The Hmong people want to be recognized for helping the U.S. during the Vietnam war. There are many different groups of Asians, just not Chinese, just because they consider us to look a like. They promise to take us to the U.S. after the war, because we can no longer stay in our homeland. If we stayed in our homeland, they would have died.
The biggest revelation is that the Hmong families that have come to America are not that different from my ancestors and the reasons they came to America. My great grandfather came to America to escape being drafted by Bismarck in Germany. They came with little money and did not speak English. They understood farming and settled with other German immigrants in Iowa. They grew their own food on the farm: canning, butchering, etc. My other great grandparents came from Denmark. My great grandpa was a blacksmith in a small Iowa town. The family grew their own food. They have very decorative ceremonial clothes for special occasions. Needlecraft was a very important part of their traditions. Except for the religious differences, I don’t see a lot of difference – in a general sense – between the Hmong culture and my family’s Danish-Germanic culture. The Hmong families just immigrated a little later than my family. Otherwise, we’re more alike than different.
As a parent, I’ve learned a lot about Hmong culture this year, I really didn’t know very much about it before. I knew that there were a lot of Hmong refugees in Wisconsin, and the they’d come here because they had worked for the CIA in the Vietnam war and so were hated by the Laotians. I didn’t know that Wisconsin has the 3rd largest Hmong population in the country, or that the Hmong had a history of being independent and persecuted even before they reached Southeast Asia. I learned some from information Tim brought home but more from the video shown at the Bayview dinner. I enjoyed it tremendously and felt I had more in common with what Tim was learning because of it. I also liked the Bayview visit because I’d never been there and had no idea about the community center and the activities there.
Learned that the Hmong originally came from China, learned that they practiced herbal medicines, some of their funeral traditions, and the games they played in the refugee camps.
My mom said that they have a very rich tradition of folktales, very imaginative and complex. My study of Hmong culture has [introduced to] my mom why the Hmong language is not [phonetic]. An impression that she got is that the Hmong are very proud of their culture and want to preserve it.
I have been enormously impressed by the vitality of the Hmong community and by the way that individuals, families and friends stay connected even though often separated by significant distances. I have also become more aware of the continued, complex influence of the Vietnam war on multiple generations among the Hmong, ranging from considerations of cultural pride to nationalism to patriotism in an adopted country.
Before our son embarked on the Hmong Cultural Tour, I was generally familiar with the story of the Hmong in Wisconsin. I once worked in the Dept. of Health and Social Services for the state of Wisconsin, where I encountered refugee resettlement services and became aware of their role in bringing the Hmong to the Midwest. I was also familiar with a video made by a young woman from Green Bay or Appleton, about her family’s experience in the Midwest, and her father’s experience as a shaman. Since the tour began, I’ve learned about aspects of Hmong life that are new to me, and have gained a deeper appreciation for other aspects that were not new.
I was unaware of the ritual slaughter of animals about which the children learned at the butcher shop. It is impressive that even in an area as highly regulated in this country as food safety, the Hmong have found a way to maintain their connection with food animals and their spirits. It certainly is a closer connection to food than most of us have.
I was aware of the primacy of animism in Hmong culture, but did not have an understanding of the rituals used to invoke the spirits. This was particularly true with respect to funerals, since Fue Chou Thao talked to the children about funerals and the children attended one, and wrote with a great deal of understanding of the role of spirituality in daily life. Another thing that impressed me was the Hmong willingness to participate in this project, and to share so many aspects of their lives with our children. They were not only willing to participate, but they were eager to do so, to promote understanding and acceptance.
The little bit I have learned about Hmong culture was provided by Martha’s accounts of the class field trips. I heard bits and pieces about the music (what a Qeej or Keng looks and sounds like), religion (the long journey back to the site of their buried placenta for the newly departed), and food (one memorable description of a Hmong butcher shop). But for me, the most memorable part of the Hmong cultural unit was the video tape showing at Bayview community center. The tape documented the difficult and sometimes excruciating process that the Hmong have endured after entering the U.S. I was especially moved by the stories of Hmong men who mysteriously die during the night after coming to believe that they could no longer provide for their families.
