A retelling of the Tai Dam
refugees of war
IMMIGRATION STORIES is a choreographic odyssey by Guild Dance Company artistic director Alex Ung that traces the journey of his immigrant Tai Dam family from war-torn Southeast Asia to Iowa, from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Told through traditional Tai Dam dance accompanied by drum,string, and pipe. A blend of hip hop and contemporary styles set to contemporary music will add to the narrative as we witness the passage of time and the Tai Dam relocation. The musical centerpiece of IMMIGRATION STORIES will be the song, “Saay Fon” (Flows of Rain), a recounting of Tai Dam history written by the elders of the Des Moines Tai Dam community and performed by Jimmi Van Luong.
Our story begins with a celebration in the Tai Dam homeland—the Sip Song Chau Tai, or the Twelve Tai Principalities. But with World War II, Japan invaded Tai Country and drove the French colonist army into China. Soon after the war, the Pathet Lao and Khmer Issarak were formed to ultimately defeat and chase the French out of Indochina. The Tai Dam were forced to flee their homeland, which had become a political and military battlefield. Their relocation march, set to a traditional drumbeat, brings them to Hanoi in Vietnam, where they live as refugees, homesick and anxious.
In 1954, with the Vietnamese victory at the battle of Dien Bien
Phu, the Tai Dam were forced to flee again, this time out of fear of
persecution by the North Vietnamese Communists. A second
relocation march brings them to Laos. Here they re-establish their
lives and reclaim their culture. For twenty years, the Tai Dam lived
in relative peace, until Laos fell to the Communists in 1975 and they
were once again displaced. This time their relocation march takes
them across the Mekong River to Thailand. After an easy crossing by
a first wave of refugees, a second wave encounters an aggressive
military and the dangers of the river itself.
Many never reach the refugee camps on the shores of Thailand.
In the camp sorting tents, waiting for interviews and the hope of
relocation to the United States or France, anxious families are
separated. Some will wait years until they are finally reunited. Some
never see each other again. Alex Ung’s mother was relocated to Iowa,
where Governor Robert Ray welcomed the Tai Dam with the promise
of a new home. But once in the United States, new difficulties meet the Tai Dam in the form of
mistreatment and intolerance by sponsor families,
holding unrealistic expectations of the Tai Dam
refugees’ farming skills and ability to immediately
assimilate and meet the demands made of them in a
Finally the Tai Dam families find resolution, and a
permanent home, in Des Moines. A new celebration
of Tai Dam heritage includes today’s generation of
youth listening to the Tai Dam story told by an elder.
Acceptance and open arms provided the Tai Dam an
opportunity to re-establish their lives and save their
culture. Today, they wish the same for all who seek
peace and a new home.
Traditional Tai Dam Drum and Flute Music
Honest Music - Nico Muhly
Saay Fon (Acoustic) - Jimmi Van Luong
The Way (Instrumental Version) - Zack Hemsey
Brother - Matt Corby
Brother (Stripped Back Version) - Matt Corby
The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Everdream - Epic Soul Factory
Hold Back The River - James Bay
Special Performance by