Dai Thao, Go Back to Your Country, But This IS My Country!

My family and I came to Minnesota in August 1983. We came here as political refugees from Laos. My father joined the war when he was 14. Almost all my uncles from both sides of the family served in the war. Our family was sponsored by an elderly white couple. I don’t remember their names and didn’t speak their language at the time. They had grayish white hair and wrinkles on their faces. They didn’t walk with a straight back. They walked slowly to and from their car when they visited. As a young boy I didn’t need to know their language to know that they were kind and loving. This is the story I tell my children.

I’ll be honest. I am no magician and I don’t have all the answers to dismantling racism in Minnesota. What I do know is that many Minnesotans are smart. You know there is discrimination in the world. There is poverty, classism, and racism and all of these evils are very real. You know white Minnesotans want the same opportunity as people of color. You know people of color want the same opportunity as whites. You know most Minnesotans don’t endorse the evils I mentioned above, but over the ages these evils have become like the air we breathe. These evils have become the structure of our society. These evils are so ingrained, so transferrable and invisible that they sanitized our moral compass eating away our mutual respect and responsibility to each other.

And so what happened between KDWB (Clear Channel) and the Hmong community is not the tip of the spear, but the result of something enormous. This enormous Goliath is Structural Racism/Realization; a system of social structures that produces cumulative, durable, race-based inequalities. This destructive Goliath which drains the human spirit and dignity existed way before you and I were ever born. We are not responsible for creating it, but we are not free from it. Because we are not free from it, we must do the difficult thing of crushing it like how David once did.

I confess.  It is not easy to put structural racism, classism and poverty into words. Nor can I easily put love, joy, and hope into words. All I really know are the feelings you receive from love, joy and hope. All I really know are feelings you get from racism, discrimination, and poverty. They are feelings I wish upon nobody.

In the end, all I really know is that even though we may not look alike, live in the same neighborhood, have the same education, or go to the same church, we all share a common Minnesota, a common reality. Our lives are interconnected like the fabric of the universe. The more we segregate the more we need each other, the more we hate – the more we need to love and hold each other mutually accountable. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we need community.

When David fought Goliath to the death many years ago, he didn’t use a giant rock, David used little rocks. One by one David was able to crushed Goliath. I am convinced that there is a David in all of you. Let’s unite the David in all of us to do what is right and hold KDWB (Clear Channel) accountable to their own policy of “Zero Tolerance” towards racism. Let’s start here. Let’s dismantle and undo what has been broken and handed down to us. Let’s wipe away the dusts off our moral compass.

Let’s co-create a Minnesota where my Hmong American children and your children can sit at the same table and solve the challenges of tomorrow with dignity and respect. This is my country too and I won’t run from Goliath.

Dai Thao

Dai Thao is a leader in TakeAction Minnesota’s Hmong Organizing Program and a resident of St. Paul, MN

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