This week, Janit Von Saechao shared her poem “She/They” at Little Laos on the Prairie. This is something that excites me very much for the Iu Mien community, who are among those who are a vibrant and important part of the Laotian diaspora since 1975. Many of their families in the US were with us during the conflicts in Laos that began in 1954 and earlier, but their journey is so rarely discussed, let alone understood.
Our journey is not just that of the Hmong and Lao, but also of the Iu Mien, the Tai Dam, the Khmu, Lue, Lahu, Akha, and so many others and we need to value their journeys and what their families sought with us over the decades. How can we let each other down now? To truly succeed, we must all be there for one another as best we can. There will be moments of disagreement and even discord over process, but we must be united in the spirit of effort.
To put this into perspective for my fellow community members: The last time we saw Iu Mien poetry and literature being shared with the larger community was nearly 20 years ago with the 1999 anthology Quietly Torn and the followup, Quietly Reborn.
To see members of their community stepping forward almost 45 years since the diaspora began to tell their stories in their own words is deeply moving and deserves the fullest encouragement for their all too often unheard perspective.
There may not be many of them in the US, for reasons I find deeply unjust and disagreeable (and that’s a long story) but I wish Janit and her peers the very best, with the hope that this is just the beginning for them.