents are responsible for passing on that knowledge to the younger generation, the ones who are born here need all the help and guidance they can get. A true Laotian is …1. someone who speaks the language 2. someone who values their cultural beliefs enough to practice it 3. someone who remembers Lao traditions and is not afraid or embarrassed to live by it 4. someone who remembers their roots and is proud of it. I wrote an essay earlier, Ten Indicators that you grew up in a traditional Laos household that complements this topic so please read it because it will help you understand what a true Laotian is.The Lakorn “Pleng Ruk Rim Fang Kong” is a good example of what it means to be Laotian. Yes, I do realize that Pem the main character is Thai as well as the other cast members, but the story itself expresses the ideal or typical characteristics or traits of Lao people. For example Champa, the young girl in the lakorn is portrayed as modest, sweet, proper, obedient, shy, respectful and conscientious. Traditionally many  Lao girls are brought up to be modest in dress, manner, and behavior just like Champa and in fact like Alexandra the actress who portrays her. As a Lao girl you are taught to always be proper in front of others to show them that you respected them and are conscientious of your behavior, word or deed because you are a representative of your family. That means no walking around half naked or acting heekill when they are not with you. When Champa spent the night in the forest with Pem and the others  , she could have taken advantage of the situation by doing whatever she wanted with him because her mom was not there to tell her no, but she didn’t. She continue to act properly and so did he. Another valuable traits among Lao people is obedience and this characteristic is depicted by Champa and Pem. They both try to obey their elders in every situation and respect their opinions by complying with their wishes .  Both characters show their deference and respect for their elders in the way they act towards them.  The majority of the time they listen to their parents without talking back. The Lakorn is a good example of ideal behaviors for Lao people of all ages and sex.

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16 thoughts on “A true Laotian is…

  1. Pingback: Lao Planet » Blog Archive » A True Laotian is…by Karmadiva, Laotian Teacher

  2. I left a comment at Laoplanet, but also like to leave it here.

    I also grew up in a very traditional Laotian household but I don’t recall our parents hitting us (a lot) or being called ‘eheekill’. I think our generation, meaning those that were born in Laos and came to the US at a young age are the ones that have to pass down information about our tradition to younger generation and Word Blog such as yours’ is a good source, especially with your credential. As to me, passing our Lao tradition doesn’t have to be in Lao language only, obviously we’re doing it in English right now. Whenever I’ve the opportunity, I like to talk to elder Laotians because they always have interesting story to tell, especially ghost story, no matter what the topics of discussion, it’d always end up in ghost story, I’m not sure if it’s me. 😛

    I think our culture is so unique and wish that I had more access to information than what I have now. I read many Thai books and Magazines and anything that I find that is similar to Lao culture, I’ve always tried to do more research on the topic, such as talking to the elders or monks.

    I think Laotian living in the US will not have the same mind set as those living in Laos because our life style is different, which any of us living here can’t deny. Sometimes you don’t have to force the Lao tradition into the younger generation, if you have enough information on the internet, I believe that they will come looking for you, people always curious about their roots. Like Darly said, “People are curious creatures you know.”

    Keep writing about Laos, Laotian, and Lao tradition, and you will see what I’m talking about. 🙂

  3. karmadiva

    Ginger, my mother has a very forceful and blunt personality. If you are doing something wrong she will tell you without sugar coating anything. For example, she always warn us girls to “cha been heekill da” (don’t be slutty). Her idea of heekill is dressing in short skirts where people can see your business, being physical with boys etc. As for her hitting us, yes she did when we needed it, but we are not scarred by it emotionally or physically. She was very controlling and is still the same way even though I am thirty six!

    I love talking to my mother because she is a great source of information and she has led a very unconventional life for a Laotian woman and I will write about her experiences later. I also like to talk to Laotian elders because of the knowledge they have. I am not saying we have to pass down our knowledge of what it means to be Lao in Lao only. All I said was it is crucial to show our young people the importance of retaining our language by using it. One of my favorite quotes explains my view of passing down knowledge, ‘Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time’ Hebrew Proverb. I am aware that the younger generations ( my little sister was born here) are different in their thinking, manner, and beliefs. I have no problem with that. I just want them to remember their culture and incorporate that into their own life the way they see fit.:)

  4. Peterlaos

    Hello,

    I’m an American, but my wife is Lao. You wrote about being true to your Laotian culture. How often do you wear a Lao sin? To work, to the store, to the mall, to visit friends? My wife has lived in the states for four years now, studied English at the local community college and is now a waitress at a Thai restaurant here in Sacramento.

    But as far as I know, she is the only Lao who is not embarrased to wear a Lao sin on a regular basis. I’ve yet to meet a Lao woman/girl who feels comfortable wearing a Lao sin. How about you?

