Meet Our New Intern: Savannah Rattanavong

Hi! My name is Savannah Rattanavong and I am a senior at Kansas State University studying journalism and mass communications with a minor in Spanish. If all goes according to plan, I will be graduating in May 2018.

What is your family like?

When I’m not in Manhattan, Kansas, I live with my mother and younger sister in Shawnee, Kansas, just 15 minutes away from either Kansas City (Yes, there’s two—one in actual Kansas and one in Missouri). My mother is a reading teacher at an elementary school and my sister just graduated from high school. She’ll actually be attending my school’s rival university, the University of Kansas (insert boos here).

How did you become involved with writing and journalism?

I joined my high school’s yearbook staff my sophomore year on a whim. I’d never really been recognized for my writing until then; the first story I ever wrote for the book was submitted to the Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s monthly contest and won first place. That was a huge confidence boost for me since I was such a reserved and “nose in the books” type of kid. From there, I loved hearing and sharing other people’s stories and was hooked.

What else are you involved in?

Most of my time is spent working for a few school publications. I was recently promoted to Beauty Coordinator and Copy Editor for the Manhappenin’ magazine, K-State's first and only campus lifestyle destination, as well as Assistant Editor-in-Chief for the Royal Purple yearbook. I mainly edited and worked with the writing staff to create engaging and newsworthy stories in the past, and I also used to do freelance writing for the Collegian newspaper. I am also the president of the Asian American Student Union and will be helping promote diversity and inclusion at my university next year.

What do you do in your free time?

I’ll admit I love Netflix as much as the next millennial. I love watching movies and shows, especially ones about superheroes. I think that if I hadn’t gone into writing, I would’ve liked to study film. I also used to draw a lot when I was younger, but that hobby has translated into makeup now. I find it so much fun being able to transform myself every day—it’s my time to relax and concentrate for the day ahead.

What do I want to do in the future?

This flip flops quite a bit, but initially after graduation I want to stick around Kansas City and find a magazine to write for. I’d also love to write for a women’s magazine in the big cities like New York someday. However, my recent involvement with the Asian American Student Union and this internship have me contemplating writing stories for and about the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

What’s an interesting fact about you?

My friends and I were once featured in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article about teen consumer habits. We spent the whole day shopping with a reporter and she treated us to a dinner at the Cheesecake factory (it was awesome).

Who is your inspiration?

My mom, no doubt. She’s always emphasized education above all and I don’t know where I’d be today without her. She recently went back and finished her studies at our community college. I still remember how proud I was watching her walk across the stage to receive her diploma and I can’t wait for her to see me do the same.

I also admire Emily Weiss, co-founder and CEO of Into the Gloss and Glossier, and Michelle Lee, editor-in-chief of Allure Magazine, for making it big as women in competitive fields.

You have an opportunity to go to Seattle for the Lao American Writers Summit, what are your expectations for this kind of summit?

I genuinely feel so grateful for this opportunity. I never even knew there were other Lao people in creative fields, much less a whole community of writers like me. I look forward to meeting these bright minds and learning more about the challenges presented to Lao writers and artists. I've never been to Seattle either so I hope I have a chance to see the city a bit.

What was it like growing up? And what are some of the ways you feel it affects your approach to writing and being a part of the community?

I’ve lived in a majority white community my entire life—I was one of a handful of Asian students at my high school and that didn’t change very much when I went to college. I wasn’t very well-connected to any Asian American communities to be honest and sometimes I’d feel like the token Asian girl when I hung out with people. I literally got so excited when I heard my history teacher mention Laos once while reading from our textbook and then remember we were talking about the Vietnam war and its destruction.

I wish my family was more open or available to talking about Laos and its history. I know it’s not something that just casually comes up in conversation often, but I always felt like a sham being Lao but knowing next to nothing about who we were and not even being able to speak the language.

I was desperate to make some sort of connection and sense of who I was, but it wasn’t really until I went to college that I started reaching out to my family and talking to them about their experiences. I always felt awkward asking because I assumed they didn’t want to talk about what was surely a traumatic time. I think that was sort of the starting point for me wanting to write stories about marginalized communities and generally people who are left out of the main narratives.

For example, when terrorists attacked Paris, France in 2015, I immediately went out and talked to people from a mosque in Manhattan to tell their side of the story and explain what Islam truly represented. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to at least have their voice heard.

What's your favorite Lao dish?

Kao piak sen brings back so many fond memories for me. It was definitely a big comfort food when it was cold out or I was sick. 

Do you prefer tea or coffee?

Does chai tea count?

Who's on your summer reading list?

I bought quite a few books this year, but never got around to reading them during the busy rush of essays, exams and work. When I was a kid, my mother took my sister and me to the public library every summer to join their youth reading program and I loved picking out tons of books every time. Now is as good as any other time to restart that. Here’s what’s on my list so far:

  • "Queer Heartache” poems by Kit Yan
  • “Raise the Red Lantern” by Su Tong
  • “Lipstick Jihad” by Azadeh Moaveni
  • “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tran
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson
  • “Girl Boss” by Sophia Amoruso

What’s a skill you picked up which was unexpectedly useful?

I don’t know if I’d say this was unexpectedly useful since I had every intention to use it in everyday life, but I’ve been learning Spanish since I was about 12-13 years old. My issue was that I didn’t really speak much Spanish outside of the classroom because I obviously didn’t want to profile people who looked like they could speak Spanish. I worked at a department store last summer and there was actually a lot of older folks who couldn’t speak English all that well so they’d have another family member translate for them. Their faces basically lit up when I spoke to them in their native language and I felt great that I could reach these people, even if it was only for a simple transaction. Now I just need to learn to speak Lao…

What keeps you motivated?

I picked my field of study because I genuinely liked it and had fun while doing my job. I think that in itself is one of my biggest motivators because I would have never pursued journalism with its challenges if I didn’t actually enjoy it. There’s always another story out there waiting to be told.

I’ve always wondered about my heritage as our story is always lost in the main narratives of this country.

What's something you might change about our understanding of our culture? What's a value you'd preserve?

I wish my family was more open or available to talking about Laos and its history. I know it’s not something that just casually comes up in conversation often, but I always felt like a sham being Lao but knowing next to nothing about who we were and not even being able to speak the language. This was just not emphasized for me growing up and my mother said this was because, at least on her end, she wanted me to adapt to American culture better than she did. However, at the same time, I do like the social nature of our culture when we all come together for some reason, like when my grandparents had a house blessing. It was a small insight into how we integrate our two livelihoods of being Lao and American and I liked being able to see just how large our community can be when we’re not so spread out.

What do you hope to gain from this internship?

I’ve always wondered about my heritage as our story is always lost in the main narratives of this country. This past year especially, I have been interested in connecting to the Asian American community while I’ve been at school. I’ve learned more about myself and how my family’s roots intersect with my identity, as well as gained a bunch of great friends. I hope that this internship can shed even more light on Lao culture and help me understand where I come from.

Sahtu Press