Hmong Annotated Bibliography
Dr. Ava L. McCall
● Children's Books
● Teacher Resources: Books, Chapters, and Articles
● Teacher Resources: Videos
● Link to my lesson plan Teaching Hmong History And Culture
Through Story Cloths
Barr, L. (2005). Long road to freedom: Journey of the Hmong. Bloomington, MN: Red Brick
The text is primarily informational, but includes components of realistic fiction to
illustrate one Hmong family’s experiences. The author explains Hmong traditional life as
farmers in Laos with every family member working hard and few children attending
school. The Vietnam War changed traditional life as the Hmong had to decide to support
the U.S. and South Vietnam or the Communists and North Vietnam. For those who allied
themselves with the U.S., their lives were in danger of persecution from the Communists
after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and Laos. They made the dangerous journey across
the Mekong River and lived in barracks in refugee camps in Thailand. Here the Hmong
began creating storycloths to record their history and earn money. The text also describes
the culture shock for many Hmong when they settled in the U.S. The adaptions were
easier for Hmong children and youth than for older Hmong who struggled to continue
their traditional roles in a different country. The author also explains the trend for Hmong
families to return to Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam to visit relatives or learn about their
history. For Hmong who remain in Southeast Asia, work in the tourism industry is a new
opportunity to earn a living.
Beyer, E. K. (1997). My country: My Lee comes to America. Unionville, NY: Royal Fireworks
The text is realistic fiction and focuses on My Lee, a young Hmong girl, and her parents
and brother who move to the U.S. to live with her grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousin.
Through My Lee and her family’s experiences, the author describes the challenges for
Hmong children at school to make friends, learn English, learn recess games, and meet
expectations which conflict with traditional values or the family’s economics (e. g.,
change into another set of clothes for physical education). In addition, the author portrays
the significance of Hmong students giving a program to explain aspects of their culture to
the school community. Readers are introduced to explanations of traditional roles for sons
and daughters, the importance of the shaman, the place of animal sacrifices in calling a
good spirit for surgery, and funeral rituals. The text also portrays how Hmong family
members adapt to life in the U.S. and allow girls to take music lessons, along with
learning traditional sewing and other domestic skills.
Brittan, D. (1997). The Hmong. New York: Powerkids Press.
The author provides a brief overview of the history, culture, language, religion, music,
clothing, and food of Hmong people in different parts of the world. Contrary to other
authors, Brittan proposes that the Hmong language existed in written form while Hmong
people lived in China before the 1800s, but was repressed by the Chinese. Hmong women
tried to save the alphabet by stitching letters onto their clothes, but this early written
language was lost. The author includes a photograph of Hmong women weaving cloth
and highlights the significance of Hmong women’s beautiful embroidery which
embellishes their clothing and the creation of “embroidered blankets and quilts” to pass
on Hmong history.
Brown, J. (2004). Little Cricket. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.
The realistic fiction text describes the experiences of a young Hmong girl, Kia Vang,
whose nickname is “Little Cricket.” The story begins with Kia living with her parents,
grandparents, and brother Xigi in Laos. Kia’s parents grow crops, her grandmother
weaves baskets from grasses to sell at the market, and her grandfather gathers herbs for
medicine to heal villagers from assorted illnesses. When Communist soldiers come to
Kia’s family’s village to force all the older boys and men to join their fight in the
Vietnam War, Kia’s father escapes into the jungle. The soldiers take most of the village
animals and destroy many of the crops. Kia’s grandfather decides to help the Americans
fight the Communists and leaves for a time. The author claims that women in the village
make story cloths while they are living in their village in Laos, but most authors
recognize story cloths are not made until the Hmong move to refugee camps in Thailand.
The war eventually forces Kia and her family to leave their village, forage for food for the
few months it took to walk to the Mekong River, and cross the river while holding onto
bamboo poles. For nearly three years at the refugee camp in Thailand, Kia’s mother and
grandmother make baskets to sell and grow fresh vegetables in a garden while Kia and
Xigi attend school and Grandfather sews pa ndaus or story cloths. Due to an error
regarding their last names, only Kia, Xigi, and Grandfather are sponsored by a Catholic
Church in Minnesota to settle in the U.S. Much of the book focuses on the many
adjustments Kia, Xigi, and Grandfather must make to life in Minnesota in learning
English, making friends, learning how to use modern conveniences, growing and selling
their vegetables and Grandfather’s story cloths at the city market, earning money to bring
the rest of their family to the U.S. and understanding different cultural expectations.
Grandfather’s wisdom in the midst of his changed status is a strength of the text. Through
Kia’s family’s personal story, readers can gain a better understanding of the many
challenges which Hmong families face due to the Vietnam War, living as refugees in
Thailand, and feeling like outsiders in the U.S. The author is not Hmong, but
acknowledges the contributions of Dr. Chou Chang who shared his time and knowledge
of the Hmong culture. She also includes an explanation of Hmong history and culture, a
pronunciation guide for Hmong words, and suggestions for further reading.
Bryan, N. (2004). Hmong Americans. Edina, MN: ABDO.