    Also, I learned about your blog through Nye’s blog and you wrote something I thought was very anti-Laos in regard to the Hmong/Vang Pao. Do you know that the Hmong terrorists in Laos, supported by Vang Pao and his ilk, have killed innocent Lao citizens???? Do you condone that?
    It seems from what you wrote that you do. For me and my wife, who know and have interviewed people attacked and killed a co-worker of my wife’s (his wife was killed) at the Scandinavian Restaurant in Vientiane.

    The Hmong do not deserve to try to overthrow the Lao government. What they could do is support the 450,000 Hmong who are just trying to scrape by, like most Lao. My wife and I have walked the talk by donating books, book boxes and educational materials to Hmong schools in Vientiane and in Huaphan Province.

    By the way, I am a high school librarian and fellow educator…

  5. karmadiva

    Peterloos, thank you for sharing your story about your friend. I appreciate your openness. Now, I have to reinterate one thing: I do not condone any form of violence against anybody. If you would go back to the blog I wrote on the Hmong I stress that. I was just giving both sides of the issue because I think it’s important. Like I said in the blog, UN observers need to be sent into Laos to see if the Hmong are mistreated as they claimed. I said that it would benefit the Lao government and the Hmong because they both claim that they are correct or we should believe their story. We can not take the words of anybody without checking all sources and that was what I was trying to get across. I am a huge proponent of peace and activism against all injustice.

    I think it’s wonderful that your wife was given the opportunity to get here to the states where she will have many opportunities to improve her life. I think it’s awesome that you and your wife have donated to the Hmong. As for me I am going to send home clothes and books to be disperse in my village. Also, I am going to use the club I sponsor at school to gather more supplies for those in need in Laos.

    As for wearing sin, I laugh because I wear mine a lot! Everytime I go home, my mother always hide hers because I’m always stealing it! I don’t wear my sin to school because I teach and I do have to abide by some rules. However, I have worn it to school before so my students know what it looks like. Also, in order to increase Lao cultural awareness I have taken Lao food to school for my co-workers before. In other words, I just don’t talk the talk, I walk the walk! I can’t be a model for others if I don’t show them that I am proud to be Lao.

  6. From personal experience, I’ll just say that one’s path as a ‘true’ Laotian is never so easy, nor so difficult as one might imagine. It is, ultimately a choice.

    Is Laotian what you call yourself? Or is it what others call you?

    If you were born of two people who trace their ancestry all the way back to ancient Greece, but you decide to call yourself Laotian, would that make you Laotian?

    If you were born in Laos, but a dozen, a hundred, a thousand people tell you you’re not Laotian, does that make you any less Laotian?

    If your parents were born in Laos, but you were not, are you no longer Laotian? What if those parents were the children of Chinese or Indian merchants?

    You do not become Laotian just because you speak or write passa Lao, or there would be hundreds of missionaries and teachers who just became Laotian.

    And if you can speak Spanish, it does not make you Spanish any more than merely speaking French makes you French.

    The same principles apply when it comes to ‘knowing’ Laotian history and culture. I may well know many things about Japanese culture, but that does not in itself make me Japanese.

    And no matter how much I know of our history in Laos, there will also be zones of knowledge where another will say: You do not know.

    And they will be right, but will I truly be less Laotian because I do not know that one particular fact?

    You do not become Laotian just because you practice the Lao style of Buddhism, or do Laotian Christians suddenly become non-Laotian?

    And of course, the same applies for any cultural practice and observance.

    Obviously, we’ve decided that being Laotian isn’t necessarily about living in Laos.

    Or hundreds of thousands of people just become former Laotians for living outside of Laos.

    Culture and identity are a maddening conundrum, especially for populations like ours.

    I bring these points to our attention because we must avoid absolutes, or trying to establish dictates of what ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ Laotian behavior.

    Because for every example that proves a point, there are just as many who would disprove and question that point by which we might argue a person is or isn’t Laotian.

    Perhaps it is more constructive for us now to simply begin a dialogue instead of: What we would LIKE being a Laotian to mean.

  7. karmadiva

    I totally agree that beginning a dialogue among all generations is vital! I am all for learning from others because it helps me understand the subject better. Also, a simple question such as the one posed by Darly can ignite some exciting discussion and that’s what I think is more important than the actual answer because it stimulates us to think critically.

    What I express about being a true Laotian is based on my own experience and conviction. And yes it is my perception of what I see as my cultural identity. I talked about growing up in a traditional Laotian household with very specific traditions and beliefs on relationship, religion, and social expectations. It is my personal history. Some people will be able to understand what I’m talking about if they were raised the same way, but there will be others who are raised differently who might not be able to connect. To me, that is alright because that is their experience.

