taking back my name & stepping into my power

I wasn’t always Laci, and for a while, I wasn’t Lasamee. Read more about that journey.

A few years ago, I spoke on an Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) professionals panel. There were dozens of university students in attendance. It was Asian American Pacific Islander month, which made me feel as if I had a duty to the the Lao community, South East Asians, and anyone else who had had to deal with slurs or offensive questions like “Where are you from, from?” The invitation to participate in this AAPI panel had indicated that panelists were supposed to talk about our career paths and how we had found our way into that field. Easy enough, I thought. Sure, I can commit to this. I thought I’d cover my bases and read a little bit about Lao history just in case that was part of the series of questions that I expected.

In a tidy row with fellow panelists. Photo credit UNT ASA.

There I was: wearing a blazer despite the Texas heat to cover my tattoos, hair straightened and tidy in what I considered an edgy asymmetrical cut, sitting next to a Vietnamese news anchor who worked in the DFW metroplex and an actor dreamboat kind of person who was a Power Ranger on the most recent version of the show. (Childhood dreams, am I right?) There was a younger Korean American student on the panel as well, representing his fellow students, who probably felt a similar pressure that I did. We had a UNT professor on the panel to round it out.

It was an hour-long session with myself and four colleagues. We were all seated in a tidy row at the front of an auditorium-style classroom. All eyes on us. Deemed the ones who had “made it.” Worthy of speaking to the next generation. The folks who had succeeded, in theory. Students from the university curiously scrutinized each of us, or so I thought. I fashioned my usual grimace into what I thought was a pleasant expression. I sat upright. My left foot jiggling at a rate of 45 miles per hour to release the anxiety from my body.

The expected questions rolled in, and those were easy. “What did you choose to study and why?” “How hard was it to find a job after you graduated?” “How do you feel as an Asian American in the work force?” We talked about things like “how we chose our career paths” (can’t say that it was 100% chosen but more like 60% “I know how to do this” and 40% this business needs me for these certain things). And what it was like to be an AAPI American navigating the world of higher education, many of us having been first-generation students whose parents were refugees or immigrants who had not experienced the world that we were in.

UNT Asian Student Association members, panelists, and me, as Laci. Look at that good old American flag behind us. Photo credit to UNT ASA.

Two questions stand out in my memory (read: I’ve been obsessing over my responses to these questions for four years):

  1. How do we bring together SEA students and help them identify proudly as themselves?
  2. How do you/we reclaim our names?

The answer to the first question was easy for me. “Food.” I answered, in a serious tone but grinning. People laughed and some nodded appreciatively. Who doesn’t love food??

I elaborated and went on to say that food brings people together, that it’s how we share time and community, and that, if anything, college students were usually up for a meal.

When I lived in a college dorm, I desperately missed my mother’s Lao cooking. She always seemed to know when I’d had a hard day at school and work, and there would be a pot of soup waiting for me on the stove when I got home. If it was khao poon, all of my worries and stresses melted away at the first chew of the somen noodles and sip of hot, spicy, coconut-creamy broth.

I was thinking of those moments where I craved a steaming bowl of noodle soup or something that reminded me of the comforts of my mother’s love. I wanted a warm embrace; a feeling that one could really only achieve from eating a bowl of noodles and broth made from love and ancestral care.

And now, I own and run my own food and culture business, Good and Golden, with my partner. But that is truly a story for a different day.

To the second question, I hesitated.

I felt like I was bullshitting as a panelist on the AAPI career panel and that I was failing this poor young person. Warmth rose everywhere in my body; I was sure they could see sweat droplets falling off of my nose from 30 feet away. My response was that I gave the person asking options. I wrote my actual email on my resume that included my full name, but then typed “Laci” instead of “Lasamee” at the top to maybe try to beat an algorithm or get past the first round of eyes. Because I felt foreign and unwelcome.

But why wouldn’t my given name be front and center? The name that was thoughtfully gifted to me by my parents upon reaching earth-side from my mother’s womb. It was a name that might not have rolled off the tongue as easily for everyone as the rest of the names of the resident population based on where I was born. Read: Lao refugee immigrant child born in Texas, in the U.S. of A. named something that translated to “celestial light” and was three syllables strung together in a way that no other word in the English language was. A foreign name. An unfamiliar name. Difficult. Complex. A problem for others who didn’t have a couple of minutes to practice the pronunciation.