The text reviews the history of the Hmong, from their oppression in China, to their escape
to Laos to live as farmers and their conflicts with the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese
and subsequent oppression by the Pathet Lao. When the Hmong feared for their lives,
they escaped to refugee camps in Thailand and endured poor living conditions. Finally,
the Hmong either settled in France, the United States, returned to Laos, or remained in the
refugee camps. The text then focuses on struggles in the Hmong adjustment to life in the
United States, including maintaining some customs such as celebrating the New Year,
sewing story cloths, eating traditional foods, and practicing their traditional religion while
struggling to learn English, obtain good jobs, and become citizens. The author also
introduces readers to contemporary Hmong Americans who are making significant
contributions through music, theater, education, and state government.
Cha, D. (1996). Dia's story cloth. New York: Lee & Low Books.
The author tells the history of the Hmong by describing scenes on a very detailed, large
story cloth her aunt and uncle stitched while living in a refugee camp in Thailand. It
begins with the Hmong living in China, then moving to Laos, and settling into a farming
existence in the highlands in Laos. This way of life continued until the Vietnam War
when the Hmong joined either the loyalist army supported by the U.S. or the communist
army. Families who helped the loyalists were fearful for their lives when the communists
came to power and many hid and finally escaped from Laos to Thailand. Although the
Hmong were very homesick, those who could prove they had helped the U.S. in the war
were allowed to emigrate to the U.S. Leaving relatives behind and adjusting to life in a
very different country were very difficult for the Hmong. The author suggests that story
cloths can be used to teach Hmong children about life for their families in the past.
Coburn, J. R. & Lee, T. C. (1996). Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella. Arcadia, CA: Shen's Books.
This picture book is based on a Hmong folktale "The Poor Girl." The Hmong name for
the Cinderella character is Nkauj Nog (spoken GO-NAH) which means a young female
orphan. The retellers use the name Ntsuag Nos (spoken JO-a-nah) which means a young
male or female orphan as the name for the main character. As with other Cinderella
stories, Jouanah endures cruelty at the hand of her father's second wife; attends a Hmong
New Year celebration and meets the handsome Shee-Nang, the son of the village Elder;
runs away quickly to return home to prepare the meal and loses her shoe in her haste; is
followed and eventually found by Shee-Nang who searches for the owner of the lost shoe.
A questionable part of the folktale is the couple's decision to marry without approval from
Jouanah's family or clan. However, the beautiful illustrations depict traditional Blue
Hmong clothing, the housing, and the mountainous terrain of Laos.
Cohen, S. (2005). Mai Ya’s long journey. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
The text is part of the Badger Biographies series and portrays the life of Mai Ya, a young
Hmong girl who struggles to live successfully in two worlds. Mai Ya’s parents escaped
from Laos after the Vietnam War and lived in the Ban Vinai Refugee camp in Thailand
for over seven years. Mai Ya, her two brothers and two sisters were born in the camp,
which was their first world. The family left Thailand in 1987 and settled in Madison,
Wisconsin, their second world. They struggled to adapt to a colder climate, negotiate
within an English-speaking community, use modern conveniences, and shop at large
grocery stores. At first Mai Ya attended ESL classes which provided the basis for her
successful graduation from high school and college (University of Wisconsin
Milwaukee). She participated in organizations in high school and college which dealt
with Hmong identity and the communication of their needs to the educational institution.
Mai Ya also participated in many traditional Hmong activities, including helping her
parents and siblings, taking part in the Hmong New Year celebration and other
ceremonies, learning to sew paj ntaub, and learning traditional dances. The book
illustrates changes within the Hmong culture and how one young woman maintains her
Hmong culture and community connections while successfully negotiating contemporary
life in Wisconsin.
Gerdner, L. & Langford, S. (2008). Grandfather’s story cloth. Walnut Creek, CA: Shen’s Books.
The fictional picture book is written in both English and Hmong. It portrays the
challenges for a Hmong family when Grandfather develops Alzheimer’s disease and
begins to forget small things, such as turning off the bathroom faucet, and important
things, such as his grandson Chersheng. Chersheng’s mother shows him Grandfather’s
story cloth stitched by Grandfather to portray his life in Laos. When Chersheng asks
questions about the story cloth, his grandfather explains how he farmed in Laos, his
participation in the war, and his escape to Thailand. However, Grandfather does not want
to create another story cloth to show his life in America. Chersheng is inspired to create a
family story collage to portray Grandfather and the rest of his family coming to America.
The text also includes background information on Alzheimer’s disease as well as a brief
history of the Hmong and the origins of story cloths.
Giraud, H. (2002). Basha: A Hmong child. Detroit: Blackbirch Press.
The text is an information book about the Hmong and portrays their life in Vietnam. Here
they grow crops, especially rice and sugarcane, live in plank houses, wear traditional
clothing, and cook spicy food. The text clarifies that Hmong children are unable to attend
school, but must help in the fields. Girls are expected to learn embroidery and how to care
for young children. Examples of traditional Hmong weaving, dyeing, and embroidery
projects and the importance of the sugarcane market are portrayed in the text. The market
allows Hmong people from different villages to meet together to trade goods and share
Hanslin, J. (1994). Finding me. Available from the Hmong ABC Bookstore, St. Paul, MN see
The main character is a four-year-old Hmong girl who explores her identity by talking
with her family. She learns about her homeland of Laos, foods and children’s activities in
Laos, traditional Hmong families, clothing, the Hmong language, and the New Year
celebration. The simple language and concepts make this a good resource for teaching
young children about Hmong culture and history.
