In a Laotian community, a group of elders always lead the way when it comes to proper etiquette, behavior, social norms and expectations. Sometimes the group of leaders are formally chosen in community meetings and discussion. However, in the smaller Lao community, it is commonly agreed upon that whoever is the eldest should be the figurehead or adviser to the people. This is the case in the Lao community I grew up in. The eldest became the prevailing voice in disputes, disagreement or discussion concerning topics ranging from social, political, and economic. These group of elders are usually at community functions, celebrations, and ceremonies. They are revered and respected for their wisdom and advice. They in a sense keep the Lao community in line as well as encourage everybody to be upstanding citizens in the community. Having a group of elders who are beyond reproach in behavior and decorum provided a strong foundation for the Lao community. The younger Laotians strived to model their own behaviors after the elders. Of course, not all were successful, but at least they tried. When they would fall off the wagon, they knew that they would have to face the criticism or admonishment from the elders and the thought that they would disappoint was punishment enough. At least my generation, still had respect for our elders to always be aware of our behavior at all times. We held them in high regards because they themselves did the same thing! Unfortunately, some elders are behaving like they are teenagers themselves by getting into public fights and displaying unacceptable behaviors. Without a strong foundation in our community, our efforts of making a difference in the lives of our young people will dissipate.
From 1979 up to 1996, Clovis, New Mexico had a thriving Lao community. There were at least 100 families in Clovis. Every weekend there was always something going on at somebody’s house. We always had some kind of celebration or events such as birthday parties, weddings, graduations, or engagements. It was not a perfect community, but the elders kept a semblance of order. We respected them and listened to them because they practice what they preach. The adults in our lives set good examples for us to live by. I know that in many Lao communities the elders have forgotten their responsibilities to the next generation.
The role or dynamic of the elders might not have changed for some community, but the new group of elders in some community have become more laxed in their values, expectations, behaviors or social expectations. Some elders themselves have deviated from the Laotian way of doing things. It is disappointing to see some of them acting socially and morally irresponsible by having extramarital affairs, dressing like they are in their teens, gossiping, instigating fights and forgetting that they are a role model for the younger generations. If the elders in our communities do not uphold a high standard of behavior then can we blame the younger generations for acting up or doing whatever they desire without caring about Lao traditions?