I knew that that answer was unsatisfactory to me and probably unsatisfactory to the students sitting the in the audience for that panel. But it was the experience that I had at the time.

How do I accommodate the world that I live in? The place that I occupy as a Lao American woman?

What ways can I weasel my way in to this professional world and try to just touch the glass ceiling (not even imagining I could break it)?

What part of my identity am I willing to dim to be able to get a foot in the door?

Why would I fight for my name when it’s so much easier to say Laci than it is to say Lasamee in this situation?

The reporter questions: who, what, when, where, why? What does it matter? To whom? I’m here now, am I not? In the states, with my family. Why would I complicate something “as simple as an introduction?”

I didn’t have a good answer for them because I hadn’t experienced what it was like to truly take back my name.

Until spring of 2021.

It was just a couple months after my father had passed. And I was particularly enraged after the shootings of Asian Americans in Atlanta, an intersection of racism and sexism manifesting in murder. I am still working on trying to figure out how I move through this world as an Asian American woman. I am still angry.

I also make up scenarios in my head in which I have to defend or protect myself or my mother. It fills me with a motivating warmth to become fitter, stronger, ready to throw someone if needed. It’s funny but it’s not. Throughout my life, there have been moments where I’ve remained silent and haven’t done anything at all when someone’s made fun of my name or sing-song chanted made-up words that are their generalized idea of what my mother tongue sounds like. At a restaurant where I was a hostess, I was once called “that oriental girl” and was too shocked to say anything (thankfully, the manager on duty told off the offender); the man who used that adjective was actually complimenting me, but I’m not a rug my dude.

I could go on about my rage, but I want to take some time to thank the people who readily learned how to pronounce my name and now say it with gusto, with love, with enthusiasm.

In the spring of 2021, I posted a vague “call me by my name” social media post while sitting outside enjoying the fire in my chiminea on the porch but also wallowing in a bit of sadness. The next day, I showed up to work (hi, Heather!) and was asked how I could be supported in the reclaiming of my name, and now I realize, returning to myself. I couldn’t tell you when I lost her though. I tear up thinking about it to this day. My soon-to-be in-laws (this was only a couple months before the wedding in 2021) practiced my name over and over again, in my presence and I will assume, with one another when I wasn’t there. It’s truly music to my ears. Sometimes, I still get goosebumps when I hear my name being spoken aloud, instead of people saying “Laci” which was an adoption of convenience when I knew no better.

It wasn’t too difficult for me to take back my name in the end, and it was pretty painless, to return to being Lasamee. You can do it, kids. I want to hear from you how it goes when you return to yourself, too.

with love,

Lasamee

Me, present day, as Lasamee. Seeing myself this way truly makes me feel like I could be a Muay Thai competitor. After joking about it in relation to this photo, I finally signed up for kickboxing classes. Photo taken by the talented Marie Nuchols of Headshot Headquarters.

In hindsight, for that panel, most attendees were interested in the charming Power Ranger actor guy, who, in the end, I also found charming and sweet. Later we would bond over our shared love of sambal olek, or chili garlic sauce, that we both kept stocked in our pantries. (Hey, Peter!)

year in [grief] review & forgiveness

February 11th marks one year of my father’s passing, and a little under one year since I’ve published a blog post. I would love to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t. I was just dealing with a lot of shit and spending too much time away from what feeds my soul (more on that in another post that’s been fermenting).


I love the momentum of a “new year” whether it’s literally a new year or a turn around the sun (birthdays) which is why I mark significant dates as anniversaries during which we are “starting anew.”

February 11th marks one year of my father’s passing, and a little under one year since I’ve published a blog post. I would love to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t. I was just dealing with a lot of shit and spending too much time away from what feeds my soul (more on that in another post that’s been fermenting).

When you lose someone as significant to your life as a parent, you’re transformed. This is something I found myself declaring in the early days to my therapist and anyone who would listen post-father loss. I felt a seismic shift within myself but didn’t know what that would look like. But there are some earth shattering experiences that you can’t go through without unlocking a part of yourself that needed to be let loose at some point so you can become your whole self.