Lee, G. Y. (2004). Dust of life: A true Ban Vinai love story. St. Paul, MN: Hmongland
The author is a Hmong anthropologist who based the novel on real events that took place
when Hmong refugees from Laos lived at the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand from
1975 to 1992. A number of the characters are based on real people, although their actual
names are not used. The author clarifies that he attempted to use fiction to depict the way
of life for the Hmong and Thai during this time period. The main character, Mua, is a
university-educated, well-respected single Hmong man living in Minneapolis. His mother
encourages him to become acquainted with a Hmong woman living in the Ban Vinai
refugee camp in Thailand with the possibilities of marrying her and sponsoring her and
her family to move to the U.S. Mua obtains a job with the Thai government to work with
Hmong opium growers living in Thailand, and Mua becomes involved with a Thai
woman as well as the Hmong refugee at Ban Vinai. Because of cultural differences, each
relationship is distinct. However, neither relationship leads to marriage for different
reasons. The novel offers readers opportunities to learn more about Thai culture and
lifestyles, especially among the low-income, traditional Hmong courting practices, and
the difficult life Hmong refugees experienced at Ban Vinai refugee camp.
Marchant, B. & Marchant, H. (1992). A boy named Chong. Project Chong, Box 9551, Green Bay,
The text portrays the story of a young Hmong boy who enjoyed life in Laos until the
Vietnam War when he and his family escaped to Thailand and experienced the challenges
and benefits of life in refugee camps in Thailand. Although Chong's one-room home was
not pleasant, he enjoyed school. His mother was busy sewing story cloths, so did not learn
English. After arriving in the U.S., Chong struggled with being "different" from other
students, but also trying to fit in.
McHugh, M. L. (2010). Ka’s garden: A bilingual children’s book. LaCrosse, WI: Universal
The text is written in both Hmong and English, but includes a pronunciation guide for a
few key Hmong words. The text is a dialogue between a Hmong mother and her daughter
in which the mother explains the importance of gardening to their family and culture. The
mother describes the process of gardening in the mountains of Laos, including some of
the problems that Hmong gardeners faced with flooding and animals destroying some of
the seedlings, sprouts, and full grown plants. However, the mother teaches her daughter
that gardeners not only grow plants for their families to eat, but also for animals. The
“family words of wisdom” at the close of the text emphasizes the importance of Hmong
people taking care of everything the creator created.
Millett, S. (2002). The Hmong of Southeast Asia. Minneapolis: Lerner.
The author reviews the history and culture of the Hmong, focusing on their life in
Vietnam, a unique quality of this children’s book on Hmong history and culture. Readers
learn about the Hmong traditional lifestyle in Vietnam, including their struggles to grow
enough food for their families through farming, new efforts to earn money through selling
textile arts and jewelry to tourists, their traditional homes, family and clan organization,
expectations for marriage, their colorful clothing and intricate stitchery, typical music,
celebrations, and spiritual beliefs. The history of the Hmong language is briefly explained
as well as conflicts with the Chinese which precipitated their flight to Vietnam. The
Vietnamese Hmong alliance with the communists during the Vietnam War allowed them
to remain in Vietnam following the war whereas the Laotian Hmong alliance with the
United States led to reprisals from the communists and the Laotian Hmong escape to
Thailand refugee camps.
Murphy, N. (1997). A Hmong family. Minneapolis: Lerner.
The author based this text on interviews with and photographs of a Hmong family living
in Minneapolis. Through the parents, Toua and Kao, and the oldest son Xiong, readers
learn about the Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War, the Communist persecution of
the Hmong who supported the U.S., their escape to Thailand, and their resettlement in the
U.S. Excellent photographs embellish Toua's explanation of everyday life in Laos as
farmers, Kao's description of sewing paj ntaub in Ban Vanai Refugee camp in Thailand
for money to pay for English classes, and Xiong's portrayal of his family, school, and
recreational activities. The text includes photographs of paj ntaub on traditional New
Year clothing, a baby carrier, and story cloths.
Rempel, L. (2004). Hey, Hmong girl, whassup? The journal of Choua Vang. St. Paul, MN:
Hamline University Press.
The author is an ESL teacher who wrote the novel to reflect the contemporary lives of
urban Hmong youth. She verified the experiences, language, and background of the story
with her Hmong ESL students, members of the Hmong community, and her Hmong
friends. The novel is written as a Hmong teen-age girl’s journal. It describes her
experiences and feelings about living with a traditional Hmong father who wants to
maintain strict control over the family and follow Hmong traditions, a mother who quietly
questions some of the traditions in the interest of what is best for the family, and sisters
and brothers who sometimes rebel against these traditions. Choua’s journal describes the
appeal and dangers of gangs for Hmong youth, the difficulties of dating within the
traditional Hmong culture, the problem of domestic violence among traditional Hmong
families, pressures for early marriage but desires for education among Hmong girls, and
issues of racial conflict between African American and Hmong teens.
