Most of the local Lao community came to Riverside from Laos after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, often by way of refugee camps in Thailand. They are not concentrated in any single part of the city but their Buddhist temple is in west Riverside.
The ethnic Lao are the largest group in the country of Laos, which has other ethnic groups such as the Hmong. Most Lao are Theravada Buddhists though some are Christian. “Wat” means ‘Buddhist temple' in the Lao language.
This Buddhist monk at Wat Lao sits in front of one of the main altars at the temple.
Several Buddhist monks are usually in residence at Wat Lao at any given time. Most Theravada Buddhist services are opportunities for the devout to make merit, often by listening to a sermon or by giving food to monks. Almost all Theravada Buddhist men become a monk at some point in their lives, usually for a few weeks or several months.
On most days of the week, Wat Lao is quiet and empty except for a few monks and particularly devout laypersons. On festivals and holy days, however, the compound bustles with activity. The Lao community gathers at Wat Lao on special holidays such as the Lao New Year (in April), to celebrate the day that the Buddha attained nirvana, to mark the beginning and end of Buddhist Lent, etc. On these days, Lao families spend hours at the temple, praying and attending to monks' sermons, making and eating food, and socializing.
2001 and the Lao Community in Riverside
Two events galvanized the Lao community in 2001.
(1) On June 10, 2001 , a young Lao man named Vanpaseuth Phaisouphanh was shot and killed in his front yard by a Riverside Police Department officer. In the days, weeks, and months following his death, members of the Lao community met with city officials and connected with other community members working on police accountability issues. Click here to read the official minutes from an emergency meeting of the Riverside Community Police Review Commission held four days later, on June 14, 2001, in which Lao and non-Lao community members addressed the Commission and RPD Chief Russ Leach. At the time of this writing (2005), the case is officially closed, having been found in policy by the CPRC and RPD's Internal Affairs. The officer involved in this shooting, Edgar John Porche, has since left the RPD.
(2) In the aftermath of this traumatic event, connections between the Lao and non-Lao community were strengthened in certain ways. In September 2001, the Lao community gathered to commemorate September 11th, to make merit for those killed in the east coast terrorist attacks, and to raise money for the families of victims. In this way, they drew on the Buddhist faith to respond to this world event and to show solidarity. This event was attended by a number of Riverside officials, including several RPD officers, and marked a new visibility for the local Lao community.
This flyer was distributed all over Riverside in September 2001 to invite community members to come together at Wat Lao.
Fundraising event for 9-11 victims at Wat Lao in 2001. Local Lao leader Harry Ratnaransy is on the left, standing in the driveway to Wat Lao. The money raised at this event was given to the Red Cross later that day at a public event in downtown Riverside.
Wat Lao Buddhist of Riverside
Riverside , CA 92503
Tel. (951) 509-0931