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Embracing Lao Culture through Arts and Sports

Molly Doehrmann | May 12, 2021

Aloun Khotisene is the President and Board Member of the Multicultural Education Group (MEG) in Elgin, IL — an organization established in 2013 with the purpose of providing children an opportunity to gain knowledge and appreciation of Lao culture and heritage.


Aloun Khotisene was born in Laos but grew up in France where he played tennis.


“Not competitively, just for fun,” Aloun explains. He described himself as playing “a little bit” as a boy, but his real passion was soccer. “I didn’t have that drive for tennis. I had so much energy. I think that’s why I preferred soccer. In soccer, you have to do a lot of running.”


Aloun’s father though loved tennis. “We used to watch the French Open when we were in France a lot. We used to always cheer for Yannick Noah.”


Every morning at 5 a.m., Aloun’s dad would wake him up. “Go and hit the wall,” he’d say, and that’s how Aloun started practicing tennis.


“He’d wake me up. We would run and then we’d hit the wall for an hour. Then we would play a game… [My dad] wanted me to become more competitive.”


Aloun describes his father as having been an athlete in his own right.

“He wasn’t trained. He was self-taught, and he tried to teach me. I didn’t have a coach. So we would just try and go out there and hit it.” Aloun reminds me that he wasn’t super interested in tennis. He went on to play soccer in a league, then for his high school and college teams.


There was a time in college when Aloun was reunited with his racquet, even making it onto the Elgin Community College tennis team. “My friends would say, ‘Hey come and play.’ I’m like, ‘Okay. Sure.’”


Now, as an adult, Aloun says, it’s the younger generations who inspire him to stay connected with tennis.


“We wanted to give them an opportunity to choose which sports they like,” Aloun shares. He’s talking about the kids who participate in the Multicultural Education Group.


When the Multicultural Education Group was founded, it was originally called the Multicultural Educational Outreach Foundation, or MEOF.


“One of our passions is to push our non-profit organization to have more voice and more visibility here and nationally too, long-term,” says Aloun.

MEG is a grassroots organization that provides fine arts, language studies, performing arts, and sports programming to the community.


Volunteerism also plays a big role.


“We do food drives,” says Aloun. “When the 2020 pandemic hit… we felt that the community, especially families, were in need of food.”


It had a great impact. So much so, Aloun asked himself, why not continue the effort?


Already in 2021, MEG has held four food drives, with another coming up on Saturday, May 15. To Aloun, it’s important that the kids of the Multicultural Education Group see value in volunteering and helping others.


People who know Aloun call him a visionary and someone who’s brought positive change to local youths, seniors, and the community overall.


Aloun has played an integral part in the success of many MEG programs, especially the USTA kids tennis program. Every summer, MEG offers a two-week-long summer camp with programming in the Lao language, history, arts, crafts, dance, and sports. In 2019, Aloun introduced tennis to the schedule and over 30 kids participated with college athletes training them. As a result, several children fell in love with the sport and went on to compete in high school.


In the future, Aloun wants to take the kids to see some of the pros play — to continue and pique the kids’ interest.


For Aloun and those working with MEG, the mission has always been to unite the community, educate young people, preserve heritage, and embrace the culture. The program has expanded to include more cultures, such as Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, and European.


One of the most exciting projects this month has been MEG’s ribbon-cutting in front of the World Traveling Elephant Display at Gail Borden Library —  a partner and supporter of MEG.


The exhibit’s ribbon-cutting kicked off Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in Elgin, with the mayor, state representatives and other local dignitaries present.


Aloun calls the elephant statue, a national symbol of love.

The elephant is eight feet tall, about six feet wide, and a means of bringing appreciation towards Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures.


“That way kids can better understand different cultures and different traditions and learn how to maybe work together in some capacity,” Aloun explains. “You see on TV… not understanding each others’ culture, or characterizing one ethnicity— We have many ethnicities within America.”


MEG teaches and educates the surrounding community about different ethnicities and different Southeast Asian countries.

“Now we get an opportunity to showcase, and also to expose the community to understand Lao culture and different Asian cultures. And hopefully, they can take it to heart,” Aloun says. “We can join hands… If we work together to create one community where we help each other… Wouldn’t that be something?”


That’s the message The Multicultural Education Group shares with children.


When Aloun was growing up, his father was very religious and an artist. Aloun remembers his dad drawing pictures of the temple they used to go to.


“In a way, it made me feel like it’s always good to preserve our culture so that our younger generation will understand, especially the ones who grew up here,” Aloun carries that same sentiment with him today while bringing fresh and innovative ideas to the Multicultural Education Group.


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