Sayavong, J. (Ed.). (1991). Asian folktales: Retold by Asian bilingual students from room #17
Wisconsin Avenue School. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Schools.
The text is a collection of retold Laotian and Hmong folktales collected from Lao and
Hmong adult family members. Many of the folktales have not been written previously,
but passed along orally. Lao and Hmong children collected the folktales from their
families in their first language and wrote them in English. The stories often contain a
moral, such as the importance of working for basic necessities, distrusting strangers,
taking only what you need, listening to elders, and being kind to others.
Shea, P.D. (1995). The whispering cloth: A refugee's story. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Mai, a young Hmong girl, watches her grandmother and other widows make paj ntaub in
a refugee camp in Thailand. Mai's grandmother teaches Mai different stitches so she can
help sew paj ntaub to sell to earn enough money so they can move to the United States.
Mai creates an original story cloth of her parents' death and her escape from Laos with her
grandmother during the Vietnam War. Mai's own story cloth is too precious to sell.
Shea, P.D. (2003). Tangled threads: A Hmong girl’s journey. New York: Clarion Books.
This novel is a sequel to The Whispering Cloth. It follows Mai and her grandmother as
they leave the crowded Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand and settle in Providence,
Rhode Island to live near Mai’s aunt, uncle, and cousins. Although the text is fictional,
the author consulted with many Hmong people, ESL teachers, scholars, and refugee
activists in writing the novel. Readers learn about the process for Hmong to leave the
refugee and transition camps, travel by plane to the U.S., and adjust to their new
homeland. Through Mai’s experiences, readers understand some of the challenges of
traveling on planes for the first time, learning about different foods, managing money to
meet basic needs, attending school, and making friends. Mai’s cousins have changed their
Hmong names to American names and adopted some of the cultural values and lifestyle
of many teens in the U.S., which often puts them in conflict with their parents and
grandmother. Mai struggles with losing some of her “refugee” behavior and dress, but
remaining a good Hmong girl who obeys adults, sews paj ntaub with her grandmother,
and puts her grandmother’s needs before her own. In the glossary, the author explains
Hmong and Thai words, paj ntaub patterns, and lists additional resources for readers to
learn about Hmong history and culture.
Spagnoli, C. (1989). Nine-in-one grr! grr!. San Francisco: Children's Book Press.
A traditional Hmong folktale illustrated in a sequence of story cloth designs. The
illustrations reveal different animals which have lived in places the Hmong lived and
traditional dress of Hmong people. The folktale explains why there is a balance in the
number of tigers sharing the earth with other people and animals.
Vang, M. (2008). Grandma’s Hmong New Year celebration. Stevens Point, WI: Portage County
The text is written in English, White Hmong, and Green Hmong. A young Hmong girl
Xia Mee talks with grandmother who tells her about traditional life in Laos and the
preparations for the Hmong New Year. Grandmother’s story and the detailed illustrations
depict traditional life among the Hmong living on the Plain of Jars in Laos as the Hmong
raise animals for food, harvest crops, and make sugar cane honey and rice cakes.
Grandmother describes the Needle Tree Pole ritual to welcome the New Year, the
shaman’s call for the household’s good spirits to come home for the new year, and the
men’s gathering at the village leader’s home to bring good luck to the families. Xia Mee
listens as Grandmother explains her excitement to dress in her New Year clothing, toss
the ball with a handsome man, and listen to his poetic songs. Grandmother makes New
Year clothing for Xia Mee just as Grandmother’s mother made the clothing for her to
wear in Laos. The text also shows illustrations of traditional New Year clothing for the
White, Green, and Stripe Hmong, as well as the White Hmong from the northern
provinces of Laos.
Xiong, B. (2006). My family is special to me. Wausau, WI: Sun Press.
The simple text, written in Hmong and English, affirms the importance of a young girl’s
family members to her as well as her significance to her family. She includes her parents,
sister, brother, grandmother, and grandfather, all dressed in traditional Hmong clothing,
in her family.
Xiong, I. (1996). The gift: The Hmong New Year. El Monte, CA: Pacific Asia Press.
Dao, a Hmong-American girl, seeks the aid of her grandfather in learning about how the
Hmong celebrated the New Year in Laos as part of a social studies class project. After her
grandfather describes the different rituals and activities associated with the Hmong New
Year, Dao creates a poster with pictures illustrating these different activities. The
illustrations show the distinct clothing worn by the Black Hmong for this celebration. The
story closes with Dao sharing a Christmas ornament created from her grandmother’s paj
ntaub stitchery square.
Teacher Resources: Books, Chapters, and Articles
Bessac, S. L. (1988). Embroidered Hmong story cloths. Missoula, MT: University of Montana.
