Community Events Oral Histories

U.S. Ambassador Clune Visits Sacramento & Elk Grove

Daniel A. Clune, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos (Lao PDR) visited Sacramento and Elk Grove, California, during his recent trip back to the U.S. Thanks to an invitation from Elk Grove City Councilman Steve Ly, we had the amazing opportunity on October 31, 2015, to join Ambassador Clune for a meet-and-greet reception and dinner. The event brought together over 300 people, largely from the Lao-American community. Hmong, Mien, Khmu, and Lao people came together with dignitaries to celebrate their individual journeys to the U.S. and to join in conversations on how they might contribute back to the economic prosperity of Laos.

Ambassador Clune's Visit to Sacramento, Ca

The evening included local elected officials and other Hmong and Mien community speakers sharing success stories and special programs with Ambassador Clune. In between speakers, we were entertained with Lao and Hmong youth dance groups, singers, and Mien elder musicians.

Lao Dancers

Lao and Mien Dancers

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Ambassador Clune was honored for his commitment to improving relations between the U.S. and Lao PDR governments. Elk Grove City Councilman Steve Ly presented Ambassador Clune with an appreciation plaque and a City of Elk Grove lapel pin. Steve included us as part of the Elk Grove delegation to present the plaque.

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Photo Credit: Foom Tsab

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Photo Credit: Foom Tsab

The evening ended with attendees submitting questions for Ambassador Clune to answer. The questions focused on business and travel opportunities to Laos. A sample question, for instance, was about the practicality and safety of traveling to and doing business in Laos. Ambassador Clune answered that given a remarkably low crime rate in Laos, it is one of the safest countries for travel and business. He also mentioned the need for English language teachers and shared that the population in Laos is primarily made up of people ages 30 and under. Income disparity from the cities to the villages are significant, with a lack of nutrition a main concern, especially for children. Ambassador Clune also mentioned that President Obama will be visiting in 2016, the first U.S. President to visit Laos.

Thanks to a second invitation from Steve Ly, we were invited to continue our conversations with Ambassador Clune in a less formal, more intimate setting: a Sunday brunch at Elk Grove’s Valley Hi Country Club.

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Of the approximately 100 guests, many had also attended the Saturday evening event. The brunch was therefore a wonderful opportunity to continue a number of conversations. We were asked to share with the group our Time of Remembrance project, focusing on our Secret War in Laos interviews. It was Steve’s suggestion that we highlight refugee success stories. This was very easy for us to do, as they are all success stories. We decided to showcase several interviewees in the audience. We shared clips from Steve Ly’s interview, along with clips from Kal Phan, Principal, Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento City Unified School District) and Melissa Chin, Principal, Robert J. Fite Elementary School (Elk Grove Unified School District). We stand in awe that all three came to this country not speaking a word of English. Courage and resilience are embedded in their stories and serve as a wonderful source of inspiration as to what is possible to achieve in this country. It is for this reason that we make this oral histories project accessible to students, teachers and the community at large.

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Following our presentation, Ambassador Clune again spoke about diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Laos and took questions from guests. The smaller sized group led to more personal questions and stories that honored the sacrifices of the guests’ parents and relatives, many of whom were killed during the war or still remain in Laos.  It was reassuring to all to hear that although much work remains to be done, the economic situation in Laos is beginning to improve.

In closing, Steve invited attendees to take a group photo with Ambassador Clune.

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Photo Credit: Foom Tsab

Several guests reached out to us with a request to help their school districts document stories from their own communities. Our model is definitely replicable and we welcome the opportunity to work with other schools, districts and community organizations to record these important untold stories from the Vietnam War years.

Gail and Kathleen

tor talks

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