Stories from the Hmong

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latehomecomerThe Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
by Kao Kalia Yang
Published by Coffee House Press, 2008

In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to America. But lacking a written language of their own, the Hmong experience has been primarily recorded by others. Driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, The Latehomecomer is Kao Kalia Yang’s tribute to the remarkable woman whose spirit held them all together. It is also an eloquent, firsthand account of a people who have worked hard to make their voices heard.

Together with her sister, Kao Kalia Yang is also the founder of a company dedicated to helping immigrants with writing, translating, and business services. A graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University, Yang has recently screened The Place Where We Were Born, a film documenting the experiences of Hmong American refugees. Visit her website at www.kaokaliayang.com.

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How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology
by The Hmong American Writer’s Circle
Published by Heydey, 2011

Hmong history and culture can be found in the form of oral stories, oral poetry, textile art, and music but there is no written account of Hmong life, by a Hmong hand, passed down through the centuries. As an undergraduate, Burlee Vang experienced this void when he received valuable advice from his English professor: ‘Write about your people.That story has not been told. If you don’t, who will?’

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How Do I Begin? is the struggle to preserve on paper the Hmong American experience. In this anthology, readers will find elaborate soul-calling ceremonies, a woman questioning the seeming tyranny of her parents and future in-laws, the temptation of gangs and drugs, and the shame and embarrassment of being different in a culture that obsessively values homogeneity. Some pieces revisit the ghosts of war. Others lament the loss of a country. Many offer glimpses into intergenerational tensions exacerbated by the differences in Hmong and American culture. How Do I Begin? signifies a turning point for the Hmong community, a group of people who have persevered through war, persecution, and exile. Transcending ethnic and geographic boundaries, it poignantly speaks of survival instead of defeat.

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Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992
by Jane Hamilton-Merritt
Published by Indiana University Press, 1993

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The staunchest of allies, the Hmong were America’s foot soldiers in the brutal secret Lao theater of the Vietnam War, risking all to defend their homelands and to rescue downed American air crews. Abandoned by the United States when it withdrew in 1975, the Hmong have been subjected to a campaign of genocide by communist Laos and Vietnam, including the use of chemical-biological toxin warfare. Thousands of Hmong, now scattered in refugee camps, are being forcibly repatriated to Laos – where they face retribution and terror. From their ancient homelands in China, with a fiercely independent culture dating back to 2000 B.C., the Hmong migrated southward out of China into the mountains of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. More than 120,000 Hmong now live in the United States, from California to Minnesota to Pennsylvania. But thousands more lead desperate lives in refugee camps in Southeast Asia – knowing that repatriation could mean death. Tragic Mountains tells the story of the Hmong struggle for freedom and survival in Laos from 1942 to the present. During those years, most Hmong sided with the French against the Japanese and Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh and then with the Americans against the North Vietnamese. These allegiances have led the current Lao government to declare the Hmong as enemies, vowing to “wipe them out.” This is a story of courage, tenacity, brutality, secrecy, incredible heroism by Hmong and Americans alike, international cynicism, betrayal, genocide, resilience, and (still) hope. Jane Hamilton-Merritt has written it to open the world’s eyes to the proud history and current tragedy of the Hmong – with the desire that this book “might yet change the destiny of those repatriated.”

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A People’s History of the Hmong
by Paul Hillmer
Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009

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Over the centuries, the Hmong have called many places home, including China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and most recently France, Australia, and the United States. Their new neighbors, though welcoming, may know little about how they have come to these places or their views on relationships, religion, or art. Now, in A People’s History of the Hmong, representative voices offer their community’s story, spanning four thousand years to the present day.

“This was the life of our Hmong people,” remembers Pa Seng Thao, one of the many who describe farming villages in the mountains of Laos. Others help us understand the Hmong experience during the Vietnam War, particularly when the U.S. military pulled out of Laos, abandoning thousands of Hmong allies. Readers learn firsthand of the hardships of refugee camps and the challenges of making a home in a foreign country, with a new language and customs. Drawing on more than two hundred interviews, historian Paul Hillmer assembles a compelling history in the words of the people who lived it.

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Culture and Customs of the Hmong
by Gary Yia Lee and Nicholas Tapp
Published by Greenwood, 2010

cultureandcustomshmongCulture and Customs of the Hmong takes a global approach to understanding the Hmong, a people who have lived in China for more than 4,000 years. It is the first book to combine an account of the traditional life and history of the Hmong with a full account of their modern, urban lifestyle, balancing traditional lifeways and practices with modern, evolving customs.

The book is unique in dealing, not only with the Hmong in the United States, Australia, and other Western nations, but also with their traditional and changing lives in their Asian homelands of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. This broad international perspective allows readers to look at the Hmong through the complex interplay of the many social, historical, economic, and cultural influences they have been exposed to in their worldwide migration, and at how they manage to maintain their many traditions across national boundaries and great distances.

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