So here’s my year-in-grief-review, picking moments that stood out to me and felt connected to my father-loss.

  • I told a friend that I felt like I could “kick doors down” and that I “wasn’t afraid of anything!” and I think it was the adrenaline from the shock of my dad’s death speaking at the time. But little things started taking shape and manifesting.
  • In the wake of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes, I took my very Asian name back o f f i c i a l l y, the one given to me by my parents: Lasamee Kettavong.
  • I embodied the “kick doors down” power and somehow no longer gave a fuck whether someone liked me or not. I began to let all of my colors show, wherever I went and with whomever I spoke. Life is short and the unexpected will happen (which you CAN expect, ha. ha.).
  • I’ve thought about what my epitaph would be and what my tombstone would look like since the time I learned what an epitaph was (probably in high school english class). My tombstone sure as hell will NOT read “Laci” because that’s not who I am. My name means something synonymous with “celestial light” and I can’t live with myself avoiding embodying that brilliance that my mother gave me, so here I am, nice and shiny (read: oily, lol) for ya.
  • Throwing myself into learning more about the motherland and connecting with other Lao folx has helped me feel like part of a community and that I belong and am accepted. That’s mind-blowingly heartwarming for me. For some reason, my dad didn’t really help the family become a part of the Lao community when we were younger, and that’s a shame; my mom is a social creature and extrovert.
  • Blake and I finally got married this past year, which we were planning on doing anyway, but … now I actually had an easy reason to tell people why my dad wasn’t present. Before, it was “My father has complex PTSD and can’t be around people” with a big, fat, loaded silence following it. “He’s dead,” is a much easier to digest and say reason, plus, no one wants to upset the bride the day of the wedding and bring up dead dad, right? (Sorry, this is my sense of humor and how I talk … dark and maybe a little blasphemous?) My sweet mama walked me down the aisle.

Me, trying not to let fat tears roll down my face during a moment of silence for the people who couldn’t be with us on our wedding day
  • As the day of the dead/Dia de los Muertos rolled around, I’d planned to read a letter to my dad at an open mic but ultimately that didn’t happen. It’s okay though – I wrote one to him anyway, and now it exists in the world and has helped me do some healing. My therapist was excited for me to take this major step (publicly announcing my father), but that will have to wait.
  • What else did I accomplish? Finishing a podcast, The Untitled Dad Project, which for me is monumental. I’ve only finished listening to one audio book in my lifetime because I can’t stay focused on longer audio pieces.
  • And last but not least, my partner and I started our small business, Good and Golden, which aims to share Lao food and culture (lookin’ for partners here!) with people who don’t know what or where Laos is!

And, I learned a little more about what forgiveness looks like for me.

I hope that he didn’t suffer

January 20, 2019 was the last day that I saw my father in-person at his care facility. My brother and sister went with me. We’d had brunch and mimosas. We pulled in, parked, and my brother and I shared a cigarette, while my sister climbed a nearby crepe myrtle. She gets her anxious energy out in weird ways; my brother and I have our own coping methods.

Samout, climbing a tree and being silly before seeing our dad for the first time in years

I noted the automatic sliding door, the decorated entryway, the fake plants, the office-like feel to the environment, and the front desk person greeted us, asking what we needed and who we were there to see. I was in family historian mode. “Nai Kettavong,” we said, as she searched up where he might be and on what floor. We got on an elevator.

“Oh no one ever visits Nai,” the staff person on the second floor responded. I cringed. The place didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream where you know that you’re asleep and intuitively, you know where you are and feel like you’ve been there before. This was the first time I’d ever stepped foot in this facility.

We were lead to my father’s room, and it was empty. I panicked a little inside.

“He might be watching TV in the common room,” our guide said, and we followed him, completely silent.

There he was. My dad. The man who I had feared for most of my life and felt some dutiful love towards as his daughter. He was alone. There were chairs here and there in the room and a lonely couch, a couple of small cafe-sized tables along the wall. At least there was a window, wall to wall, behind him. We pulled up a couple chairs to the round table that he was seated at, a walker nearby.

