A Hill Tribe Resettles in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Beginning 35 years ago, members of the Hmong hill tribe from Laos have resettled as refugees in the United States. Now a Hmong-American historian offers a rare scholarly insider’s look at their experience.

In Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora (University of Illinois Press), Chia Youyee Vang traces the path of the Hmong from the highlands of Laos, where they were embroiled in the conflict between pro-Communist and U.S.-backed anti-Communist forces, to resettlement.

Vang, an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, focuses not so much on the victimization of Hmong refugees as on their agency: how they gathered in large communities in the Midwest and California in spite of some U.S.-government efforts to disperse them, and how they created ethnic organizations, churches, and funeral homes that reinforce their cultural bonds....

Q. As a member of the one-and-a-half generation, do you feel as if the experiences of the older generations of Hmong were shared with you as you were growing up? Or was it not until you began your work as a historian that you learned in any detail what led to the diaspora?

A. Even before I began my work as a historian, I was interested and paid attention to things occurring in the Hmong community. Many in the 1.5 generation have heard about our parents’ experiences during and after the war. Parents often remind us of the difficulties they encountered as a way to encourage us to work hard and make something of ourselves....

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