This text provides a very detailed explanation and interpretation of Hmong textile art as
reflected in clothing, in flower cloths, and in story cloths. The author describes
differences in the decorative embroidery and reverse applique used to embellish clothing
as well as variation in the clothing itself to distinguish the White Hmong, Blue/Green
Hmong, and the Striped Hmong. The author also offers different theories as to the origin
of story cloths, different themes portrayed in story cloths, and the differences between
more traditional reverse applique flower cloths and story cloths. According to the author,
story cloths may be a form of tourist art which the Hmong make for a world market, but
they may also be a form of advocacy art in which the Hmong give their point of view to
Catlin, A. & Swift, D. (1987). Textiles as texts: Arts of Hmong women from Laos. The Women's
Building, 1727 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
This resource contains several first-person stories from Hmong women about their lives
in Laos, Thailand, and in the United States. Some describe how they learned to sew, when
they sewed, the skills they developed, the patterns they learned, and what they made. One
article describes the influence of the physical environment on Hmong textile art and the
use of textile art in creating baby carriers and funeral robes. Another article cautions the
attribution of meanings to Hmong textile designs which may reflect outsiders' meanings
rather than the artists themselves.
Lee, S. J. (2005). Up against whiteness: Race, school, and immigrant youth. New York:
Teachers College Press.
The text is based on an ethnographic study the author conducted with Hmong American
high school students in the Midwest. She explored how both first- and second-generation
Hmong students created their identities as “new Americans” and discovered that race
played a significant role. First generation, 1.5 generation, or “traditional” Hmong students
arrived in the U.S. as elementary or middle school students and were often in ESL
programs. They spoke both Hmong and English, obeyed their parents, worked hard in
school, dressed conservatively, and were optimistic about life in the U.S. They believed
that education was the key to a better life. Second generation or “Americanized” Hmong
students were described as adopting a hip-hop style of dressing, spoke English more than
Hmong, listened to hip-hop and rap music, challenged their parents’ authority, and were
cynical about life in the U.S. because of their experiences with poverty and racism. They
assumed their teachers were racist and did not care about them and often struggled to
achieve academic English-language skills, which led to failing grades and skipping
classes. “Traditional” students emphasized the distinctiveness of the Hmong culture and
the accomplishments of the Hmong. They hoped to gain acceptance by being a “model
minority.” “Americanized” students distanced themselves from traditional Hmong
students, adopted a hip hop style as a form of oppositional power, and searched for new
ways of being Hmong. Hmong boys struggled with how to be men in a society that says
they are not “real men” nor “real Americans.” Only White males who were heterosexual,
able-bodied, physically fit, tall, independent, Christian, and economically successful were
the ideal males. Ideal females were White, middle-class, able bodied, Christian,
heterosexual, thin, blonde, and voluptuous. Hmong girls embodied a few of these
qualities (thin and small), were more accepted by the school faculty and staff, and
believed they had better gender equality in the U.S. than in Hmong culture. The author
concludes the school the Hmong students attended reflected and reproduced society’s
racial inequalities, which shaped the Hmong students’ educational experiences. She
encourages schools to challenge racism.
Cha, D. & Livo, N. J. (2000). Teaching with folk stories of the Hmong: An activity book.
Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
This teaching resource book contains background information, personal stories, folktales,
photographs and sketches of story cloths and flower cloths, and activity ideas for teaching
students about Hmong history and culture. Specific chapters focus on the origins and
history of Hmong people; Hmong farming and food; stories and storytelling; writing and
illustrating stories; traditional Hmong art, including paj ntaub, jewelry, and traditional
Hmong music and instruments; and customs and symbols for the New Year and
marriages. The many photographs and sketches of story cloths provide valuable
illustrations to augment the text. The story “Raising Rice” is also an excellent example of
teachers creating student texts for teaching reading from Hmong children’s life
Cha, D. & Small, C.A. (1994). Policy lessons from Lao and Hmong women in Thai refugee
camps. World Development, 22, 1045-1059.
This article focuses on describing and analyzing two refugee camps which housed Hmong
and other ethnic groups in Thailand, Chieng Kham and Napho. These camps along with
all other refugee camps are scheduled to close by the end of 1995. The authors describe
the economic importance of the sale of women's sewing and embroidery to the survival of
the refugees, but women's limited voice in camp leadership. The article describes
hardships in the camps: limited housing, few resources, restricted travel outside of camp,
and low income (approximately $1 a day) for long hours of sewing products to sell. The
authors argue for the importance of including all people's voices (including women's) in
developing programs, making policies, and in leading programs for refugees.
Chan, A. (1990). Hmong textile designs. Stemmer House Publishers, 2627 Caves Road, Owings
Mill, MD 21117.
Most of the text includes black-and-white sketches of traditional reverse applique paj
ntaub designs and story cloth designs with the names of the designs or story cloths, artists
who created them, where they originated, and brief explanations of the designs. The
author also gives a cursory review of Hmong history, beliefs, and textile arts as reflected
in clothing for marriage and death and for children. Paj ntaub symbols are briefly
explained, how designs changed after the Hmong moved to refugee camps in Thailand,
and how the western market influenced Hmong textile art.
