of Filipinos in Laos
Penélope Villarica Flores
Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
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Excerpt from the Introduction by Penélope V. Flores
I have been doing volunteer humanitarian services beginning post Second World War and all throughout my life. That is not what I expected to discover when I began this book project. As a professor of education and an educationist, I had thought I would write a general account of how to teach, filled with anecdotes about the pitfalls of teachers who face a cohort of multifaceted individuals whose ideas of schooling meant symptomatically inflicting migraines and stressful anxiety to their mentors. However, in 2001, something happened when I was invited by Mekong Circle International to address a group of Filipino Americans who served in Laos from 1957 to 1973, a benchmark time of the Cold War Years in Europe and the Vietnam War in the Pacific. After many years of my neglect in linking with those who went to Laos with me, I suddenly became reconnected to the nurses, doctors, dentists, agriculturists, architects, engineers, artists teachers, technicians, nutritionists, social workers, and fiscal and executive administrators who went to Laos and served the people of Laos at the same time that I was there. In addition, what was important was that these old friends of mine were mostly residing in California. What a blessing!
As I began to reminisce with them about those days, I realized how much the Lao experience had shaped us. We were the only generation who...
...saw the peripheral/collateral war fought in Vietnam but was waged on the bombing fields and soil of Laos. We were the only ones whose late adolescence and early adulthood years coincided with the Kennedy and Nixon years at the White House where the Laotian Front became a war cry in the Oval Office.
Memory and individual stories became more important to me than educational pedagogy, and the idea of this book became a virtual Canterbury Tales of my Laotian pilgrimage. I declared, it is time I tell our Untold Stories, and I will tap the resources of the Mekong Circle International to get their members personal stories.
I lived in Laos from 1957 to 1961, a time which became a distinct historical period on the Vietnam Cold War. I was a social worker/teacher at Operation Brotherhood; a Philippines-based voluntary organization composed of young idealistic college graduates out to change the world. I was assigned to Sam Neua, Laos, (near the Vietnamese border, a few hundred miles from the Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, site of the debacle of the French army by the army of Ho Chi Minh.) The aggregate experience of my Filipino counterparts serving in Laos kept appearing, summoned by memories and emotions that would not go away.
These are my own stories, reinforced by a collection of narratives from a special group of Filipinos who had gone to the Royal Kingdom of Laos from 1957 to 1975. Besides Operation Brotherhood, of which I served in a post as Social Worker, there were personnel from Air America, Bird and Son, Eastern Construction Company, and US AID. This book is designed to give the readers an inside view of the daily lives of the Filipinos in Lao service and to infer from their narratives, the crucial time of the Vietnam War that totally impacted Laos as a peaceful nation. To put things in proper context, at the time when the Cold War was being fought in the European or western front, a Cold Front in South East Asia was being waged albeit silently. It is in this eastern front that the group of Filipinos serving in Laos found their true mettle.
No book of the Filipinos experience in Laos has ever been written and published by the very people who served at its grassroots level. Father Miguel A. Bernad, S.J. wrote about OB in Laos but it was a commissioned work by Operation Brotherhood International, and therefore self-congratulatory and self-serving. Another book, by Dr. Charles Weldon was about his own work in Laos as a physician working for the US AID project. In his book, he had a chapter on the Filipinos. It gave an incomplete picture of the whole. There was a published report made by Rodolfo Severino, Jr., OB personnel about his trip to Sam Neua. Others had written short reports and articles.
I admire the efforts of Pete Fuentecilla who included many OB reports and historical histories of ECCOI, USAID, OICC, Bird & Sons, Air America, and Continental in the Mekong Circle Newsletters. In the Biennial Souvenir programs, human-interest personal stories by Ernie Felix, Pete Tabor, Joe Barcelona, Jun Ilustrisimo and others, through the advertisement pages in the souvenir programs, gave important glimpses of the work of Filipinos in Laos. These materials I use profitably in this volume. Moreover, armed with a tape recorder at the Mekong Circle International Reunion in Chicago, 2004, I collected first person accounts: vibrant, compelling, and evocative.
My experience of living in Laos made me absorb the countrys culture and nuanced images, and therefore I added the atmosphere of the situations reported by my friends, exclusively within a cooperative community perspective as depicted in the camaraderie and folksiness of my Filipino friends.
To my compatriots who worked in Laos, I enjoin you to sit down and relax as you read the chapters. It may nudge latent Lao memories. It may encourage a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. It will arouse strong feelings in the knowledge that for the first time, the public will become cognizant and sympathetic to the nature of the work of the Filipinos in Laos. Filipinos have gone where others have never gone before, and I salute their courage.
Copyright © 2006. Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.