Recently re-visited a golf course in Minnesota in the city of Proctor.
Minnesota was the leading manufacturer of cluster bombs that continue to contaminate 30% of Laos nearly 50 years since the end of the US secret bombing of Operation Barrel Roll in March, 1973.
Although I only met him once, this January marks the 10th anniversary since the passing of Minnesota-based activist Marv Davidov who did a lot of work to protest the work of Honeywell in connection to the manufacture of the cluster bombs used in Southeast Asia. One of his friends has a very touching tribute to him here.
I’d met Marv in the course of the Legacies of War Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibition in 2010 that was convened at Intermedia Arts with the Lao community for a month. It remains one of my favorite projects the community brought to Minnesota in collaboration with Pangea World Theatre, Intermedia Arts, the Lao Assistance Center, Legacies of War, members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project and the Lao American Writers Summit and the Lao Student Association of the University of Minnesota.
During the conflicts in Southeast Asia, over 30% of the the cluster bombs dropped on Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere failed to detonate immediately upon impact.
I returned to Laos after 17 years away in January, 2020 as part of the research I was doing in the course of my Joyce Award. The ultimate plan of that project was to present an exhibit of poetry, art, and archival photographs looking at the experience of Lao refugees 45 years since the end of the conflict. Among the sites I visited was the COPE visitor center. They work with victims of UXO to understand the very real dangers that continue to this day and why we advocate passionately for clearance.
One reader of mine informed me that the fragmentation shrapnel was specially designed to look essentially like a cluster of grapes. round so it packed well, but rough so that at high speeds it grabbed and ripped flesh. The alloy was chosen because it was not easily encapsulated, and it continued to irritate the body it was entombed in. Honeywell, before the division was spun off into Alliant Techsystems, had it cast at the now-defunct Rausch Manufacturing in St.Paul. just east of 280 and south of University Avenue. It is a neighborhood I was very familiar with near where I’d moved to in the late 1990s after college.
In 2021 I had visited this golf course in the Spring to read my poem “Riding the Tiger” featured in my book Before We Remember We Dream from Sahtu Press. The poem was part of a series that sought to re-examine of the Vietnam War in response to the Ken Burns documentary and its erasures. This poem series attempted to navigate the perspective of Southeast Asians in diaspora who were affected by the conflict but largely excluded from the narrative, especially those from Laos and Cambodia. I’d previously written an essay for WHYY in Pennsylvania on the subject, since it’s very difficult to get this issue covered in Minnesota’s newspapers these days.
As we approach the Year of the Tiger, it’s fitting to share it here, and to remember.