Playing on the television was some mundane show about wildlife or something that I didn’t particularly care about but was glad there was something for all of us to look at when we needed to look away from one another.

He looked so much grayer, pale, and older than I remembered. He had the same smile though, somewhat sheepish and shy. Perhaps he felt as if he were dreaming too. His children were actually there to see him. Chasms of guilt rippled through me.

“Do you remember me?” my sister asked.

“Yes,” he replied calmly.

I’d suspected that the language barrier between my father and staff contributed to my father’s diagnosis of early dementia. I would observe a little more closely, I thought to myself.

“How are you?” my brother asked. “I’m fine here. I get a little cold,” he responded.

Later, my brother would take the scarf that he was wearing and give it my dad because of the comment about being cold, which I’d notice in all of his photos in the years following. Our oldest sister would become his caretaker in Texas City, where he would be moved to in just a few months following this visit.

The conversation was slow. The three of us assessed the situation, asking questions here and there. Speaking Lao out loud to our estranged father was quite the task. And we were electrified by being in his presence again, I think.

I asked him if I could ask him some questions for a project that I was working on, and he said, “Go ahead, ask, and I’ll tell you everything.” That was the last time we spoke. I didn’t get to ask him any questions again.

Gray is how I feel when I think about this. Like hand torn paper pieces that have been mixed with water to become pulp and and then pressed, to live a different life. Lumps. Speckles. Wet. Shapeless until the next step. Amorphous and gray. Lacking any brightness, any warmth.


Recently, I realized that a confident sign that you have forgiven someone who abused and terrorized you and your family (even if it was their own family) is that you pray that they did not suffer during their last days. That hot, boiling rage that you used to feel when you cursed them into oblivion turns into just your body temperature as you sigh and think about them.

The ‘rona finally got me after two years of the pandemic, and it was days of body aches, fever dreams, sinus pressure, sneezing, coughing, and mucus. The first night, I rolled over and said to Blake, “I hope my dad didn’t suffer,” and tried to get a good cry out. It didn’t work. I finally cried typing “He was alone,” in the above paragraph.

It took another couple of days for me to think to myself, “Ah. Yes. I did the work. I have forgiven.”

My father died of COVID complications last year, and we still have not been able to take his ashes to his final resting place. For Lao folks, this is usually the temple in the community. I know that this is the case for too many at this point in the pandemic. I am so sorry.

It’s been nearly an entire year since I’ve published anything on this blog, and it somewhat symbolizes where I’ve been with my grief: in the in-between. Which, I suppose, is where we could say my father’s physical being is too.

If you are in the in-between, I will meet you where you are. If you need help, please let yourself shoot that text, make a call, send an email, or call an anonymous hotline. It’s worth it; you’re worth it.

sometimes you get rejected

Below is a personal history statement that I submitted for something that I really wanted, but I know that I’ll look back one day with perspective and not feel so disappointed. It’s important to talk about rejection (and accept it) just as much as it’s important to shoot your shot.

Going to college seemed impossible and out of reach for me from a young age, especially after watching one of my older sisters denied the opportunity despite being valedictorian of her class. My father prohibited her leaving home for school, set in his old world and oppressive ways.

We are a Lao family, and I am a Lao-American woman, meaning that in a traditional Lao household, I would have very little choice, no voice, and expectations to be married off. Because I was the youngest of five children, having been born a few years after my family’s arrival in the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand, I was fed, clothed, and had a place to sleep. But nurtured I was not. We survived, and it would be well into my adult years away from home before I could consider myself healthy and have the potential to thrive.

My mother worked achingly hard to support our family of seven, and my father stayed home to take care of my siblings and me. He did not adjust well to life in America. I would say that the PTSD and other untreated mental illnesses also hindered him. “My father has horrific PTSD and cannot be around people,” is something my therapist suggested that I say when I do not want to elaborate upon the horrors that he inflicted upon my family in various settings. He has been out of my life in any meaningful way since I was 15.