Donnelly, N. D. (1994). Changing lives of refugee Hmong women. Seattle: University of
The author studied middle-aged Hmong refugees resettled less than eight years in the
Seattle area in the 1980s. She focused on changes in Hmong men’s and women’s
attitudes toward gender roles as they found their place in American society. She
discovered that the Hmong wanted to retain their Hmong identity in the U.S., gender and
age hierarchies continued to exist with older males accorded the highest status and young
females the lowest, the influence of prevalent U.S. gender ideas on the Hmong, and that
even as marriage practices changed, the meanings did not. Following marriage, brides
were under the protection and control of their husbands’ families and the children were
members of the husbands’ clans. The purpose of Hmong women’s needlework changed
when they settled in Seattle. In Laos their batik, applique, and embroidery were intended
for household and ritual exchanges with social and emotional attachments. In Seattle,
they created modified textile art to sell in a market economy to add to their family’s
income, in addition to continuing to purchase or create clothing and textile art for their
family. The prevalent views of egalitarian relationships among women and men
influenced Seattle Hmong families to an extent as well as the concept of family itself,
which was changing from extended to nuclear, especially among younger Hmong.
Despite changes in Hmong educational and economic goals, clothing styles, household
possessions, and vocabulary or language, the Hmong refugees still claimed their Hmong
Dykstra, A. H. (1985). Flower cloth of the Hmong. Denver: Denver Museum of Natural History.
This small booklet briefly explains the history of the Hmong and how they have adapted
to life in various countries. The author describes the different clothing and baby carriers
created by the Blue Hmong and the White Hmong while they lived in Laos and the
importance of sewing new clothing to celebrate the New Year. The text emphasizes the
changing nature of Hmong textile art as the Hmong lived in Thailand and changed from
sewing for themselves to sewing for sale to a world market.
Faderman, L. & Xiong, G. (1998). I begin my life all over: The Hmong and the American
immigrant experience. Boston: Beacon.
The text is a collection of oral histories from 36 Hmong people from ages 11 to 66 who
have different experiences, including growing up in Hmong villages in Laos, being born
in America, marrying before the age of 17, belonging to gangs, or attending college. They
represent 10 of the 20 Hmong clans living in central California or North Carolina at the
time of the interviews. The book clusters the interviews into different chapters dealing
with specific themes, including the destruction of their homes during the war in Southeast
Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, their escape through the jungles of Laos, and their
many hardships in the refugee camps. However, Hmong women were able to make and
sew their beautiful textile art, providing the main family income, and children could
attend school. The text also describes Hmong people’s experiences adapting to life in
America; the changing roles for elders, women, men, and children; the conflicts between
shamanism, Christianity, and modern medicine; conflicts between different generations;
and the appeal and problems of gangs for Hmong youth. One of the most interesting
chapters focuses on women and men’s relationships and views regarding dating,
marriage, polygamy, and education.
Fadiman, A. (1997). The spirit catches you and you fall down. New York: Farrar, Straus and
The focus of the text is a description and analysis of the cultural conflicts between the
medical community and a Hmong family in Merced, California in dealing with their
daughter Lia Lee’s medical needs. However, interspersed with this story is a thorough
description of the culture and history of the Hmong, which provides important
background for understanding the limitations of traditional medicine in healing Hmong
people. Readers are introduced to the importance of medical communities understanding
and considering Hmong religious beliefs and medical practices in caring for Hmong
people with illnesses. The author also describes the traditional paj ntaub used on New
Year clothing and baby carriers or nyias which Lia Lee’s mother, Foua Lee, made for her
family in Laos and in the U.S. This traditional textile art is one of many ways the Lee
family maintained their culture.
Fass, S. (1986). Innovations in the struggle for self-reliance: The Hmong experience in the
United States. International Migration Review (IMR), 20, 351-380.
The author describes the difficulties the Hmong have in becoming economically self-sufficient in the United States due to large families, illiteracy, and little prior occupational
experience except for farming and warfare. He also describes several projects to help the
Hmong become self-reliant, including farming, developing and maintaining small
businesses, and sewing. The sewing projects comprised marketing traditional crafts,
marketing novelty items (such as aprons, purses, tote bags, and eyeglass cases), and
training in dressmaking, tailoring, and contract alterations. For the most part, these
projects produced very limited profits for the Hmong and were not a viable source of
Goldstein, B. L. (1988). In search of survival: The education and integration of Hmong refugee
girls. The Journal of Ethnic Studies, 16, 1-28.
The author provides some interesting information on Hmong gender roles during life in
Laos and Hmong American girls' and boys' views on these roles. Girls seemed to
recognize life was better for Hmong males than females in Laos due to hard work and
limited privileges (women ate after the men, girls seldom went to school). Part of the
article also describes and analyzes Hmong youth experiences at two high schools which
included keeping Hmong students separated from American students, passing Hmong
students due to their cooperative behavior even when they failed academically, and
reinforcing gendered occupational segregation through the vocational technical program.
The author also distinguishes between the Hmong community's expectations for boys to
be successful in school in order to get a job whereas for girls the expectations were that
they would assist their parents with childcare and to marry and have children.
