The mission of Laos In The House is to promote storytelling in the Lao American refugee community through the mediums of art. By way of programming, events and partnership projects, we integrate storytelling with art, seeking to engage community members to share their own personal stories, allowing us to do it in the way we want to be seen and heard. We acknowledge the work of Lao American artists already sharing their own stories while giving voice to those who cannot do so for themselves, in the hopes of healing the scars of war and beginning the process of regular intercultural, intergenerational exchanges.
The diaspora of Laotians living outside of the country of Laos spans all over the world, from France to Australia, Argentina and the United States. This is a result of war - three to be exact, all happening simultaneously: the Lao Civil War, the neighboring Vietnam War and perhaps the most devastating, the U.S. Secret War in Laos - a military campaign that averaged a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, for 24 hours for 9 years, giving Laos the title of the most bombed country in the world. What makes Lao Americans so unique then, is their experience living in the very country that nearly destroyed their own homeland.
Artists have frequently been referred to as voices for the people, and their work often utilized as tools for social change. Highlighting the work of artists gives us a chance to shine a spotlight on that experience, while adding their voices to the larger collective narrative that makes us uniquely Lao American. Whether traditional khaen musician or contemporary neo illustrationist painter, whether refugee survivor, descendant of the royal Lao family or adopted son of a former soldier, we believe that all stories are important to the story of Lao America.
Laos In The House was inspired from a poem by founder Catzie Vilayphonh, "You Bring Out The Laos In The House" originally written in 2002 as an homage to the author's cultural identity. Although it became Catzie's signature poem, she rarely saw another Lao face in all of the places she had performed. It wasn't until 2005 in Minnesota, that she met fellow Lao writer Bryan Thao Worra (who also had a poem called "Laos in the House", unbeknownst to either of them).
Soon after, the doors opened. More and more Lao artists popped up and began crossing paths with one another. What these talented individuals learned from getting to know each other was that they all had a common, collective yearning to see a visible Lao presence, not just within the arts community itself but in the audiences of their shows as well. As Lao Americans they were immigrants and refugees of a culture that did not prioritize art education history. Yet as artists the basis of their work was often driven from personal narrative, thus creating art was another way of telling their stories and in turn, sharing ours. This became the impetus to start Laos In The House.
THE FIRST SHOW
In 2012 Catzie Vilayphonh was awarded the Knight Foundation Challenge Arts Grant for $25K to start "Laos In The House". The project was an initiative to engage the Lao American community through writing, performance and visual arts to promote storytelling as a healing medium from the traumas of war. This culminated into the curation of a gallery exhibit and performance showcase featuring work by other Lao American artists for the very first time in Philadelphia in May 2015. A two month-long multi-disciplinary gallery exhibition titled "Laos In The House: Voices From Four Decades Of The Lao Diaspora" debuted the work of 12 visual artists and also featured original drawings by UXO survivors in Laos, courtesy of Legacies of War. The closing ceremonies concluded with community workshops and a stage show with presentations by 15 special guests from across the country which included speakers as well as singers, musicians, dancers, poets, and theatre artists, of both traditional and contemporary genres.
In the current network of Lao American artists we have now recognized over 300 individuals, a number which continues to grow as we build our legacy.
Catzie Vilayphonh is an award-winning writer, spoken word poet and multi-media artist. As a founding member of the group Yellow Rage she was one of the first Asian American women to appear on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. Through her work, she provides an awareness not often heard, drawing from personal narrative. Throughout her artistic career Catzie has been a 2012 Creative Capital finalist, a 4-time Leeway Foundation honoree and was named a Woman Non-Profit Leader by Philadelphia City Council in 2016. She is a co-founding chair of the Lao American Writer Summit, a Commissioner on the Mayor's Commission on Asian American Affairs and was recently appointed as Councilmember to the Pennsylvania Council on The Arts. A child of refugees, Catzie was born in camp, on the way to America, and thus considers herself part of the ".5 Generation". She resides in South Philly with her daughter Aditi.