Laos Trip 2k16 – by Jamie Xayachack
Well, the damage is done. Here I am at 12 in the morning doing some last minute packing and checking off things on my list for the 5th time. My plans were to originally get things in order yesterday, but my ultimate goal was to devote as much time as I could with family before my first trip overseas. This will be my FIRST TRIP OVERSEAS – oh my goodness. Unable to grasp this insane reality, it feels as though it’s just another sleepless night. I’ll probably just pull an all-nighter because of my un-readiness and hope that I’m as ready as can be for this 5-week adventure.
This trip is such an amazing opportunity and I’m so grateful towards the McConnell Foundation for giving me the chance to experience new things that I would’ve never thought that I would be able to experience in my lifetime.
To be completely honest, my Mom was completely against me going on this trip. Her reasons were and are still valid – I’ve unknowingly alienated myself from my Lao community. Lao parties? I don’t go to them. Lao/Thai cuisine? I’ll pass, my Mom basically force feeds me to eat dishes she makes at home because I don’t like rice that much. Do I speak any Lao? Nope, but I can understand anyone who speaks it – brownie points for me! Am I familiar with my culture and traditions and Buddhism? On a scale 1-10 of familiarity with these things, I stand at a solid 6. My Mom is scared for all the challenges I’ll be faced with during my time in Laos and it is a little unnerving to think about fully immersing myself in a community that I’ve distanced myself from at such a young age.
I blame myself for not being an active participant and not trying my absolute best to contribute to my Lao community, but I also blame the society that I was raising up/living in. During 1st/2nd grade, I had pronunciation and speaking issues that led my teachers to put me in speaking lessons with a Lao-Mien teacher. The reason for my issues at such a young is that my Mom spoke Lao all the time at home. Teachers were encouraging my Mom to speak more English at home. This was a major obstacle for my Mom because she’s always had issues with her English because no one taught her how to properly speak English before and after coming to America. As a result, she slowly started to speak English-Lao, a mix of the two languages and their vocabulary, which helped my English in a way, but also hindered my ability properly understand the language of Lao and to speak it.
By 4th grade, I completely stopped speaking Lao at home and spoke English all the time with the encouragement of my educators. I didn’t have the foresight to understand how this would make a negative impact on me as an Asian-American.
This city that I live is predominantly made up of White-Americans and I’ve completely immersed myself in the American culture, honestly trying to “fit in”. I find it a little disturbing sometimes. It’s not the most horrible thing in the world. It’s just that I sometimes feel as if the society that I live in is estranged from other cultures, other than the Lao culture and its traditions. A couple of events occurred during my time in 3rd grade that will never escape my memory. The first happened during lunch time, when I brought a popular Lao dish to school called, Nam Wan. The moment that I opened up this desert in front of everyone at the lunch table was really sad honestly. Kids would claim that I was eating mold and that it was expired because it looked weird. Laughter and jokes were being thrown around this dish that is so common in my household. Traumatized by this event, I asked my Mom to never pack Lao food in my lunch ever again. Another event happened during show-and-tell. I brought in a video of a Lao lady singing a popular song and other women in the video who were dancing so elegantly in their beautiful Lao dresses. I was so proud of my heritage and culture, until kids started whispering and snickering about how awful it was. Isn’t elementary school the best?
I grew up trying to assimilate to the American culture while disregarding my own identity.
One problem that we certainly face today is how we pride ourselves in this “melting pot” that we all believe is apparent in our society. No, it certainly isn’t. As a child I experienced a lot of hardships from being raised in a traditional household while familiarizing myself with the world around me. I have familiarized myself with jokes about my eyes. I have familiarized myself with questions about whether I eat dogs and cats and other household pets. I have familiarized myself with the fact that people think that I’m some sort of brainiac because of my ethnicity.
This trip will give me the opportunity to reconnect with my roots and appreciate the culture to which my Mother was raised in. I owe it to her to proudly identify myself as a Lao-American.
Ultimately, my goal during this trip is to take as much as I can from this wonderful country to better educate myself on my culture. In doing so, I hope to let others around me better understand the Lao community and encourage others to embrace its wonderful traditions.