The Times podcast: Phone trees, Laotian immigrants and COVID-19

A Buddhist monk wearing glasses and orange robes looks into the camera with a stoic expression
Head Buddhist monk Phra Bouaban Chittapangna takes a moment for a portrait in April on the altar at the Wat Lao Rattanaram Buddhist temple in Richmond, Calif.
(Paul Kuroda/ For The Times)

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The Laotian community in California is not large enough to support newspapers or television news programs in Lao, leaving monolingual immigrants especially isolated. So these immigrants have created elaborate phone trees with designated leaders that can spread important information to thousands of people within an hour.


In sprawling California suburbs, the phone trees are an attempt to re-create village networks from back home. And it’s a crucial service — one that’s especially important because there are not enough Lao speakers for government agencies to translate fliers, as is often done in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. For instance, some Laotians did not know a COVID-19 vaccine existed until they received a call from the phone tree. On today’s episode, our host is L.A. Times entertainment reporter Tracy Brown, and our guest is Times Metro reporter Anh Do.

Host: L.A. Times entertainment reporter Tracy Brown

Guest: L.A. Times Metro reporter Anh Do

More reading:

Elaborate phone tree links Laotian immigrants to COVID info, one another

Column: Laotian Americans’ stories are obscured by history. That’s why we need ethnic studies

San Diego’s Laotian community pushes for a place in California history books

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“The Times” is made by columnist Gustavo Arellano, producer Shannon Lin, senior producers Steven Cuevas and Denise Guerra, executive producer Abbie Fentress Swanson and editor Julia Turner. Our engineer is Mario Diaz and our theme song was composed by Andrew Eapen.