Laotian Americans

Last updated
Laotian Americans
Total population
263,298 [1] (estimate, 2016)
Regions with significant populations
Arkansas (Fort Smith), California (Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno), Minnesota (Minneapolis-St Paul), Illinois (Elgin), Washington (Seattle-Tacoma), Rhode Island (Providence), Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth), Louisiana (Lafayette, New Iberia), Colorado (Denver), New York (Johnson City, NY)
Lao, American English, French, Isan, Thai
Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Lao people, overseas Laotian, Laotians in France, Laotian Canadians, Asian Americans,

Laotian Americans are Americans who trace their ancestry to Laos. Laotian Americans are included in the larger category of Asian Americans. The major immigrant generation were generally refugees who escaped Laos during the warfare and disruption of the 1970s, and entered refugee camps in Thailand across the Mekong River. They emigrated to the United States during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.


The category of 'Laotian American', includes all ethnic groups who lived within the borders of Laos, and does not include Hmong community.


Laotian immigration to the United States started shortly after the Vietnam War. [2] Refugees began arriving in the U.S. after a Communist government came to power in Laos in 1975 and by 1980, the Laotian population of the U.S. reached 47,683, according to census estimates. The numbers increased dramatically during the 1980s so the census estimated that there were 147,375 people by 1990. The group continued to grow, somewhat more slowly, to 167,792 by 2000. [3] By 2008, the population nearly reached 240,532. Included are the Hmong, a mountainous tribe from that country.

The states with the largest Laotian American populations (including the Hmong from Laos) are California (58,424, 0.2%), Texas (13,298, 0.1%), Minnesota (10,065, 0.2%), Washington (9,333, 0.2%), Colorado (7,434, 0.1%), Tennessee (6,336, 0.1%), Illinois (5,822, 0.1%), North Carolina (5,566, 0.1%), Georgia (5,560, 0.1%), Florida (4,896, 0.05%), and Oregon (4,692, 0.1%). There are about over 200,000 ethnic Lao in America. Approximately 8,000 to 11,000 Americans are of mixed Lao and other descent. Ethnic Lao people may identify as both Lao American and Laotian American (see also Hmong American). [4]

Most were estimated to live in the West (95,574), followed by the South (44,471), Midwest (37,820), and Northeast (15,382).

Cities or regions with significant Laotian-American populations include the Seattle metropolitan area (enumerating 12,190; 0.4% of its population); San Francisco Bay Area (11,545; 0.2%); Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area (10,500; 0.2%); [5] Sacramento metropolitan area (9,814; 0.4%); Minneapolis – Saint Paul area (8,676; 0.3%); San Diego metropolitan area (8,079; 0.3%); Fresno metropolitan area (7,967; 0.9%); Greater Los Angeles Area (7,120; 0.04%); Nashville metropolitan area (6,210; 0.4%); Portland metropolitan area (5,806; 0.3%); Chicago metropolitan area (4,762; 0.05%); San Joaquin County, California (4,266; 0.6%); Providence, Rhode Island (3,456; 0.2%); Denver metropolitan area (2,673), Des Moines, Iowa (2,270), Anchorage metropolitan area (1,997; 0.5%), and Fort Smith, Arkansas-Arkoma, Oklahoma (1,730). [4] [6] [7]

Smaller Laotian communities can be found in other cities and metropolitan areas across the United States. In the Southern United States, there is a significant Laotian community in St. Petersburg, Florida, where at least 1,000 Laotian-Americans reside. [4] [8] There are communities in Habersham County, Georgia (740), and Houston, Texas.

In the Southwestern and Midwestern United States, there are Laotian communities in Denver, Colorado; Storm Lake, Iowa (400; 4%), and Wichita, Kansas (1,594; 0.4%). The Oaklawn-Sunview community near Wichita is 11.5% Laotian American. In the Chicago area, there are sizable Laotian communities in the suburban cities of Aurora, Elgin, Joliet, and Rockford. [4] [9] [10]

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Laotian population is concentrated in the cities of Oakland, Richmond, and Santa Rosa. [11] Elsewhere in Northern California, there are Laotian communities in Chico, Eureka, Redding, Stockton, Ukiah and Yuba City. In central and southern California, there are communities in Fresno - also one of the largest Hmong communities outside Laos, Merced, and in Tulare County, California, especially in the city of Porterville. In the 1980s after the communist takeover of Laos, over 10,000 Laotians settled in central California. Many of the Laotians settled in central California to work in the farmland there. [12] Additional Laotian communities exist in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area and in the Inland Empire region (i.e. Banning).

In the Northeast, there are Laotian communities spread across the New England states. With the large concentration in Providence, Rhode Island, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Lowell, Massachusetts, and Newmarket, New Hampshire.

