I often wonder if all of my Lao New Year photos are actually doing more harm than good. Because I don’t necessarily post images of what truly happens, when outsiders go to the temple/community center/fairgrounds, they might be in for a shock. There are many things in the Lao community that I don’t agree with, and by virtue of me being Lao, I feel that I can write about my genuine concerns. My pictures are pretty, but real life most of the time is not. On certain weekends in April, at most if not all Lao temples, what should be a tranquil place basically becomes Mardi Gras or a tail gate party. I’m sure most outside first timers are taken back with the sheer cacophony, kids running around with the water and shaving cream, the drinking on Sundays, and again the deafening level of noise coming out of the loudspeakers. It’s a mixture of so many things, a sensory overload from a culture still trying to find its identity in America. In one part of the temple grounds you have the traditional alms giving to the monks and community meal that everyone contributed to. On another you have the vendors with questionable prices and wares that are impulse buys for kids only interested in having fun. The colorful worship hall stands like a beacon of peace, but meanwhile little boys are running around with toy plastic guns. In one corner of the grounds you have young people honestly trying to figure out their place in this dual culture, and in the other corner you have the kids with the colors and speech rifled with “N word” this and “N word” that. I should know, I’m Lao, I grew up with all of that too. This is what I personally think about when I attend Lao New Year. On our day to show the best of our culture and our traditions, we basically become a nuisance to the neighborhood. I mean, who wouldn’t despise a group of people that park everywhere, fill up the air with smoke and crank up the treble and volume on a Sunday morning? It doesn’t have to be that way.
In the sea of confusion I think about the bright points, that there might be many in the coming generation that will know how to meld the old ways with the rules and social guidelines of our current home. The ones that can make for themselves a better life than the ones our elders had, working so hard in the textile mills and chicken plants. It’s no secret that to many other races we are the _________ (insert racial epithet here) of Asian people. It’s about time that changed. Our people all have tremendous stories, from the rice paddies, to the refugee camps, to the cities. After every Lao New Year I usually have to consider just walking away, since I know so much of the good and amazing things our culture has to share gets lost on this celebration run amok. But it seems like I always come back. When I drop the stance of a cranky observer/documentarian and have fun, I do see the simple joys that can be had at any gathering place. I had a couple of shots left on the Polaroid and used the last frame on my two most favorite little people…all in all, a good memory to keep from “Loud” New Year. 🙂