My father fought in The Secret War in Laos, which continues to affect the country (and my family) to this day. This topic leads me to the challenges that I have worked to overcome with years in therapy, personal research, joining the Lao community later in life, and trying to shed light on subjects like The Secret War, intergenerational trauma, mental health, low literacy rates for Lao-Americans, and more. In recent years, I began volunteering with DFW Lao Heritage, a non-profit group that aims to preserve and highlight Lao culture in North Texas. More recently, I’ve participated in the supportive, community offerings of the Laotian American National Alliance (LANA).

Being between worlds is a strange existence. Not one or the other, but both Lao and American. I have struggled with what this means and hope that I can move closer to the answers in a program of academic study. I was noticed as an intelligent, bright child despite feeling invisible and in some ways unwanted and unwelcome. My secondary education and onward was in magnet schools for the academically gifted in Dallas, Texas. Through the generosity and care of my teachers, I began to believe that I could move myself and perhaps my family upward from our places in life.

Education seemed to be key; I would study, work hard, find a career path, and live out our Lao American dream, in theory. The road is still rough, but we are farther on our journey and closer to security than we were when I was a child.

However, none of my older siblings had been able to “go off” to college (at least until my father was out of the picture). Attending college seemed financially impossible which nearly stopped me from even considering applying. In high school, I was fortunate enough to receive guidance from a school friend’s aunts: they took us both on a college tour in California and afterward sent me a $300 check so that I could pay for application fees. It was encouragement that I’m sure my own mother would have offered me if she had the experience, resources, and capacity to do so.

I received the Emerald Eagle Scholarship, which benefits those in financial need, from the University of North Texas as part of my offer letter and acceptance package and that paid for much of my undergraduate studies. I graduated in three years, having earned credit for my core classes through Advanced Placement exams in high school. I discovered that I could indulge in learning about my heritage and family’s history while also writing academically in my last undergraduate semester with the help of a philosophy instructor whom I’d admired. I wrote about the Mekong River, partially to learn about what my parents and siblings had had to face to get to safety and also because the term paper requirements were that I write about a topic from the course, philosophy of water.

I had made a connection between my personal and academic life that would continue in my graduate studies: bridging my two worlds through study in disciplines directly related to my family’s history and that of other Lao people and refugees. I studied philosophy with a focus on environmental ethics and professional and technical communication. I earned an MA from each program.

Mom and me at undergrad. commencement
Mom and me at undergrad. commencement

The entire six years that I was a college student, both undergraduate and graduate, I felt guilt and a deep sadness for what I had and what my immediate family and ancestors did not. Impostor syndrome plagued me, but there was comfort in looking ahead and thinking that the next generation might not experience this as much as I did.

One year after graduating with my M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication, I spoke on a panel during Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) month alongside other AAPI professionals in film, journalism, and education. Looking out at the audience and seeing AAPI students with expressions of hope, eagerness, and intrigue, likely in a situation similar to my own, made me understand that giving back to my community and being of service would lessen the guilt, sadness, and impostor syndrome that I had associated with my own education.

When I worked with students at the first DFW Lao Heritage camp in 2018, it was hard not to feel pain for what I never had growing up juxtaposed with immense joy for the Lao students who had the opportunity to connect with their heritage. For this summer camp, I developed a storytelling workshop in order to help the students better understand where they came from and what their parents and grandparents had endured, as Lao families often share multigenerational homes. Their preliminary activity was to interview the elders in their households prior to the workshop. Then, they created an eight-frame storyboard depicting what they’d gathered with collage materials or illustrations in a comic book style during the workshop itself.

DFW Lao Heritage Camp, 2018!

At DFW Lao Heritage, we’re working on developing grant funds and a program to similarly help Lao youth know that they can achieve academically and apply for and attend college. I am honored to have been part of DFW Lao Heritage since its beginnings in 2018.

More recently, I’ve become involved with LANA, and they have helped me better understand what Lao Americans currently face. In the U.S., approximately 27% of Lao Americans live with educational and financial disadvantages. Of the 265,000 Lao Americans here, only 14% have earned a bachelor’s degree. Many Lao Americans arrived in the U.S. as refugees from the Vietnam War and the Secret War, and parents and siblings survived but higher education was lower on the list of priorities. Personally, I would serve as the first person and woman in my family to earn a PhD. For my community, I would be an example and a resource to those who also might consider higher education as out of reach. I hope that in the near future more people will know about Laos as it stands alone, not only in relation to other Southeast Asian countries. I want to see efforts to have Laos cleared of the 80 million cluster munitions remaining from the wars increase and grow strength, though organizations like Legacies of War and Mines Advisory Group are working as hard as they can to do so.

