LOWELL — Nicholas Sounphale still misses his native country, Laos.
“The country is so beautiful, so lovely,” Sounphale said.
The Littleton resident was one of about 60 people from near and far who attended the Eighth Anniversary Celebration of the Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag at City Hall on Saturday. Posters set up in front of the building bore photos of ancient Laotian treasures, including glistening Buddhist temples, intricately woven baskets of various shapes and sizes, gold statues and finely carved wooden musical instruments and textile-making utensils.
Sounphale, a now 50-year-old research and development technician who emigrated here in 1980, said despite his love for Laos, he was not in favor of the Communist government that took over in 1975.
The event celebrated the contributions of Laotians to the Lowell area while offering speakers a chance to advocate for peaceful change back home to re-install a democratic form of government. It was emceed by Linkham Xaylitdet of The Laotian Community of Lowell. It drew local officials like Mayor Patrick Murphy and City Councilors Rita Mercier and Vesna Nuon, along with native Laotians from as far as Germany.
“The Laotian community of Lowell stands in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Laos,” Murphy said.
Also in attendance to show their support were several Vietnamese immigrants who have served with the US Army Veterans Support Command and several Bangladeshi American officials.
“Thanks to the warm open arms and generous helping hands of the U.S. Government and the American people, we the Laotian Americans are who we are today: independent, free and law-abiding contributive citizens,” said United Lao Political Organization President Khamthene Chinyavong, expressing his gratitude to state officials for allowing them to uphold the Lao National Flag and the Lao Freedom and Heritage Flag so they can share their celebration with the city and the community.
The Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag features three white elephant heads on a red background.
The background represents the courage of Laotian kings and commoners who, despite hailing from 68 ethnic groups, managed to build a unified nation that they defended and protected from invaders for seven centuries, according to Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese, president of Alliance for Democracy in Laos.
The white elephant heads, which peer out from a white nine-level parasol, represent the pure beauty of both the land and culture of Laos, said Chanthalavong-Wiese, adding that the parasol represents the levels a person would need to climb, spiritually speaking, to reach the pinnacle that represents the heavens and Mount Meru, which Laotians tend to revere as the center of the universe.
The flag “illustrates the abundance of elephants in the country, hence ‘Lan Xang:’ the land of a million elephants,” said Chantalavong-Wiese, who said about 14 percent of the Laotian population, or more than 500,000 people, had emigrated to other countries to find safety and freedom after the Communist Party replaced the ruling constitutional monarchy.
Among them were Alygnaphon “Alit” Chanthala, who came to the event from Connecticut. Chanthala, now 34, was a leader of the student democracy movement in Laos in 1999. He said he emigrated here to join his sister after watching Communist officials attempt to arrest protesters at a rally he attended back home. Chanthala said he still misses family members back home, but that he is thankful he was able to start a new life here.
Credited to Khampoua Naovarangsy