In a country ravaged by war, a single mother escaped Laos with her two young children and embarked on a two-year journey to the United States in the 1970s in search of a better life.
Palina Louangketh, a Boise State University honors professor, was one of those children. It was her own family’s story that inspired the idea behind the Idaho Museum of International Diaspora (IMID) that she is creating. According to Louangketh, its purpose is to share the stories of those who have been displaced from their homelands.
With the building phase set to begin in 2023, the goal is for the IMID to be located in downtown Boise. According to Louangketh, the museum will contain multiple sub-components such as a traditional museum, theater, international food district, international garden and international library.
“It’s a big project, and that’s why it’s so special,” Louangketh said. “I’m not representing [myself]and the Laos community, I’m representing the world.”
According to Louangketh, the IMID is meant to be a safe space to appreciate past stories of the human journey. With the mantra, to “experience the world in Idaho,” the community’s anticipation has grown exponentially and has already made its reach internationally.
“My mother, when we were crossing over to the United States, was so afraid that they wouldn’t have chili peppers here,” Louangketh said. “This was in the 70s before we had the internet, and in a war-torn country, it’s not like somebody goes out and promotes America or whatever host country. So she actually hid chili pepper seeds in her shoes in hopes of planting it in the United States or wherever we would end up because she was afraid. She wanted to preserve her culture and chili peppers was what she was able to bring. So it’s stories like that that we would share in cross-culinary voices of diaspora.”
Satavone Vanasouk, senior media arts major and intern for the museum, discussed how Louangketh and Vanasouk’s fathers were refugees from Laos that arrived in Boise around the same time.
“It honestly blows me away recognizing how much [Louangketh] and my family had to sacrifice and go through in order to be here,” Vanasouk said. “Her story and my dad’s stories are the reason why the museum is so important to me.”
According to Vanasouk, long spans of refugee and immigrant history have been forgotten, and it needs a space to be preserved.
“I think that the museum’s mission to really preserve their stories and celebrate their journeys is a way for me to appreciate my dad because my dad has passed away,” Vanasouk said. “But it’s a way for me to appreciate his stories and his life, despite how hard it was.”
Austin Kidd, junior film and television arts major, has worked on service-learning projects within the museum and discussed how, at the age of 22, he never thought he would be involved in something not only this big, but also this different.
“It has helped me realize how much we all need each other and how lucky we are that we have these differences,” Kidd said. “It’s a celebration of cultures, people and experiences, to embrace that we’re all different, but we don’t have to treat each other as different.”
Louangketh hopes the museum will bring an understanding of the resilience and perseverance that people everywhere experience, and that it will inspire the next generation to be more open to diversity. Diaspora is not just refugees – it encompasses a wide range of humans that are displaced or forced to leave their homes.
“Diaspora is so broad, and through the IMID, we want to emerge these parallel stories to really show the human journey,” Louangketh said. “It’s giving people that human desire to want to belong and want to contribute to something greater than themselves.”
Louangketh says she is providing community members and friends, who have had really traumatic pasts and journeys, with a platform to share their stories on many levels, as her museum will encapsulate stories from the past, studies of the current and hopes for the future.