» Catalyst Series
Refugee Nation

Co-presented with Lao Assistance Center & Pangea World Theater
Performance Run: October 8-17, 2010

Based on the stories of Laotian Refugees in the U.S.
Written and Performed by LEILANI CHAN & OVA SAOPENG

A mother lives alone in the darkness. A father struggles to forget a lost war. A son battles in the streets of urban America. A daughter searches for answers in her community. Refugee Nation is about a young generation struggling to understand their history and the silence of an elder generation still healing from the traumas war. What can we learn from the wounds of a war over 30 years ago in the hope to find healing?

Refugee Nation tells the stories of a community created by a U.S. led secret war in Laos.  Intricately connected to the Vietnam War, Laotian refugees struggle to create a future as their American descendants struggle to understand their past. Since 2005, collaborators Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng have been collecting oral histories from family and community members across the country to create an interdisciplinary theater performance that explores a growing part of the Asian American Diaspora that is yet to be included as part of the American experience. Through theater and movement they re-construct the stories of families trying to rebuild a community that has been spread like ashes across the U.S. and the world.

More than just a telling of Laotian American history, the two-person performance eloquently touches upon issues relating to the refugee experience, assimilation, generation gap, and mental health using drama, film, music, and audience interaction, and personalizes these issues through a genuine Laotian American perspective. The result is a product that not only brings to light the hidden stories of Laotian Americans around the U.S., but one that is able to unite people from all types of backgrounds, ethnicities, and histories by relaying the ideas of change, loss, struggle, healing, and the unrelenting strength of the human spirit.

Refugee Nation is presented in conjunction with the Legacies of War National Traveling Exhibition, which tells the story of a forgotten chapter in U.S. history through the voices of villagers from Laos and the Diaspora at large. The exhibition has traveled to ten U.S. cities and to Dublin, Ireland, and makes its Midwest debut this fall at Intermedia Arts. This nationally touring exhibit includes archival and contemporary images, art and video depicting the lives of those affected by the Vietnam-era bombing in Laos and the broader impact of war and conflict on Laotian refugees and the Diaspora.



Pangea World Theater (www.pangeaworldtheater.org) begins from the fundamental paradigm of diversity in the world.  Our work expresses this reality and our organization advances this possibility consciously. Pangea World Theater is a progressive space for transformation in which conversations about race, gender, ethnicity, human rights, politics and social justice form an important backbone for our work. Our ensemble is experimenting with form and content to create new processes for a new aesthetic addressing the demographic shifts in our country.



Minnesota has the third largest Laotian community in the US with 25,000 residents, many living in Hennepin County and particularly North Minneapolis. Many first arrived in the US as refugees in the early 1980s to rebuild to their lives. Many Lao in Minnesota received international recognition and awards for their art and community activism, and recently convened the first national Lao American Writers Summit. The Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota was established in 1983 with a mission to help Lao families meet their basic needs and to preserve their culture and traditions.