Visions of Justice

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay;
photo John Schaidler

I am a Lao American playwright who writes political and speculative science fiction stories with themes around empire, violence, consequence, healing, and justice. My body of work focuses on the amplification of Laotian refugee stories.

It is important to understand how “justice” has been present and played out in my community.

I am the daughter of refugees from a heavily bombed-by-U.S.- pilots war-torn country. During the American war in Vietnam, the CIA committed 580,000 bombing missions over Laos.

Shortly after my father was released from labor camp and while I was still in my mother’s belly, my family escaped communist Laos. We are among millions of the powerless.

In my imagined worlds, justice for my characters often looks like “vigilante,” often looks like “community-driven,” often looks like “absence of the proper authorities.”

Justice looks like a badass lesbian zombie slayer, her creator living vicariously through her — hero of her creator’s ancestors.

In reality, justice wants to look like $90 million in U.S. aid for the 80 million cluster bombs left undetonated in Laos soil.

Justice wants to look like documentaries on the History Channel. It wants to look like President Obama joining in a Lamvong dancing circle. It wants to look like novels written by non-Laotians about Laotians because “we are not sophisticated enough with our English to tell our own stories.”

That is not true justice.

In my world as an artist and social practitioner, I am still looking for how justice can show up for us. I will always have more questions than answers.

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay (she/her) is currently an Andrew W. Mellon playwright in residence, Jerome Hill Artist fellow in theater, and McKnight Foundation fellow in community-engaged practice art. Visit her website at