The 4th of July celebration is one of the biggest events in America. Americans have been celebrating their independence for the past 233 years and counting. In this land that is a melting pot for many different races from around the globe, many refugees and immigrants alike share their contribution as valued citizens of the United States of America by participating, voting and sharing in many other duties to help build this great country.
The influxes of Laotian refugees to this country started from mid 1970's. The largest group resettled in California in the 80's, spreading out through the state. Everywhere they resettled, refugees from Laos tried hard to assimilate into the American society, while trying to maintain their own identity and preserving their heritage and culture at the same time. The American Independence Day is one of the special events that Laotian-Americans across the country come out in force to celebrate, Laotian-style.
Members of the Laotian-American community of the Greater Washington Metropolitan area gathered at Wat Lao Buddhavong or the Lao temple in Catlett, Virginia, for its annual outdoor celebration during the weekend of July 4-5.
Mr. Southalavong Boutta, chair of the event, told VOA that "This is a very special event of the year. Our objective is to gather families and friends to celebrate July 4th, and at the same time pay respect to and honor our abbot, Phramaha Achan Bounmy Kittithammavanno, who takes a leading role in teaching Buddhism. This year is even more special because we are celebrating the 30th years of Wat Lao Buddhavong. We have participation from various communities across the United States and beyond, such as Canada and even from Laos."
Tens of thousands of people mingled and walked across the temple ground which was full of stalls selling food, clothing, arts and crafts, fresh vegetables and plants, among other things. The air was filled with the aroma of barbecued chicken and meat, and the sound of music by various artists, both local and from out of state and Canada.
Jai Lao booth was one among the many food, arts & crafts and clothing stalls on the fairground. Jai Lao, a non-profit organization recently founded in California, came to the East Coast for its first fund raising to raise money to build schools for Lao children in remote, poor areas of Laos. Co-founder Soutkita or La Reagan got up on the stage and shared her vision with the audiences, "Lao people are very generous and have great hearts. You have successfully helped build many Lao temples in America, and now it is time for Lao people to be a part of Jai Lao, of this Lao helping Lao for the benefits of poor and needy children in Laos."
Mr. Chanthavy Sekpangna, a representative from the Laotian-Canadian community, also addressed the audiences, "I along with Mrs. Soutthila Southidara, are very delighted and proud to bring you the Laotian-Canadian dance troupe of La Valle and Northern part of Quebec."
Besides concerts and cultural performances, there were also sports activities. Religious ceremonies and rituals, of course, dominated the mornings of the two-day celebrations.
Listen to our audio files for more details.