Lao community reunited at Transform Rockford visioning session - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Rockford Lao community reunited at Transform Rockford visioning session

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ROCKFORD (WREX) -

For nearly 30 years, two Rockford groups avoided each other because of political and religious differences.

The two took great strides to put the past behind them and transform their relationship.

After the Vietnam war, thousands of Lao refugees relocated to northern Illinois.

It was not an easy time for many, like Houmphanh Sati. He's part of the Buddhist Lao community, a group whose new presence in Rockford wasn't appreciated by some. Their temple was shot at and pipe bombed several times.

And on top of that, Houmphanh's Buddhist community did not see eye to eye with the Christian Lao community.

"From '80 to '90 there were many confilitcs, mostly misunderstandings and how rumors start," says Houmphanh.

The two groups were at odds for the next few decades. But that long history of disagreement slowly started to fade into the past Saturday afternoon, with a little help from the grassroots 'Transform Rockford' movement.

"With the new generation, they find that we all have one thing in common, which is family, growing our community, our children, which is our future. So they found a key thing is moving the community forward. So they were able to put their religious and political differences aside to come for this meeting," says Paulina Sihakom, Secretary for the Lao American Association of Northern Illinois

At this visioning session, participants were asked the same questions as those at every other 'Transform' meeting: How do they want to see Rockford improve?

"It's our home, whatever's happening we felt that it's important to be part of the changes and voice our opinion," says Houmphanh.

From property taxes to potholes, their responses were unifying.

"It's very nice to me to see all of us together here this afternoon, even though we are from different areas of interest, maybe different religions, but we are here together in unity as Lao community," says Nit Chanthalangsy, a member of the Christian Lao Community

It took nearly three months of talks to get the two groups to meet today. Organizers hope the event was just the beginning of a healing process.

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