International Lao New Year 2009 – San Francisco, CA – Opening

International Lao New Year Opening Ceremony
Novato Arts Center at Hamilton Field | Novato, California

The opening ceremony was quite moving, hearing stories and memories from the various men and women who worked as volunteers at the base that was the original housing and processing center for thousands of Lao refugees. I found out later that my family was at this “Lao Ellis Island” for 3 days until we found out our final destination on the east coast.

So many different people, arriving in the same place, but dispersed over the years like seeds in the breeze, each with their own stories and scars. In this reunion, some expressed that the fairy tale didn’t end with the passing through the gates, but only hardship was experienced through the years. Others expressed that the brief time spent volunteering at the base was the most rewarding experience of their life, no matter if they never received verbal thanks or a pat on the back.

One story that will forever stick in my mind was from one elder Lao lady. In Laos, she recalled seeing a brochure/pamphlet for San Francisco, with its magificent Golden Gate bridge on the cover. In the refugee camp she couldn’t believe that the place she would be going to was that mythical city. However, when she arrived and began her new life in America, she saw people, Americans, digging for food in the trash cans, and eating half rotten oranges. She cried, wondering how on earth she could raise 4 kids on her own, here in America, when its true citizens were sifting through garbage for food. She recalled that on her commute for many years, she had to travel across the Golden Gate bridge daily, the same bridge she saw on that brochure, and wept every single time she traveled over its red rust metal.

In the evening, I got a chance to converse with Thavisouk Phravasath, the Lao filmmaker whose most recent work is Nerakhoon (The Betrayal), which was nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, and also nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Sundance Film Festival.

Bizarre huh? Two Lao artists, both coming from humble origins, talking about Hollywood and cinematography over some Corona’s in a Lao restaurant. Actually I wasn’t the one talking, I was just sitting, listening, and daydreaming…

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