Account of Laotians in the Bay Area falls short

LAOTIANS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

LAOTIANS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

LAOTIANS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
By Jonathan H.X. Lee, the Center for Lao Studies (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012, 128 pp., $21.99, paperback)

One of Arcadia’s publishing goals is to celebrate “the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country.” That is exactly what this pictorial volume attempts to do. Unfortunately, perhaps, because of the formulaic nature of these publications, there is little real information that can be gleaned for those with little knowledge of various Laotian communities in the Bay Area.

The author does try to provide some historical context to Laos and the use of Laos as a place where more bombs were dropped than in any other place on earth. Strangely, the CIA’s role is never clearly delineated other than to label it as the “American Secret War” against the Pathet Lao. No mention is made of America supplying weapons, paying for their defense budget, training, and ultimately destabilizing the country making civil war the perfect outcome to intervene in Laos. There are other major short-comings in the rest of the book.

For example, because of the diversity of various ethnic groups that make up Laos, Jonathan Lee never makes clear which group settled where in the Bay Area, how many live in each area and the author never addresses why some groups settled in Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco. Moreover, the author does not explain or mention the dislocation and stresses that can occur when their children become not only language translators but also culture brokers. Another topic that could have given the reader some insights into various Lao communities is the deep religious divide that has been created by the intrusion of various western religions. Instead, the pictorial view leads one to believe these belief systems exist without any tensions at all.

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