Community and social issues


According to data collected by the American government in 2013, 18.5% of all Laotian Americans live under the poverty line. [13]

Per capita income

In 2014, identified by factfinder census, when Americans' per capita income was divided by ethnic groups Laotian Americans were revealed to have a per capita income of only $21,479 below the American average of $25,825. [14]

Lack of education and school dropout rates

According to data collected in 2013, 38% of all Laotian Americans drop out of high school. [13]



Laos is 65% Buddhist. Buddhism is the basis and religion practiced in Laos. Lao Buddhism shares similar beliefs with Theravada Buddhism. Lao Buddhism believes in animist beliefs, which is the belief of spiritual essence possessed in objects and creatures. Buddhism located in rural parts of Lao believe in the belief of ancestral spirits, which is the belief of souls and spirits from afterlife. Although Buddhism is the primary religion practiced in Laos, there are some who practice Christianity. There are three Christian churches in Laos: Lao Evangelical Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Theravada Buddhist Temple

Laotian-American populations have constructed numerous Buddhist temples, called vat or wat. Over time, the congregation donates money to customize and add on to the facility, as well as to add fine artwork and craftsmanship, resulting in a Laotian Buddhist temple that has some traditional features. [2] Examples include Wat Lao Buddhavong located outside Washington, D.C.; Wat Lao Buddharam of San Diego, California; Wat Lao of S. Farmington, Minnesota; Wat Lao Buddhamamakaram of Columbus, Ohio; Wat Lao Mixayaram and Wat Lao Dhammacetiyaram of Seattle, Washington; Wat Lao Buddha Ariyamett Aram Temple in Morris, Connecticut; Wat Lao Lane Xang, founded in 1993 in Willington, Connecticut; Wat Buddhapradeep of San Bruno, California and the Wat Lao Mixayaram in Lowell, Massachusetts. With the growth of Laotian communities in more diverse areas, they have moved to and constructed temples in rural areas, such as Lane Xang Village, located between Lafayette and New Iberia in Louisiana. [15]

Representation in media

One of the first national Laotian-American publication, Lao Roots Magazine, was published in 2007. The English-language magazine is geared toward the younger generation of the Laotian-American community. Published in San Diego by a small volunteer staff, the magazine has reached widespread national circulation within the Laotian-American community. After the publication ceased, former staff member and Yale University graduate Siamphone Louankang created the popular online magazine, [16] which continues to share stories by and about Americans of Laotian descent. [17]

The documentary film The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) was directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath. It portrays the epic of a family forced to emigrate from Laos after the chaos of the secret air war waged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Kuras spent 23 years chronicling the family's journey in this film. The film won a Spectrum Award for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; it was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary. [18]

The Souphanousinphone family, Laotian Americans, are featured on King of the Hill, an animated TV series.

The subject of Jamie Wyeth's painting Kalounna in Frogtown is Laotian American.

Krysada Binly Phounsiri (Lancer) & Kennedy Phounsiri (EraNetik), brothers from San Diego, California who share the same passion for breakdancing, were featured on season 6 of America's Got Talent with a dance team called the Body Poets and are now current performers in the Jabbawockeez - "MÜS.I.C" Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. They are also part of the breakdance crew "The Calamities", which they created in 2002.


Some Laotian Americans have achieved notable success in badminton competition, including Khan Malaythong.

Notable people

This is a list of notable Laotian Americans, including both original immigrants who obtained American citizenship and their American descendants.

This list does not include Hmong Americans, who can be found in the List of Hmong Americans.

To be included in this list, the person must have a Wikipedia article showing they are Laotian American or must have references showing they are Laotian American and are notable.

In fiction

See also

Related Research Articles

Laos Landlocked country in Southeast Asia

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly referred to by its colloquial name of Muang Lao, is a socialist state and the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Located at the heart of the Indochinese peninsula, Laos is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Thailand to the west and southwest.

Demographics of Laos

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Laos, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Hmong people Ethnic group in East and Southeast Asia

The Hmong people are an ethnic group in East and Southeast Asia. They are a sub-group of the Miao people, and live mainly in Southern China, Vietnam and Laos. They have been members of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) since 2007.

The Lao people or Laotians are a Tai ethnic group native to Southeast Asia, who speak the eponymous language of the Kra–Dai languages, originating from present-day southern China. They are the majority ethnic group of Laos, making up 53.2% of the total population. The majority of Lao people adhere to Theravada Buddhism. They are closely related to other Tai peoples, especially with the Isan people, who are also speakers of Lao language, but native to neighboring Thailand.

Vang Pao Laotian-American soldier

Vang Pao was a major general in the Royal Lao Army. He was a leader in the Hmong American community in the United States.

Wat Thamkrabok is a Buddhist temple (wat) in Thailand, located in the Phra Phutthabat district of Saraburi Province, Thailand.

Hmong Americans are Americans of Hmong descent, most of whom emigrated to the United States as Laotian refugees—or are the children and grandchildren of refugees. They fled Laos because they had sided with the United States during the Vietnam War, or they were perceived as having cooperated with the U.S. Over half of the Laotian Hmong population left the country, or tried to leave, in 1975, at the culmination of the war. About 90% of those who made it to refugee camps in Thailand were ultimately resettled in the United States. The rest, about 8 to 10%, resettled in Canada, France, the Netherlands, Australia, and other Western nations.

