Wat Buddhatham-Aram Lao Buddhist temple marked its 35th anniversary with festivities on June 12 that it called “A Celebration of Our Success.” The event was held on the grounds of the temple at Northeast 133rd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.
The outdoor event was blessed with perfect weather. Ladies came adorned in their finest traditional garb, while the men dressed less formally. Musical entertainment was provided in a canopied seating area, with high school-age girls performing traditional dances to Lao tunes. The music was also traditional, with a strong backbeat carried by electric guitar. Small boys attentively watched their older sisters perform, while older ladies gathered in small groups around the edges to dance the second line, until finally the dance floor was opened to all. Later a band took to the stage to play Lao oldies.
Food—ground beef and vegetables in sauce, over rice noodles and fruit salad—was provided by the temple. In addition, there were stands selling Lao delicacies, fresh fruit, desserts, souvenirs and clothes.
The main challenge to putting on the celebration was organizational, according to temple secretary general Vanhlang Khamsouk. “Everybody has to find the time,” he said.
The temple seeks to keep the community’s traditions alive and reach out to the younger generation. “Time will tell,” Khamsouk said with a hint of wistfulness, adding that the younger generation is assimilating and becoming lawyers and IT technicians.
A shining example of the transmission of community values was seen at the farthest stand in the market area. Chai Voraphet’s aunt asked him to run her shaved ice stand, he said. Early that morning, as he was setting up, he gained a 10-year-old helper, Tyler Thilavan, whom he promptly appointed the stand’s assistant manager. Tyler in turn hired his friends Stephen and James as ice technician and flavor master, respectively, paying them in snow cones.
“I’m teaching them the work ethic,” Voraphet said. “We made $10, but they came around and asked for a donation.”
Voraphet stood in front of the stand chatting with passersby. He grew up “on 82nd in the ’hood,” he said, and moved to Southern California after receiving a degree in graphic design from the University of Oregon. Now, at 32, he has returned to Oregon and is “done partying and ready to help the community.” He is “realigning with Buddhist values,” he said.
Voraphet is a partner in the Pearl Thai Café in Northwest Portland. At the other end of the market, businesswoman Lily Bobzien represented her shop Thai Imports, located on Southwest 18th Avenue.
The Lao community was established in Portland in 1975. There are about 6,000 Laotians and three Lao Buddhist temples in the Portland metropolitan area. Wat Buddhatham-Aram was founded in 1981 and has been at its present location since 1987. It was housed in the converted church that stood abandoned on the site until the current temple was built in 1997. There is also a residence for the five monks who live there.
The next event at Wat Buddhatham-Aram is July 4.