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Immigration stories

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

                                                                        new world.
                                                                               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


Alex Ung

Jaime Walizcek

Lisa Kwak

Jennifer Allie

Karyn Tobin

Chrissy Wheeler

Robert Moore

Brandon Ung

Special Performance by

PriceArts N.E.W.

photos Karya Schanilec

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