Johnson, C. & Yang, S. (1992). Myths, legends, and folktales from the Hmong of Laos. St. Paul,
MN: Macalester College.
The introduction to this collection of myths, legends, and folktales contains valuable
information on the history of the Hmong and the conflicts between their values, beliefs,
and activities in Laos and in the United States. It contrasts food production, the economy,
education, family life, views of the elderly, sex roles, marriage, childbirth, health care,
and death in both locations. The authors also describe the main values of the Hmong and
their struggles to meet their basic survival needs in the United States.
Koltyk, J. A. (1998). New pioneers in the heartland: Hmong life in Wisconsin. Boston: Allyn &
The author focuses on Hmong refugees who have settled in Wausau, Wisconsin. She
focuses on Hmong family life and communities and describes work, home life, leisure
activities, religious practices, and Hmong attitudes and values. One chapter compares and
contrasts the depiction of Hmong life in story cloths, which were made in refugee camps
in Thailand to sell for needed income, to Hmong-made videos, which have been and
continue to be made to document Hmong life in Laos and the U.S. for Hmong people.
The author also explains how the Hmong are learning to use all available resources in the
U.S. to survive, educate their children to pull their families out of poverty, and develop
strong leaders in the Hmong community. The Hmong values of family cohesiveness,
cooperation, self-sufficiency, thriftiness, goal setting, and industriousness are
instrumental in Hmong people’s survival and success in the U.S.
Livo, N.J. & Cha, D. (1991). Folk stories of the Hmong: Peoples of Laos, Thailand, and
Vietnam. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Although most of the book is a collection of Hmong folk stories, the first chapter briefly
explains Hmong history, beliefs, customs, farming, housing, rituals and beliefs regarding
birth, marriage, and death, the place of the shaman in Hmong culture, the New Year's
celebration, traditional jewelry, clothing, and paj ntaub. It offers possible meanings for
designs such as the snail pattern, elephant's foot, and centipede and plausible reasons for
the use of triangles in paj ntaub borders. The authors make a clear distinction between
traditional reverse applique paj ntaub and the more recent story cloths. Story cloths
describe myths, animals and village life, the Vietnam War and emigration.
MacDowell, M. (1989). Stories in thread: Hmong pictorial embroidery. East Lansing, MI:
Michigan State University Museum.
This text explains the history of Hmong textile art in Laos, Thailand, and the United
States. It focuses on the development of story cloths in refugee camps in Thailand and
provides many pictures of different story cloths, their sizes, materials used, and
explanations of the stories portrayed. The author explains how story cloths became an
important source of income for the Hmong living in Thailand, traditional themes of story
cloths, and suggests story cloths are refugee art created as a response to oppression.
MacDowell suggests story cloths can document Hmong history and culture and be used as
pedagogical tools for teaching Hmong culture and history to non-Hmong as well as
MacDowell, M. (1985). Hmong folk arts: A guide for teachers. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State
The author describes different activities to teach students about Hmong history and
culture. Examples of activities include using geometric designs to represent an idea
(similar to traditional paj ntaub), interviewing and photographing an artist making folk
art, dramatizing a Hmong folktale, mapping where the Hmong have lived, sequencing the
events of Hmong planting, harvesting, and preparing food in Laos (similar to recreating a
story cloth), interpreting a war story cloth, and designing their own paj ntaub. Interesting
sections include a comparison of American quilts and Hmong textiles and an index of
different designs often used in traditional paj ntaub and their names.
McCall, A. L. (1999). Speaking through cloth: Teaching Hmong history and culture through
textile art. The Social Studies, 90, 230-236.
The author first provides an overview of Hmong history, then suggests the use of
different forms of paj ntaub or Hmong textile arts for teaching about distinct periods in
Hmong history. Story cloths, flower cloths, and everyday, New Year, and burial clothing
as well as baby carriers all embellished with paj ntaub can illustrate traditional Hmong
life in Laos. Comparisons of flower cloths and more comprehensible story cloths can be
used to illustrate Hmong life in refugee camps in Thailand when Hmong people needed
an income for survival. Hmong textile art changed from traditional reverse applique
patterns to story cloths documenting everyday life in Laos, religious or social ceremonies,
plants and animals in Laos, the Vietnam war, and Hmong people’s escape from Laos to
Thailand and dispersal to other countries. Finally, special clothing created by Hmong
women for celebrating the Hmong New Year can be used to illustrate one means by
which Hmong people attempt to maintain their culture while living as recent immigrants
to the United States.
McCall, A. (1998). Hmong paj ntaub: Using textile arts to teach young children about cultures.
Social Education, 62, 294-296.
The author encourages teachers to use textile arts such as the Hmong paj taub in teaching
about different cultures and suggests resources available to teachers. A brief description is
given for using paj ntaub in teaching about Hmong history and culture through story
cloths, which portray aspects of traditional life in Laos through stitched pictures on cloth.
Special paj ntaub sewn on traditional clothing worn by Hmong people in Laos, Thailand,
and the U.S. to celebrate the Hmong New Year can be used to show students how the
Hmong have maintained their cultural identity in different countries. Finally, the use of
paj ntaub in flower cloth and story cloth designs on clothing and other household items
designed for sale to western consumers illustrate the use of textile art as an economic
activity among the Hmong.
