1st Annual Lao American Writers Summit in Minneapolis This Weekend!

1st Annual Lao American Writers Summit:

August 13-15th, 2010

The National Lao American Writer’s Summit will mentor and support the first and emerging generation of Lao American writers. Held in Minneapolis at the acclaimed Loft Literary Center, during the Summit, nationally renowned Laotian American writers will conduct workshops with participants.

Readings, writing circles and informal social gatherings will be scheduled and encouraged. Through this Summit, the organizers will provide a safe and instructive environment that identifies and addresses the unique challenges faced by emerging Laotian American writers.

This 3-day Summit will take place from Friday to Sunday. Workshops will be conducted from Friday to Saturday. A public reading will be held on Saturday night.

Click through to the website for more information!

comment, faculty

Sweatshop Workers Speak Out! National Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, Twin Cities IWW Offices

National Sweatshop Workers Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, IWW Headquarters

April 21, 2010

Kalpona Akter, of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), paying her respects at the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 workers, overwhelmingly women, died because their factory was locked from the outside.  In February 2010, 21 workers died in a similar fire in a Bangladeshi Factory Fire.

Kalpona has been working in sweatshops since she was twelve. Coming from already-desperate poverty, she spent a few years thinking of her exploitation in relatively benign terms: “I thought I had a good job! I worked for them, and they paid me money!” Even though, as she described moments later, she was working non-stop, for 23 days at a stretch, and living on the factory floors. At the age of twelve, she live with her family about 5 days a month between ‘shifts.’ It wasn’t until Kalpona heard about Bangladesh’s formal – and rarely enforced – labor laws that she realized her job was actually a horrendous violation of what other people thought her rights should, and could, be. Today, Kalpona is a union activist working at Bangladesh Center for Worker Soldarity (BCWS).

Along with Zehra Bano from the Home Based Women Workers union in Pakistan, Akter kicked off a national speaking tour on Friday at Macalester College. The “Sweat Shop Workers Speak Out!” tour is organized nationally by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and Sweat Free Communities (SFC), and was organized locally by the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, ‘the wobblies’) and Macalester College Religious Studies.  At many of the stops, other associated events will also be held. In the Twin Cities, an evening benefit concert was held for the workers by the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union with its local headquarters in Minneapolis’ historic Grain Belt Brewery Bottling Building in Northeast Minneapolis.  Local bands Cloves and Big Strong Men performed, along with performances from the Hype Dance Troupe, and DJ sets from DJ Colin of Spinner’s Suite.

Zehra Bano, of the Pakistani Home Based Women Workers’ Union, represents women who sew soccer balls in their homes,
according to piece-work rates.

Kalpona’s experience – moving from a situation of such desperate exploitation and poverty that she herself didn’t even realize it – is emblematic of the situation of workers in Sweatshops and Export Processing Zones (EPZ) around the world:  it was not until Kalpona discovered that laws existed protecting her as a worker that she felt emboldened to question the conditions of her labor, and to struggle to have those conditions improved.  The tour she and Zehra are now on addresses precisely the disconnect between nice words and good laws, and their lack of associated action and enforcement. Continue reading


Sounding on local repression of dissent (Minnesota)

Way back in the ‘naughties, the Republicans came to town, breathing smoke and fire, and huffing and puffing about how they were going to privatize everything, crush the unions, stop paying for granny’s medicare, and make literally killer profits.  A few local folks decided they were going to organize a protest.  They called themselves the Welcoming Committee.  They made a cute video.

The video caught the attention of some jumped up thug with a biggish backyard named Fletcher, who pre-emptively arrested a bunch of folks from the Welcoming Committee (that is, arrested them before anyone claimed they had done anything illegal, or were even planning anything illegal); these eight folks, now called the RNC-8, are facing all sorts of bizarre charges with names like “considering thinking about fantasizing about a world after capitalism disappears,” and “planning to hurt Sarah Palin’s feelings by putting her lipstick on a pig.” Seriously, the charges don’t make much sense, though I’m paying for Susan Gaertner to try these folks via my taxes.  Thanks, Susie!

But they’re apparently keeping their spirits up.  Check out this hysterical update video, released recently, which sends up the previous video and ends with a cameo from the Police!

And stop in here to learn more and help out.


Khmer New Year at Wat Munisotaram

Welcome to the year of the rat.
angel holding a rat (year of the rat)

Down in Hampton, Minnesota, Khmer New Year was celebrated in style, in spite of the bitterly cold weather and, yes, occasional flurries of snow. Not as big a turnout as I would have expected on a nice day, but the temple was crowded. We decided not to march outside around the vihear, but inside, which worked out well. There were chayyam dancers, Brahma’s angel daughters, and lots of cameras. A few select photos are below the break. Go to the flickr page to see more.

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Wat Munisota

We finally made a trip to Wat Munisotaram in Hampton, Minnesota. I’ve been back in the US for far too long to have not made this trip – it’s only 45 minutes from the Twin Cities – but can truly and honestly excuse myself on the basis of schedule.

At any rate, it’s an exciting place – with the near-completion of the new and traditionally-style Vihear at the top of the hill, it will be one of the most ‘Cambodian’-appearing of the Cambodian Buddhist Temples in America, and must stand as a particular point of pride for the Khmer community in the area.

I have no idea how they managed to raise the money for this – there’s a pretty small local population – but it cost a pretty penny. It’s gorgeous though, and the group I went with had a good experience and learned a lot.

Some quick shots:

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