The girls have shared information about Hmong history, particularly the stories of life in Laos, dangerous journeys out of Laos across the Mekong, life in refugee camps in Thailand, and the persistence of Hmong culture in life in the United States. They have shared particulars of Hmong cultural practices: medicinal herbs, shamanic rituals, qeej playing, butchering, funerals, blacksmithing, dress and cooking. We used the recipe they brought home form the first Hmong Cultural Tour trip to make egg rolls, which we all enjoyed. Even my 5-year-old has been informed that if she were Hmong she would eat rice two to three times every day!
I was able to accompany the field trip to the Hmong American Friendship Association in Milwaukee, where I learned about that organization and visited its displays of Hmong artifacts and photos from Laos and the U.S. Helping to edit student reports for the website has also given me more information about how the children as a class responded to their field trip visits.
–Abigail and Maggie‘s parent
First, of course, we learned about the Hmong culture in two-ways – 1) from our visit to Vietnam and weekend trip to N.W. Vietnam, including hikes in and among Hmong villages; 2) from the various class activities throughout the year, including the tour.
In both we learned about the importance of traditions and family – from dress to how elders pass on their wisdom and experience. In Vietnam we were fortunate to see how Hmong people live in something that was at least partially akin to their homes in Laos, Thailand and throughout the region. We heard about and occasionally observed first-hand the problems that led to so many Hmong journeying to the United States. The contrast in standard of living was pretty severe.
Despite the income disparity, though, we felt that the Hmong are a welcoming people – not afraid of outsiders – and keep a positive outlook despite their many travails. We found that to be true in both Vietnam and Wisconsin.
In addition, we saw Hmong medicine in both places; Hmong crafts in both places; Hmong music in both places; Hmong art; Hmong dress and Hmong families. It is a rich and interesting culture that hasn’t seemed to lose much of its vibrancy here in the U.S.
As a parent, I have learned that culture is a complicated amalgamation of various overlapping pieces, history, gender roles, art, music, chores, beliefs, traditions, clothing, preferences, food, leadership and family systems. I find the Hmong culture to be still quite a mystery because although we can give things labels, we can’t really understand what all the Hmong beliefs were surrounding the event. I think the words mean different things to them, therefore we can not really understand.
As a parent volunteer, I was exposed to Hmong culture when Dylan was in the fourth grade. Prior to that I had read the book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” so I was excited to learn that Hmong culture would be the focus of cultural inquiry in the fifth grade.
This year I gained a better understanding of Hmong history, traditions, and beliefs and a greater appreciation of my own cultural heritage and the immigrant experience in general. I shared Dylan’s interest in Shamanism and Animism which is the basis of traditional Hmong belief and I think this helped both of us experience Hmong culture on a deeper level. The Hmong are survivors and I was deeply touched by personal accounts of the CIA war in Laos, the slaughter of Hmong who supported the U.S., and the heartbreaking stories of those who escaped to camps in Thailand and eventual resettlement in the U.S. I was impressed by the strength and support of Hmong clans and families and the progress made by their community in the short time they have been in the U.S.
I have learned that about the resilience and strong spiritual beliefs of the Hmong people. I learned that Hmong have been a people who have struggled within many countries, China, Laos, Thailand and the United States, to remain independent and yet united as a people. The Hmong have adapted to the cultures of the country where they live or have lived, but have retained their history, traditions and identities within that culture and country. Hmong have strong family ties. Within the family, elders are valued for their wisdom and guidance; children are valued for their spirits and promise for the future. The importance of the individual’s spirit within Hmong culture is intriguing to me. I can see that it provides guidance for treating others with honor, respect, generosity and kindness. To do otherwise would have harmful effects on the person’s spirit. Spiritual beliefs provide structure and guidance in matters of traditions (such as births and deaths) and in health care (the reliance on shamans and Western medicine at the same time).