With my work and writing, I intend to help heal through story.

It wasn’t until 2015 that I serendipitously came across a memoir by a Hmong author, Kao Kalia Yang, titled The Latehomecomer. Her family had been through the same refugee and processing camps as mine in Thailand, just a couple of years apart in the late ‘80s. Finding and reading that memoir profoundly and irrevocably changed my life.

It is significant that I use the word “serendipitously.” One can find memoirs from authors from other ethnicities on the shelves; it is rare that you will find a memoir from a Lao author if you’re not in the Southeast Asian studies section (and even if you are). I plan to change that.

Mom, fourth from the left in the back row, in a refugee camp in Thailand
Mom, fourth from the left in the back row, in a refugee camp in Thailand. She is pregnant with my brother, Vinat, in this photo.

spoken self & sisterhood

Lao word of the day: euy (sound out each letter and then say it, real fast) and you’ve got it. It means “sister.”


“Describe your sister. In Lao.”

I’m sitting cross-legged on the couch in my counselor’s office and not as present as I should be, confused as to why I’m irritable and miffed about my relationship with my eldest sister. It’s a late fall day, and I’ve been hating how short the days have been getting as we approach winter. I don’t feel like cooperating.

But I’m in therapy for a reason, so I take a deep breath and start.

“She was loving. Kind. Thoughtful. She used to let me pick out my outfits when I was getting ready to go to school in kindergarten.”

I stop. My vocabulary in Lao isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know the verbs and the adjectives to describe my memories in Lao like I used to. It’s hard to think of what words to say. But it’s not the words that get me.

“Go on,” he urges gently.

“She raised me. She was my best friend growing up. We did everything together. I followed her like a shadow.”

…silence… weight. the familiar feeling of heat in my throat. I can’t swallow. Clear as day, in my mind’s eye I see me and my siblings piled into an old tub pretending it was a pool in the backyard on a summer day, an activity engineered by my eldest sister for her kid siblings.

“I miss her.” I choke this out in Lao and then I say it in English. (I mean, this dude has been listening to me speak in Lao for a few minutes after all, so throw him some familiar words right?)

And now I’m fucking sobbing. I keep on sobbing. I suck in air. I breathe. Now I guess I’m just crying, normally. OOP nope, sobbing again. It’s a painful however-many minutes for me. It’s the kind of cry that aches from deep within that spans time and space and what I know and don’t know.

My counselor is quiet, supporting me from across the room. Listening. Waiting. Patient. It’s not the words that get me; it’s the language I’m speaking.


When I was young, my sister inspired me to (eventually) write song lyrics by once encouraging me to “make up the words” to songs that I didn’t know that played on the radio when she was driving us somewhere. It was a lightbulb moment for little me. It delighted me and stayed with me forever. I wrote then, and I write now.

She would make something out of nothing – in a good way. Cutting and pasting pictures from junk mail to make collages with me. She even made an entire card deck so that we could play Go Fish (money was tight) and to me, she was an incredible artist. In so many of our family photos, she’s holding one of us in her arms. The best big sister we could have.

She was always there for me. Until she wasn’t.


When I say “my sister ran away” many people ask, “Well, how old was she?” and I stop and think … she was at least 18. Leaving home is common for 18 year olds in American culture. But not for my family, and definitely not under my father’s controlling watch. To leave was to break a family, household rule.

There were circumstances that I didn’t understand that lead her to go. I realize now that I forgive her. Was there anything to forgive in the first place?

Suddenly, I was alone. I didn’t have that kind of bond with my other siblings (not yet at least). I felt abandoned by someone who was the world to me. Left behind. And I held on to that feeling for decades.

I missed her. But who could I tell? So I held it in. Until that seemingly normal, “I’m grouchy” day in therapy.


Language has the power to unlock memories and emotions.

