Sharing our stories: Lucky Rattan

Baritone Lucky Rattan performs with our Festival Chorus for the first time with the national anthems. He graciously shared with us his mother’s immigration story and reflections on his cultural identity:

“I am a first-generation American of Laotian descent. Growing up, I never realized and therefore never appreciated the great sacrifices that my mother made to come to the US. My childhood was, for all intents and purposes, normal with an array of Saturday morning cartoons, hamburgers, apple pie, and an occasional Pook Kwan ceremony at the local Buddhist temple. It wasn’t until later on in adulthood that I learned of the horrors of a war-torn country that my mother was forced to escape from after calling it home for 26 years of her life.

During the Vietnam War, Laos was also going through its own civil war. The Royal Laotian government was a US ally while the communist Pathet Lao partnered with the Viet Cong. Parts of Laos was used as a supply route to aid the Viet Cong and was under heavy and relentless US bombardment. In 1975 as the Viet Cong had taken over control of Vietnam, the Pathet Lao, backed by the Viet Cong and the Soviets, had seized control of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. During this time, my mother who was a loyalist, was rounded up and led to a firing squad and was set to be executed. Miraculously, her life was spared as she was recognized by someone with influence. However, her husband (who was an officer of the Royal Army) was sent away to “reeducation camp.” My mother eventually escaped by boat (along with my older brother and sister) in the cover of night across the Mekong River into neighboring Thailand where she spent several months in a refugee camp before being sponsored by an American family and emigrating to the US.

I’ve always taken for granted my life as an American. I complain about mundane things like how my totally clean tap water tastes funny, how my running toilet is too big for the bathroom, and how my stocked refrigerator doesn’t have anything worthy of eating. So many people around the world experience totally different realities, be it oppression, war, poverty, hunger, disease – all through no fault of their own but by mere fate of being born there. I hope that this concert helps evoke a sense of oneness with our fellow man – how although we may speak differently, have different customs, look different, we have an innate yearning for the same things. To quote JFK: ‘Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.’”

— Lucky Rattan