Thursday, October 1, 2015

Evan Tsai - Veterans’ Voices Month Is On the Rise in Minnesota

Evan C. Tsai is a criminal defense attorney and a recipient of the 2014 Veterans’ Voices Award in the “On the Rise” category. He served as a United States Marine from 1994 to 1999.

We recently celebrated the 2015 Veterans’ Voices awardees at the September 11th Veterans’ Voices Award Ceremony, and Veterans' Voices Month begins today--October 1st. I was recently reminded of what Veterans’ Voices means and looks like when at the Ramsey County Veterans Treatment Court. I was immediately struck by the diversity of our local Veterans population and how that is reflected in the participants of the court: Vietnam-era Vets, Desert Storm-era Vets, OIF/OEF Vets, and everything in between. Ramsey County's Vet Court includes women and men, Asian, Hispanic, and Black Veterans. Our court serves gay Veterans equally with straight Veterans. And each of my clients has a story to tell about their service. I enjoy learning each of those stories, and I share them as often as I can. I am my clients’ lawyer, after all. If they’ll let me, I’ll share some of those stories in future blog posts.

We have an obligation as Americans to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of our fighting women and men. Our obligation exists regardless of political, philosophical, or religious preference. Certainly, our obligation transcends our belief of whether service to our country is even an important component to our society. But most that do choose to acknowledge our nation’s warriors, do so by participating in causes that provide help they think Veterans need. That’s not to say that those causes are not beneficial, but acknowledging a Veteran’s contribution to our safety and security should be more meaningful than just displaying a bumper sticker. We should make every effort to listen and pay attention to what our Veterans have to say. To our benefit as Minnesotans, our lawmakers (through the tireless efforts of the Humanities Center) decreed October to be Veterans' Voices Month. We have an entire month dedicated to meeting our obligation!

During October (and, frankly, each and every month of the year), the Humanities Center celebrates that diversity by sharing those stories, through art, performance, and the written and spoken word. Each story expands our understanding of why we serve. Each Veteran expands our picture of who Veterans are, both in the present and in the past. And each story, each participant becomes forever connected in the network of Veterans, Veteran-advocates, artists, and citizens. They are a congealing force that celebrates inclusion through a wondrous variety. I am privileged to be part of that.

I've chosen to acknowledge the diversity of Veterans through a collaborative project between local high school educators, other Veterans, and literary scholars through the Veterans' Voices Literature Workshop for Educators. This initiative seeks to change the conventional understanding of Veterans by providing grade 6-12 educators with resources and discussion materials around a collection of literary works by Veterans. Students can contemplate their own perspective of who a Veteran is by critically engaging with these materials alongside their classmates. The collaboration was an enriching opportunity, and it helped me see how written work can speak to me and rekindle memories of my service. I want to personally thank the group of educators and Veterans who convened to design these resources and materials, in particular: Captain James “J.A” Moad, USAF; Eden Bart; Anna Newcombe; Rebecca Biel; and Joe Pahr. If you are an educator who believes in our collective obligation to acknowledge our fighting women and men, please learn more about Veterans’ Voices educator resources at the Humanities Center’s Absent Narrative Resource Collection.

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