“Discovering your Self in language is always an epiphany, even if finding the words to describe your inner reality can be an agonizing process.”The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk

I’d been hitting a wall with describing how I felt about my eldest sister. Why was I so annoyed with her? What couldn’t I understand? She experienced so much pain and trauma; she did what she had to do. How could I continue to be upset with her for something that I felt like I understood now, as an adult? How had I forgotten this initial upset that was followed up with so many other things I could. not. understand?

Until my counselor asked me what language I spoke growing up.

Lao and English, interchangeably, was my response. My parents mostly spoke Lao, and my siblings were the ones who taught me English until I entered grade pre-school.

How much I had loved and adored my big sister when I was a little girl, and the pain that I felt when one morning, the family rises, and she is gone … returned to me only when I described her in Lao.


She and I have lead very separate lives for a very long time it seems. But we’re okay. We’re re-building our relationship. And I miss her. I finally told her so.

Love you, fam.

-Lasamee

Our most recent hangout, post cry-fest in therapy: my sisters (the one closest to me in age & the eldest), me, and ma.

“don’t call me pa”

Warning: this is both a sad and happy story.

There’s mention of domestic violence and related things.


It’s Father’s Day and yesterday was World Refugee Day. Today, I share with you a story about my father and my family who are Lao refugees.

I release this from me and to the world because it has been a weight to carry these last couple of decades. Those near to me know, and some do not.

If a bomb is hidden and buried and you stumble across it, you might lose a limb, or your life, or part of your soul to it. If it is uncovered, you can detonate it from afar. This is an allusion to Legacies of War and the honorable work that they are doing to clear Laos of unexploded ordinance (UXO) dropped on the country during the Secret War, 1964-1973.

This is part of my discovery.


In Lao, you call your dad “pa” (pronounced like “paw). The last time my father was in our family home, he told me not to call him dad. I was stunned, and knew that he was in a mood. Nothing was out of the ordinary, aside from my late return home from school because of a volunteer activity. I am done trying to rationalize his behavior but for years, I spent energy on trying to do just that.

“Don’t call me pa” was a warning, and my instincts told me that things were about to go south. Go south they did.

For my father, a mood could be:

  • Grumpy silence
  • Stomping through the house
  • Yelling about something or someone to anyone nearby
  • Cleaning and loading his shotgun
  • Aiming said shotgun at family members, like his 10 year old daughter, and asking “Do you want to die?” (What a peach, amiright?)
  • Waving a knife around and threatening to kill family members

That night, he was in that last mood in the list. My older sister, mother, and I managed to calm him down somehow. Or were we pleading for our lives, but in different words? It felt like hours.

Finally, he put himself to bed in the living room. (If you’re wondering, I am and have been in therapy for quite some time and have made slow and steady progress in unpacking all of this.) I stayed in touch with my best friend, messaging her that I might have to ask her to call the police to my house. My sister told me to discreetly pack a bag, pack a bag for mom, and be ready not to return to the house after school/work the next day. I still do not know how she could think so clearly. I doubt anyone in my household slept at all that night.

And that was it. The last time he was ever a part of my life in any kind of meaningful way.

We filed a police report, and he was picked up. I don’t know the exact details of how that happened, but it makes me sad to think about it. I have compassion for my father despite many, many episodes like the one described above in the years he was the oppressor of his own family.

He is a strong but broken man. He is a monster but also my father. He is a veteran of the Secret War. I am certain he has PTSD that has never been addressed. He is a Lao refugee in a land that is so far from home to him, literally and figuratively. This is what I think about on Father’s Day.

Nai Kettavong, my father
My father, Nai Kettavong, veteran of the Secret War, refugee living in the U.S. photo taken in Laos in the late 60’s or early 70’s for his military documents

It’s not all darkness, violence, and family secrets though.

I have two amazing, funny, smart, and loving older brothers. And they are incredible fathers to their children. I am in awe and admire that they are so caring and supportive of their kiddos despite not having known that growing up themselves. I am proud of them for breaking the cycle.

I am fortunate to soon have extended family that includes fathers who protect and provide for their loved ones, rather than the opposite.

I see love all around me, and I am ever thankful for it.

with love and light,

Lasamee