SatJaDham presents:
		by Alisak Sanavongsay 

	"We have a sponsor in France," my dad told us one night. We were 
finally going to leave Refugee Camp Ubon, in Northeast Thailand. We were 
all happy that night, but for different reasons. I was just happy that we 
were going somewhere. My younger brother and sister were too busy keeping 
their noses dry to care why we were happy; they were just happy because we 
were.  My parents were happy that they were going to be able to give their 
children a better life than what they had.
	I was only six years old back then so I thought, "What could be 
better than hunting for geckos and lizards with my slingshot, or playing 
marbles with my friends, or running around naked in the heavy monsoon rains?"
	Nonetheless, I was happy that we were going to France. I was finally
going to be reunited with my best friend who is the son of my dad's best 
friend who is the husband of my mom's best friend. We were all best friends 
and we were all going to see each other again.
	To this day, I still have not seen my best friend. We were getting 
ready to go to France when we received news that we also had a sponsor in 
the United States. My parents thought long and hard. At times, I could see 
tears running down their faces. They decided that we would have a better 
life in America. I don't know how they came to that conclusion, but that 
decision was the turning point of our lives.  
	We arrived in the United States in January of 1979 in a town in 
eastern Tennessee, called Kingsport. Our sponsors rented a house for us, but
we didn't stay there long. The heater quit on us. So, we were moved to 
another apartment.
	That was when we started getting fused into American life. I started
kindergarten. My younger brother and sister learned how to use Kleenex 
tissues. My mom took English courses and learned American cooking. My dad 
got a job. The typical AMERICAN family.
	Looking back, it seems that we all had better lives, except for my 
dad. He was the one who was out working. His only means of transportation 
was a bicycle. It was hard for him to get a decent job because he could 
only speak Lao and French. Back in Laos, he was "khru" Seme, respected 
teacher. Here, he was breaking his back for two-something dollars per hour 
to support the family.
	After about six months in Kingsport, we moved to a suburb of Chicago
to reunite with other members of the Bane Thasano clan. There were not a lot 
of Lao people so we became acquainted with almost everyone there. Although 
we were from different areas of Laos, it was as if we were one extended 
family, everyone helping each other. 
	We did not have much, but we had each other. If one person had a 
car, that meant that the others would be assured of some transportation. 
Everyone stuck together. I remember my dad telling me about how they got 
jobs back then. Some of his friends were welders, but they couldn't read 
English. So they would go around the back of the place in question. If 
there was scrap metal lying around there was a good chance they might need 
welders. If one of them got hired, he can usually talk the employer into 
hiring his friends also.
	Those were the good ole days. We lived together, ate together, 
worked together. I guess it was because we had no choice. Most of us 
couldn't afford cars. We all depended on each other in this foreign land. 
We needed everyone to make us whole.
	As the years passed more Lao people arrived, and more job 
opportunities became available. We became more independent from each other. 
Then, some people started to feel crowded and moved away. So we became more 
and more distant. We didn't need each other that much anymore.
	With independence, came its schizophrenic sibling--competition. 
Competion is good for the overall standard of living, but some people take 
it too far. That's when the its ugly side surfaces. I watched helplessly as 
my Lao people split up into warring factions, each wanting what the others 
had and more.  They had become paranoid all of a sudden, thinking everyone 
else is after their stuff. 
	It has become rarer to see one Lao speaking kindly about another. 
Before, most would be happy to see their fellow Lao with a brand new car or 
house. Nowadays, it's more like this: " That damn bastard thinks he's better
than me just because he has a new house. Well, I'll show him." 
	All this happened in my seventeen years in the United States. Where 
will our people be twenty years from now if we keep going at this rate? 
When I think about the state of our people, I am constantly reminded of a 
basket of crabs at the supermarket. You put one crab in, it just sits there 
kind of bored. Put another one in, it gets a little excited. Add ten or 
twenty more, they all get irritated,  scratching and clawing each other.
	I believe there was some devine intervention involved in the 
Vietnam War.  The gods are testing the strength of the Lao soul to see how 
long we can last outside our motherland.  They have allowed the demons to 
take over our country. It is bad medicine -- if it doesn't kill us, it will 
make us stronger.  The strong (mind and body) will one day unite and 
reclaim Laos and make it a much better place, and the crabs will end up in 
someone's STEAMER.	

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   	hak phaang,
Bane Thasano in Cyber Laos