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Celebrate Pi Mai Lao

From the desk of Justin Sayarath, Legacies of War Board Member

As spring rolls in and we all start to feel the warm embrace of the April sun, Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao) unfolds like a vibrant tapestry woven with threads of joy and generations of traditions. When I think about Lao New Year, I remember how the streets come alive with laughter, with children and adults alike wielding water guns and hoses, engaging in playful battles that soak everyone in sight.

It isn’t just about fun; it's a profound act of cleansing, of washing away the past year’s woes and inviting in a fresh, hopeful start. My birthday shares April with Lao New Year, and as a kid, I recall the feeling of family, of aunties and uncles from all over coming to the house, and the sense of belonging we all felt as we joined other Lao Americans for the festivities at the local temple (Wat Boubpharam in San Diego, affectionately called Wat Skyline). Amidst the splashes from the super soakers and smiles from grandmas and cousins alike, the air would be infused with the delicate scent of flower petals, used both in decoration and as gentle offerings in this joyful chaos.

For those unfamiliar, Pi Mai Lao is a time when the young and the old come together, bridging generations through shared rituals and festivities. Families and friends gather to gently pour water over Buddha statues, an act of reverence and purification, their hands sprinkled with vibrant flower petals, each movement steeped in devotion and respect for our shared heritage—and for my grandparents’ and parents’ generations, a deep appreciation for the journey that brought them to life in the States.

In the homes of the Lao American community in San Diego, these traditions take on a new life, blending the rich heritage of Laos with the vibrant mosaic of American culture. The sound of traditional Lao music fills the air, mingling with the aromas of homemade Lao dishes, as families share stories of Pi Mai Laos past and hopes for the year to come. This is a time for reconnection, not just with one’s roots but with the community and the shared history that continues to bind us.

As we immerse ourselves in this year’s celebrations or as we begin to learn about them, the mission of Legacies of War becomes even more poignant for me. Legacies of War reminds us of the resilience of the Lao people and the importance of our continued connection to our heritage, especially for those of us who have grown up in the diaspora. The spirit of Pi Mai Lao—its emphasis on renewal, purification, and community—echoes the work of Legacies of War as this remarkable group works every day to advocate for the removal of unexploded bombs from our ancestral lands, making them safe for generations to come and inspiring a new generation of Lao-Americans like me to share in that passion.

In my own journey as a first-generation Lao American, Pi Mai Lao has always been a vibrant bridge to my roots, a time when my family's stories and the laughter we share become threads in the larger tapestry of our community in San Diego. And even now, as I build my own family and live far from home, I feel a profound connection to both my Lao heritage and my multicultural present.

This connection is deepened through my involvement with Legacies of War, where I've seen firsthand how understanding our past and engaging in our culture's rituals can inspire and mobilize us to contribute to a brighter future for Laos. Whether learning about what an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) looks like (to understand what my grandmother fled from) or amplifying the LoW team’s efforts as they advocate for accountability and funding for demining efforts, the time I’ve spent with Legacies of War has only deepened my connection to my culture and my family’s history.

This April, as you celebrate Pi Mai Lao (or celebrate personal milestones like my birthday), I invite you to join me in donating to Legacies of War.

Supporting Legacies of War isn’t just a contribution towards clearing unexploded bombs; it's a celebration of our heritage, a nod to the joyous chaos of Pi Mai Lao, and an act of hope for a future where Laos and Lao people can live bomb-free and unimpeded by the shadows of past conflicts.

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