"Refugee Nation" explores the lives of three generations of Lao immigrants to the U.S.
While the tragedy of the Vietnam War and its bloodshed is a tale familiar to Americans, few of us are aware of a related and equally bloody conflict - the Laotian Civil War. Among US veterans of the conflict, it is known as the Secret War.
The play was written and is performed by husband and wife team Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan, and was inspired in part by a trip they took to Laos to visit Saopeng's relatives. Chan says what they found there shocked them:
Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the devastation from the Vietnam War era - the bombings and war in Laos - is still there. And the poverty was just overwhelming for both of us. It inspired us to create this play to talk about the Laotian-American experience.
Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan perform in "Refugee Nation"
For Saopeng, the play is in large part about his own experience as a member of what he calls the "1.5 generation."
The Lao community is spread like ashes throughout the United States. My family arrived here in the United States in 1979, when I was 5 years old. So I have one foot in the old world of Laos, and the culture and the language, and the other foot firmly planted in America. My parents generation is still very old school, and still speak primarily Lao, while those in the second generation, who were born here, grow up speaking English, and surrounded by American culture. I grew up between the two.
Saopeng interviewed numerous Lao immigrants to help develop the play, many of them here in the Twin Cities (Saopeng and Chan live and work in Los Angeles). What emerged were three persistant themes: a disconnect between the different generations, young Laotian men turning to gangs because they couldn't navigate the American system successfully, and, says Saopeng, an overpowering lack of identity.
Where's our voice? Where do we stand here in the United States? How come we can't speak up? How come no one knows who we are? The younger generation doesn't even know where they come from. What's going on with us that we're not progressing like other immigrant communities who came here at the same time?
What Saopeng and Chan found was that many Laotian elders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 30 years after evacuating from the horrors of the Secret War. While the older generation is seeking to forget the horrors of their past, their children want to know how they came to the United States, but don't feel it's something they can talk about, says "Refugee Nation" performer Litdet Viravong:
I'm learning more about my own culture, history and people, because growing up we weren't taught these things, and certainly here [in the U.S.] in history class we don't hear about Laos.
Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan say the play serves as a catalyst to get different generations of Laotian-Americans talking to one another about their family history, and the challenges they face today. They've been touring the production to different communities across the country, sometimes appearing at local festivals in order to reach their target audience. But director Rena Heinrich, whose father served in the U.S. military in Laos, says it's equally important for non-Laotians to see the show:
For me it pains me that Laos is the most bombed country in the history of the world, and no one knows about that - that's huge! And the devastation that it's caused and is still causing. And even thirty years later immigrants are still traumatized, locked within themselves, and we're still feeling the effects of that.
"Refugee Nation" runs this weekend and next at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, co-presented by the Lao Assistance Center and Pangea World Theater.
The Weisman Art Museum has been keeping its doors open for the first phase of its expansion and renovation. That will change this Sunday, when it shuts down for a year.
This Sunday the Weisman Art Museum is shutting its doors to the public and taking down the last pieces of art in preparation for the next phase of its expansion and renovation.
That phase will take approximately a year; Director Lyndel King says the museum plans to re-open in November of 2011.
However the museum will open to the public just once more this winter, this December, for a closing party that will allow museum lovers to do some things they normally never get to do in a museum. Like draw on the walls... or drink red wine.
Yesterday afternoon I was treated to a hard-hat tour of the new sections of the building now in progress, including a new collaboration space meant to serve as an incubator for projects that involve both artists and other non-arts-related university departments. That space juts out of the front of the building, and will be covered by a typical Frank Gehry shiny metallic drapery that will almost completely protect students walking in front of the museum rain or snow.
New gallery space
The most exciting part of the tour was checking out the expanded gallery space on the East side of the building. The rooms are monumental in size and will double the number of objects the Weisman can display at any given time.
And what appears from the exterior to be jauntily placed boxes on top of the Weisman's roof are actually new skylights, which add dramatic natural lighting.
Weisman Art Museum's expansion features two large skylights.
The next phase of construction is expected to finish in May 2011, after which the building will need to sit empty for a while as the new floors off-gas, and the new paint smell fades away.
Surprisingly, the date of the museum's re-opening has yet to be set, not because of construction, but because of the University of Minnesota's fall football schedule.
Director King says the museum is obliged to wait and see what Saturdays are taken up by home games; due to campus policy the museum's parking lot is forced to shut down on those Saturdays, making a re-opening celebration infeasible.
Posted at 8:48 AM on October 8, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Events
David Byrne in "Ride Rise Roar," part of this year's Sound Unseen film festival.
There's a lot to look at this weekend...
In addition to the music/film festival taking place in Minneapolis, the St. Paul Art Crawl is invading the east side of the Mississippi, with more than 300 artists showing their work in venues all over the city.
Commedia Beauregard continues its "Masterworks" series at Bryant Lake Bowl this weekend with "The Louvre it or Leave it Show." CB asks playwrights to contemplate a particular work of art and then write a short play inspired by it. This time around the work is all drawn from a little Minneapolis museum.
Intermedia Arts and Pangea World Theatre present "Refugee Nation," a play about Laotian-Americans living in the thirty year wake of a U.S. led secret war in Laos. The show was created in part from interviews done in the Twin Cities. Check back later today for an in-depth post on the show.
Heading to Duluth this weekend for some fall color? Than might I suggest a stop at The Venue in the West End to check out "Evil Dead, The Musical." It's a campy horror/comedy featuring such delightful numbers as "Look who's evil now" and "Do the Necronomicon." Brought to you by Rubber Chicken Theater.
Thinking about getting a tattoo? Or, say 200 of them? This weekend the Hyatt Regency hosts the Minneapolis Tattoo Arts Convention, featuring suspension acts, burlesque, tattoo contests, an art gallery, 200 of the world's best tattoo artists and an appearance by the human canvas The Enigma.