    Obviously, you do not become Lao because you eat Lao food, speak Lao, or act like you are kwon Lao. That is not what I was claiming. What I stress was the importance of retaining our cultural identity and beliefs by practicing what we think it is. For example, I think it’s imperative that we speak Lao so we can pass it on to our kids so they can pass it on from generations to generations. If we don’t pass our traditions and beliefs down, we run the risk of being totally absorbed into other cultures. There is nothing wrong with that, but I am proud of being from Laos.

    My kids are mixed, but yet they know who they are when people ask them. They are only five and nine, but if you were to ask them what they are they will tell you they are Lao, Vietnamese, and Spanish. My husband teaches them Spanish and I teach them Lao. We eat Spanish food and Lao food as well as American. We celebrate Spanish holidays, American holidays, and Laotian holidays. I do this because I want them to know what it means to be Spanish and Lao. I want them to embrace all of their culture as well as the American culture. Just because they were born here doesn’t mean they are not Lao. You don’t have to be born in Lao to be Lao. If your parents are Lao then you are Lao.

    What it means to be Laotian is a perception to some, yes, a choice for others. However, if someone were to ask me what I think it means, I will tell them about my traditions and beliefs based on the way I was brought up.

    The bottom line is we all have our own understanding and beliefs on what it means to be Lao and that is wonderful. I don’t expect us to be like clones of each other that’s for sure. I embrace all diversity and that includes diversity within my culture!:)

  8. See, for me, I find there’s far too much risk in people trying to create narrow definitions of the Laotian experience, and if we do so, we will fail. Instead, we must work towards a definition that is broad enough to allow for many modes, many possibilities and paths to being Lao.

    My own family consists of children who are half Latin American, half-Lao, or all-Lao, or Lao adopted by Indians or European Americans, and so on, and my story isn’t nearly as complicated as others.

    (of course you can figure that out by googling that Star Tribune article about me in the news last week.)

    But the transmission of culture is important, so long as that transmission does not become an impediment, but an assett to success.

    We are not giving our culture and beliefs to the next generation so that they can flounder, but so they can flourish within a world wider and yet more closely connected than ever before.

    Our national identity must not be a box to limit, nor to construct artificial ‘Us-vs.-Them’ relationships, but something of use, something to yearn to keep in our lives because it represents something even greater than ourselves.

    As I have often said, we are united in the spirit of effort. Our ways today are unrecognizable to our ancestors of even a hundred years ago, let alone 400 or a thousand. But it is in our effort to hold together, for good causes, that creates a people, creates a culture worth keeping.

  9. karmadiva

    Bryan, that is my whole point, your last sentence. That is what I have been saying, we all have different perspective on what are the characteristics or traits or components of the Laotian culture and it’s alright.

    My mission is to pass on values that I think is uniquely Lao to my children as well as share with others what my experience is so that we all can learn from each other. When we show our children and tell them why they should be proud of who they are then they will be excited to share their culture with everybody else.

    As a history teacher, I always stress the importance of cultural preservation and personal history because it is a legacy they can pass on to their children. I always tell my students, be proud of who you are because it is immmensely exciting to be different. Being different is a good thing, but I also stress the importance of using our commonalities to connect to each other across the cultural spectrum!:)

    We must work together to break down all barriers cultural, political, and social in order to understand and appreciate each other as humans.

  10. Hi, I wrote the original article that you’re replying to, ‘What it means to be Laotian’ at Laoplanet.net, but I wrote it broad enough especially for people living abroad. If you have any Laotian blood in you, there’s no question as to you being a Laotian, but it’s a matter of that individual accepting that s/he is a Laotian; you can’t make or force someone to become one.

    I’m echoing the voice of concern from the elder Laotians that are living abroad, they fear that younger Laotians living abroad will not carry the Lao traditions such as Lao wedding, Lao funeral, Boun at the Wat, and the list goes on, because they don’t know what these are. Assuming that the elder generation is no longer with us and it’s just the younger generation, will any of us carry the Lao tradition. I think this has nothing to do with who is a better Laotian, but more so about preserving our culture by carrying on our Lao tradition and that’s the main concern for the elder Laotians. And yes, you’re still a Laotian even if you don’t carry on the Lao tradition, but one without any Lao tradition and cultural identity. I’m not here to tell people that I’m a better Laotian, or how to become a Laotian, but just to provide some information about our culture and believes, what they do with it is up to them.

  11. karmadiva

    Forgive me Ginger for saying it was Darly! It’s a compliment though because I love both of you!:) Anyway, thank your for reinterating what I have been trying to say. It is not about who’s a better this or that, it’s about our cultural identity. If we can’t tell people what we believe and what is important to our culture then we are in a sense forgetting our roots.

