The Between Two Words: Untold Stories of Refugees from Laos (B2W) is a project of the Center for Lao Studies. B2W is made possible with the generous support from The McConnell Foundation, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, California Humanities, and Central Valley Community Foundation.
In 2009, the Center for Lao Studies (CLS) launched the Lao Oral History Archive (LOHA) project to document the untold stories of Lao refugees in the U.S. through audio and video media. The LOHA project team interviewed over 20 families of varying ethnicities in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA and Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN and captured the stories of their journeys from life in Laos, to experiences in “reeducation” and refugee camps, to relocation and settlement in the United States.
With the generous support of the California Council for the Humanities, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, and the Asian Pacific Endowment, CLS was able to record the interviews and create an on-line archive for them along with related photos and historical documents (www.laostudies.org/loha), which has served as a valuable resource for scholars and community members throughout the world.
In 2013, with a community grant from the City of San Pablo, California, CLS created a mixed media and photographic installation entitled “Refugees Among Us,” displayed at the San Pablo Art Gallery. The exhibit included artifacts, photos, documents, and a collection of videos of first-person narratives by multi-ethnic Lao Americans recounting their experiences.
The warm reception of both the San Pablo exhibit and LOHA itself led CLS to develop the current project, Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Refugees from Laos (B2W), which will further develop these themes and provide a multi- layered, interactive experience for exhibit participants.
|Alicia Akins||Exhibit Coordinator|
|TBD||Richmond Project Coordinator|
|Bounlieng Phommasouvanh||Community Advisor|
|Sally Phonthachack||General Project Coordinator|
|Dale Thongmahavong Phouvilay||Graphic designer|
|Prany Sananikone||Content Advisor|
|Alisak Sanavongsay||Website Technical Director|
|Nor Sanavongsay||Interactive Web / User Interface Designer|
|Todd Sanchioni||Photographer / Videographer|
|Phoumy Sayavong||Project Co-Director, Evaluator|
|Joanne Sengxay||Redding Project Coordinator|
|Christine Su||Researcher / Editor|
|Vinya Sysamouth||Project Co-Director|
|Ryan Wolfson-Ford||Public Historian|
These lesson plans are intended to provide high school teachers with the materials necessary to teach about U.S. involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War and the unique story of refugees from Laos who became Lao American. There are very few resources available to teach this content, but it might be useful to first consider why it is important to teach this content.
The significance of the Vietnam War is widely recognized, but the history of U.S. involvement in Laos (the so-called ‘Secret War’) remains poorly known even though the conflict was pivotal to the course of history in both countries. The failure of the U.S. and its Lao allies to halt communist movement along the Ho Chi Minh trail not only doomed the U.S. defense of South Vietnam but also drew the Lao state into the wider conflict and drove the U.S. bombing campaign in the country. Despite its long neglect, the war in Laos is part of the American story. Because most Americans remain unaware of these events they know less about their own history and that of their neighbors who were resettled from Laos or are of Lao, Hmong, Mien, Khmu or other heritage.
Refugees who resettled to America after war have a unique vantage point on the conflict. Their lives were forever altered by the course of the war that came to their ancestral homes and ultimately took them to their new home in America. The lesson content provided here is intended not just for those teaching in a community with refugee families but is for any teacher and classroom across the country. More than any other, the refugee puts a human face on the war.
The main objective of these lesson plans is to provide teachers with all the materials and content necessary to teach about the poorly known US intervention in Laos during the Vietnam War and about Lao, Hmong, Mien and Khmu refugees who resettled to America after the war. There are two sample lesson plans to provide possible approaches to teach the material in an engaging and meaningful way for students.
“A confined home is livable; a confined heart is not.”
- Lao Proverb
Between Two Worlds will present and juxtapose these crucial stages of refugees from Laos and multi-ethnic Lao American history through the representation of four homes. As they move physically and symbolically through each, visitors will be asked to contemplate ideas of “home” as seen through the eyes of people for whom the notion is precarious, and for those who have lived or are still living “between two worlds.” The exhibit highlights the ways in which the refugees from Laos migration exerted pressure on cultural norms, and how survival involved both radical loss and creative adaptation:
Beginning in 2018 through the Spring of 2020, B2W will be exhibited in areas with significant populations of refugees from Laos and their families, including:
|Redding||Turtle Bay Museum||Iu-Mien and Lao||October 6, 2018 - January 13, 2019|
|San Diego||New American Museum||Lao||April 26, 2019 - July 28, 2019|
|Richmond||Richmond History Museum||Khmu and Lao||March 1, 2020 - May 29, 2020|
|Merced||Merced Multicultural Arts Center||Iu-Mien, Hmong, Lao||March 9, 2022 - May 29, 2022|
|Sacramento||California Museum||Iu-Mien and Lao||TBD|
More information coming soon.
For more information or to support the Between Two Worlds project, please contact:
Center for Lao Studies
405 Grand Ave., Suite 202
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Tel: (415) 874-5578