Leah Zani

Laos | United States

Dr. Zani’s work in Laos included research into the Vietnam War diaspora, as well as war and postwar issues such as battlefield reclamation, military waste, and intergenerational trauma. More than a quarter of Laos’ population fled during the conflict, plus massive internal migration due to the effects of air warfare. This has led to long term refugee issues that continue to play out in Laos and the United States. Beginning under Trump, large numbers of Hmong and Lao war refugees are being deported back to Laos, where they will certainly be targeted as enemies of the communist state. Many were supporters of America’s Secret War who sought refuge in the United States, their supposed ally, and have now lived here for forty years. In 2022, Biden revoked some parts of a Trump ban that prohibited travel and immigration visas to people in Laos. Other parts of the ban remain in effect. These bans and deportations ignore the very real history of America’s Secret War in Laos and its ongoing impact.

While serving as the Human Rights Seat for the American Anthropological Association (AAA) from 2019-2022, Zani facilitated a new partnership between the AAA and Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF), a leading global assistance program for scholars fleeing their countries of origin. Zani lobbied the AAA to provide free memberships to SRF Fellows, among other assistance. At the AAA, Zani organized events about academic freedom and the experiences of scholar refugees. Zani currently volunteer as an SRF Ambassador, where she assists SRF Fellows as they resettle in the US by providing professional mentoring, language training, and help with life tasks such as getting a driver’s license.