Laotian American

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Laotian American
Bryan Thao Worra.jpg
Total population
0.08% of the U.S. population (2010)
Regions with significant populations
Arkansas (Fort Smith), California (Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Sonoma County, Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno), Minnesota (Minneapolis-St Paul), Illinois (Elgin), Washington (Seattle-Tacoma), Rhode Island (Providence), Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth)
Lao, English, Isan, Thai
Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Lao people, overseas Laotian, Laotians in France, Canadians of Laotian descent, Asian Americans, Laotian Chinese American,

Laotian Americans are Americans who were originally from Laos, a person of Laotian descent residing in America. Laotian Americans are included in the larger category of Asian Americans. The major immigrant generation were generally refugees who escaped Laos during the warfare and disruption of the 1970s, and entered refugee camps in Thailand across the Mekong River. They emigrated to the United States during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

Although many Hmong people and Iu Mien are from Laos, they have a distinct culture, language and ethnicity, and identify as different ethnic groups. They generally identify as Hmong Americans and Iu Mien American, rather than Lao Americans. The "national origin" category of Laotian American, which is different than ethnic groups, includes all ethnic groups who lived within the borders of Laos, such as the Hmong, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Vietnamese, and ethnic French or other Europeans.

History and demographics[edit]

Laotian immigration to the United States started shortly after the Vietnam War. Refugees began arriving in the U.S. after a Communist government came to power in Laos in 1975 and by 1980, the Laotian population of the U.S. reached 47,683, according to census estimates. These numbers increased dramatically during the 1980s, so that the census estimated that there were 147,375 people by 1990. The group continued to grow, somewhat more slowly, to 167,792 by 2000.[1] By 2008 the population nearly reached 240,532. Included are the Hmong, a mountainous tribe from that country with their own ethnic designation: Hmong Americans.

State concentration[edit]

The states with the largest Laotian American populations (includes colonies of the Hmong from Laos) are California (58,424, 0.2%), Texas (13,298, 0.1%), Minnesota (10,065, 0.2%), Washington (9,333, 0.2%), Tennessee (6,336, 0.1%), Illinois (5,822, 0.1%), North Carolina (5,566, 0.1%), Georgia (5,560, 0.1%), Florida (4,896, 0.05%), and Oregon (4,692, 0.1%). There are about over 200,000 ethnic Lao in America. Approximately 8,000 - 11,000 Americans are of mixed Lao and other descent. Ethnic Lao people may identify as both Lao American and Laotian American (see also Hmong American).[2]

The majority were estimated to live in the West (95,574), followed by the South (44,471), Midwest (37,820), and Northeast (15,382).

City concentration[edit]

Cities or regions with significant Laotian-American populations include the Seattle metropolitan area (enumerating 12,190); San Francisco Bay Area (11,545); Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area (10,500); the Sacramento metropolitan area (9,814); Minneapolis – Saint Paul area (8,676); San Diego (7,002); Fresno, California (6,381); Providence, Rhode Island (6,291); the Greater Los Angeles Area (4,067);[3] Des Moines, Iowa (2,270), Elgin, Illinois (2,000), Fort Smith, Arkansas (1,730), and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1,600).[2][4]

Smaller Laotian communities can be found at Anchorage, Alaska; St. Petersburg, Florida (1,040); Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Houston, Texas; South Philadelphia; and southeastern Washington state. The town of Storm Lake, Iowa is five percent Laotian American.[2]

Wausau, Wisconsin and Fresno, California each claim the largest Laotian and Hmong-American communities. California also has communities in Banning and Merced in the Inland Empire (California) region; Tulare County, California (esp. Porterville); and Northern California: the areas of Santa Rosa, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Richmond, and Stockton.[5]) Oakland has Laotian communities living in the San Antonio District.

Theravada Buddhist temples[edit]

Laotian-American populations have constructed numerous Buddhist temples, called Vat or Wat. Usually attendees adapt a house for religious worship. Over time, the congregation donates money to customize and add onto the facility, as well as to add fine artwork and craftsmanship, resulting in a Laotian Buddhist temple that has some traditional features. Examples include Wat Lao Buddhavong located outside Washington, D.C.; Wat Lao Buddharam of San Diego, California; Wat Lao of S. Farmington, Minnesota; Wat Lao Buddhamamakaram of Columbus, Ohio; Wat Lao Mixayaram and Wat Lao Dhammacetiyaram of Seattle, Washington; and the Wat Lao Mixayaram in Lowell, Massachusetts. With the growth of Laotian communities in more diverse areas, they have moved to and constructed temples in rural areas, such as Lane Xang Village, located between Lafayette and New Iberia in Louisiana.[6]

Representation in media[edit]

The first national Laotian-American publication, Lao Roots Magazine, was published in 2007. The English-language magazine is geared toward the younger generation of the Laotian-American community. Published in San Diego by a small volunteer staff, the magazine has reached widespread national circulation within the Laotian-American community. After the publication ceased, former staff member and Yale University graduate Siamphone Louankang created the popular online magazine which continues to share stories by and about Americans of Laotian descent.[7]

The documentary film The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) was directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath. It portrayed the epic of a family forced to emigrate from Laos after the chaos of the secret air war waged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Kuras has spent the last 23 years chronicling the family's extraordinary journey in this deeply personal, poetic, and emotional film. The film won a Spectrum Award for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; it is nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.[8]

The Souphanousinphone family, Laotian Americans, are featured on King of the Hill, an animated TV series.

The subject of Jamie Wyeth's painting Kalounna in Frogtown is Laotian American.

The subjects of Lancer & Eranetik, two brothers from San Diego, California who share the same passion for breakdancing, was featured on America's Got Talent (season 6) with a dance team called The Body Poets and are now current performers in the Jabbawockeez - "MÜS.I.C" Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. They are also part of a breakdance crew called "The Calamities", which they created in 2002.


Some Laotian Americans have achieved notable success in badminton competition, including Khan Malaythong.

See also[edit]