    Thank you for pointing out our elders concerns because it is frightening to think that some young people have forgotten the basics of Lao culture.

    When I was planning my wedding I had to incorporate three different religious beliefs
    ( Baptist, Catholics and Buddhism) and three different cultures ( Lao, Spanish, and American). I wanted to show respect to all areas because it was important to practice my traditions.

  12. Hi Karmadiva, don’t worry about it, once you click at the article, you can’t see the author’s name. I wrote it in reply to Darly’s ‘What Is Up With The Thai Bashing’ article. It’s refreshing to read what you, Bryan, and Peter Laos are talking about from different perspectives, even though Bryan might take the scenic route of getting his point of view across, but it’s definitely something to pondering.

    Peter is currently living in CA, but he once lived in Laos for a period and married his wife from Laos, and has been very involving with helping the children with books and other materials in Laos. Laoplanet Book Box Program is a spinning off from his program and we’ve him to thank for guiding us in that direction otherwise some of us might not even think twice about doing such thing. I was skeptical about donating any money to Laos but seeing how passionate he and his wife are in helping made me realized that it’s something that I can do also. He has a very kind heart and I’m hoping to join his tour group to Laos one day. This is his link, very interesting web site with lots of beautiful photos of Laos. He was kind enough for me to use his photos in many of my posts.

    http://web.mac.com/peterlaos/iWeb/Got%20Laos/Welcome%20.html

  13. karmadiva

    Ginger I went to that site and it’s wonderful! I am so envious of his trip! Thank you for telling me about his site. It has been so nice to have all these stimulating conversation about Laos with different perspectives and people. This is so important to us understanding about our culture an people!

  14. La Cam

    So you talk about proper dress and groom as a Laotian girl, but your picture includes a girl in a tight tube top and two girls in low cut spaghetti strap tanks. That is not what most girls in Laos are wearing and it’s also an example of your assimilation to American culture. Also, I didn’t see many overweight girls in Laos, so maybe you guys shouldn’t be eating like your non-Laotian, “American” counterparts. And if you can’t speak Laotian as fluent as you speak English, is that your fault? I”m sure most people want to be multi-lingual and you should not hold that against them.

  15. Laotian Teacher

    La Cam thank you for visiting. I am the “girl” in the “tight” tube top you are referring to. As for what girls are wearing in Laos, I’m sure they wear tank tops as well. I’ve seen some pictures of girls from Laos in different styles of clothes including traditional to modern.

    Of course, I have assimilated into the American culture, but I still value my Laotian heritage. I have not become so Americanized that I don’t know where I come from and what I believe is important.

    I do not look down on people who are not fluent speakers. I just said that if we don’t continue speaking our language we will lose it. Just like if we don’t practice our cultural beliefs, it will die out. Then what will we have to pass on to our own children?

    Most people I know are at least biligual and that is great. Once again, I’m not holding that against them.

    Now as for what you said about you don’t really see overweight girls in Laos, I agree with you, but that doesn’t mean a skinny girl is healthy. I know some people who are skinny,but they don’t take care of themselves by watching what they eat or getting some exercise. If you are trying to be insulting and say that I’m overweight, that is your opinion. You are assuming to know too much about my habits. You don’t know what I like to eat or don’t eat, but I’ll tell you anyway since I don’t want you to be confuse. I cook more Lao food than American food because I love it!

  16. Melanie

    You’re not overweight, you all look lovely in that photo.

    Anyhow, I came across this article while researching about Laotian people. My partner is from Laos; he came here when he was 8 and is now 34. He still speaks Lao fluently and his English isn’t the greatest as far as a broad vocabulary. And some may say he speaks ‘ebonics’. He is always cooking Laotian food and has a Buddha statue in our house. At the same time, there are definite American influences; his clothing and baseball caps are more rap-inspired than Lao-inspired. It’s interesting, especially since he disapprovingly states how his sister is “Americanized”. My question is, what would our child be considered? We have a 4-month-old daughter named Leilana. I found that name while searching on the internet for Lao names, but I don’t think it is actually a Lao name. (Can anyone give me more information?) I am wondering if Lao people would consider our daughter to be Lao, or not. I am white with an ethnic mix of italian, irish, swedish, czech, scottish… Too many to name. I am the typical American mutt! His family called my baby something he said wasn’t meant to be insulting but I found it very offensive… something like farang? falang? Which he said meant something about being white, or american, I don’t remember.

    What do the rest of you Laotians think? Would my daughter be considered Lao? I am open to all responses, if I get any.

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