In the tumultuous years during and after the Vietnam War thousands of ethnic Lao fled Southeast Asia to avoid persecution imprisonment and even death. Many of these refugees eventually settled in the Upper Midwest in and around Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Decades later the older generation of Lao Americans continues to navigate the trauma of the region-wide conflict that ripped them from their homeland thousands of miles away. Their wounds have yet to scab.
Meanwhile every generation of Lao still grapples with misrepresentation--or no representation at all--in popular and historical narratives, school curriculums, community, conversations, and the arts. As a trans-generational narrative When Everything Was Everything signifies a turning point for Lao American refugee stories.
Artfully stitched together from the author's own imaginings reimaginings and memories as a child raised on food stamps and forced into ESL classes while continuously being shuttled from one public housing address to the next this remarkable picture book is a love letter to survivors that is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.
Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is an ethnic Lao poet playwright and performance artist who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. She lives in Minnesota where she writes plays about zombies and poems about her refugee identity. This book is a humble gesture to all displaced peoples and a love note to her son Rahsan.
"I've never read a children's book where I have shared so much with the author from the streets we lived on the haircuts we had the cucumber fields we walked right down to the food shelves and the wars we come from. When Everything Was Everything is a singularly important book for all of us who inhabit the Southeast Asian refugee experience for those of us who have been poor and new to English we who are perpetually perceived as strangers here. This book makes a home on the children's shelves for the little girls we were and the women we have become." - Kao Kalia Yang author of The Latehomecomer and The Song Poet
"This beautiful and detailed unfolding of memories from a Lao American girlhood vividly captures the author's family life in gorgeously illustrated moments and scenes. Child and adult readers alike from every American cultural background and beyond will be transported into the intimacy love outsider struggles and hard work that was Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay's family's daily life in Minnesota." - Sun Yung Shin author of Cooper's Lesson
"A girl of color dreamscape a refugeescape that gives us 'resettlement' in all its wonders and sorrows its intimacies and dislocations its early mornings and missed expiration dates its Funyuns and bowl cuts." -Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis Curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and editor of The Asian American Literary Review