Laotian Canadians are Canadian citizens of Laotian origin or descent. In the 2016 Census, 24,580 people indicated Laotian ancestry. Bilateral relations between Canada and Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), or Laos, were established in 1954 with the formalization of the independence of the Kingdom of Laos from France. In August 2015, Canada's first resident diplomat opened the Office of the Embassy of Canada in Vientiane, Lao PDR.

Bryan Thao Worra Laotian American writer

Bryan Thao Worra is a Laotian American writer. His books include On The Other Side Of The Eye, Touching Detonations, Winter Ink, Barrow and The Tuk Tuk Diaries: My Dinner With Cluster Bombs. He is the first Laotian American to receive a Fellowship in Literature from the United States government's National Endowment for the Arts. He received the Asian Pacific Leadership Award from the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans for Leadership in the Arts in 2009. He received the Science Fiction Poetry Association Elgin Award for Book of the Year in 2014. He was selected as a Cultural Olympian representing Laos during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. He is the first Asian American president of the international Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, and the first Laotian American member of the professional Horror Writers Association.

Lua people

The Lua people are a minority ethnic group native to Laos, although there is now a sizable community living in Thailand. Lua' is their preferred autonym (self-designation), while their Lao neighbours tend to call them Thin, T'in or Htin. Another term for this group is Lawa. There are two subgroups: the Mal and the Phai or Pray.

Religion in Laos religion in Laos

Laos has an area of 85,000 square miles (220,000 km2) and contains a population of approximately 6.6 million. Almost all ethnic or "lowland" Lao are followers of Theravada Buddhism; however, they constitute only 40-50% of the population. The remainder of the population belongs to at least 48 distinct ethnic minority groups. Most of these ethnic groups (30%) are practitioners of Laotian folk religion, with beliefs that vary greatly among groups.

The Hmong are a major ethnic group residing in Merced, California. As of 1997 Merced had a high concentration of Hmong residents relative to its population. The Hmong community settled in Merced after Dang Moua, a Hmong community leader, had promoted Merced to the Hmong communities scattered across the United States. As of 2010, there were 4,741 people of Hmong descent living in Merced, comprising 6% of Merced's population.

Thavisouk Phrasavath is a New York-based Lao-American film director/editor, writer and visual artist.

The Laotian diaspora consists of roughly 800,000 people, both descendants of early emigrants from Laos, as well as more recent refugees who escaped the country following its communist takeover as a result of the Laotian Civil War. The overwhelming majority of overseas Laotians live in just three countries: Thailand, the United States, and France.

History of the Hmong in Minneapolis–Saint Paul

The Hmong people are a major ethnic group in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. As of 2000 there were 40,707 ethnic Hmong in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The 2010 U.S. Census stated there were 66,000 ethnic Hmong in Minneapolis-St. Paul, giving it the largest urban Hmong population in the world. Grit Grigoleit, author of "Coming Home? The Integration of Hmong Refugees from Wat Tham Krabok, Thailand, into American Society," wrote that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area "acted as the cultural and socio-political center of Hmong life in the U.S."

The Hmong are a major ethnic group in Fresno, California. The Fresno Hmong community, along with that of Minneapolis/St. Paul, is one of the largest two urban U.S. Hmong communities. As of 1993 the Hmong were the largest Southeast Asian ethnic group in Fresno. As of 2010, there are 24,328 people of Hmong descent living in Fresno, making up 4.9% of the city's population.

This article discusses the Hmong in California. As of 2017 it has about 100,000 people of Hmong ancestry, the largest population of that group in the country.

The Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act of 2000, was passed in bipartisan fashion by the then Republican-controlled United States House of Representatives, and U.S. Senate, and signed into law at the White House by President Bill Clinton on May 26, 2000. The legislation granted Hmong and ethnic Laotian veterans, who were legal refugee aliens from the communist Lao government, and who also served in U.S.-backed guerrilla, or US special forces-backed units in Laos, during the Vietnam War, "an exemption from the English language requirement and special consideration for civics testing for certain refugees from Laos applying for naturalization." The initial Act gave these alien veterans eighteen months since the day of the bill's passage by the U.S. Congress, and its signature by the President of the United States, to file a naturalization application for honorary U.S. citizenship.

Wangyee Vang Hmong-American community leader

Wangyee Vang is a Hmong-American community leader, educator and elder from Fresno, and the Central Valley, of California.

The Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) is a national non-profit organization based in Fresno, and the Central Valley, of California, with chapters throughout California. It is one of the largest ethnic Lao- and Hmong-American veterans organizations representing tens of thousands of Lao Hmong veterans who served in the Vietnam War in the Royal Kingdom of Laos as well as their refugee families who were resettled in the United States after the conflict.


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