McCall, A. L. (1997). More than a pretty cloth: Teaching Hmong history and culture through
textile art. Theory & Research in Social Education, 25, 137-167.
The author argues for the importance of textile arts in teaching history and culture in
social studies and describes her use of Hmong paj ntaub in teaching preservice teachers
about Hmong history and culture. She provides background on Hmong history and
culture and the use of paj ntaub as cultural expression when the Hmong lived in Laos, its
importance as an economic activity when the Hmong were refugees in Thailand, and the
current use of paj ntaub on clothing to preserve cultural identity in the U.S. She asserts
that her students’ positive responses to the use of textile arts as a means of learning about
the Hmong as support for other educators to use textile arts as an instructional tool.
McInnis, K. M., Petracchi, H.E. & Morgenbesser, M. (1990). The Hmong in America: Providing
ethnic-sensitive health, education, and human services. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.
The authors provide background information on Hmong history and their migration to the
United States. They also briefly explain the significance of the clan system and family in
Hmong people's lives. The authors suggest ways to socialize Hmong children to
American schools, challenges for Hmong children and youth in being successful in
school, and background information on dealing with Hmong parents. They offer ways to
help Hmong students become more comfortable in schools and strategies to integrate
Hmong history and culture in the curriculum.
Moore, D. (Ed.). (2003). A free people: Tracing our Hmong roots (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH:
The text is a collection of narratives and oral histories which Hmong youth from
Minneapolis collected from their parents and elders. The editor, Dave Moore, organized
the narratives into categories which explained Hmong culture, the Vietnam War and
exodus from Laos to Thailand, and life in America. The students who collected the
narratives and oral histories are credited, along with the parents or elders they
interviewed. The text explains various aspects of the Hmong culture, including clan
names, religion, medicine, language, music, marriage, house design, paj ntaub, and the
New Year celebration. Photographs of story cloths embellish some of the interviews. The
most powerful stories include those describing the dangerous escape from Laos, the
challenges of living in refugee camps in Thailand, and the problems of racism, gangs, and
cultural conflicts Hmong youth experience in the U.S.
Moore-Howard, P. (1987). The Hmong--Yesterday and today. Available from the Asian
American Curriculum Project, 234 Main Street, P. O. Box 1587, San Mateo, CA 94401, (800)
This resource provides a brief overview of Hmong history and culture, including the main
values the Hmong embrace, typical housing, diet, music, and religious traditions. The text
also describes different types of Hmong needlework in clothing, baby carriers, and story
cloths. An important explanation as to why the Hmong immigrated to the United States
and the challenges the Hmong have experienced in adjusting to life in the U.S. is
incorporated. The appendix contains lesson plans to help students learn more about paj
ntaub designs, applique and reverse applique sewing techniques, and designing new story
Moua, M. N. (Ed.). (2002). Bamboo among the oaks: Contemporary writing by Hmong
Americans. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society.
This collection of creative nonfiction, essay, fiction, memoir, drama and poetry is
authored by 22 Hmong writers. The writers are primarily new, young writers from the
Midwest documenting their experiences in the U.S., their identity, and their recognition
that even if they change their hair and eye color, they will not become European
Americans. The selections reflect struggles of Hmong people in the past as well as
conflicts between traditional and contemporary Hmong culture. Among the most
interesting pieces are a play “Hmoob Boy Meets Hmong Girl” which portrays changing
gender roles and “Hmongspeak” which addresses the complexity of communication
among the Hmong. Some of the selections are very powerful and disturbing in their
portrayal of abuse, suicide, illness, and sexism. The text provides insight from Hmong
writers about cultural issues.
Mundahl, J., Moore, D. & Chang, Y. (1994). A free people: Our stories, our voices, our dreams.
The Hmong Youth Cultural Awareness Project, 5317 York Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN
One valuable section of the text includes a brief description of Hmong textile art as
shown in clothing, flower cloths which contains designs and patterns, and newer story
cloths which contain stitched pictures. The clothing for women and men is explained as
well as how girls learned to sew. Another important part of the book is the challenges of
Hmong youth balancing their traditional culture and pressures to meet their family and
clan expectations and learning and adapting to "American" culture.
Peterson, S. (1988). A cool heart and a watchful mind: Creating Hmong Paj Ntaub in the context
of community. In J. Lasansky (Ed.), Pieced by mother: Symposium papers. Oral Traditions
Project of the Union County Historical Society, Court House, Lewisburg, PA 17837.
The author explains the sewing done by the Hmong in Laos in creating their clothing and
as gifts. She gives details of different patterns, sewing techniques, and names of designs.
When the Hmong fled to refugee camps in Thailand, their sewing changed in design,
content, and purpose. Sewing became an important means of economic survival as well
as cultural representation. For Hmong living in the United States, sewing paj ntaub is still
a significant means of cultural preservation, but the sale of their textile art usually does
not lead to a sufficient income.
Peterson, S. (1988). They know the rule for what will make it pretty: Hmong material traditions
in translation. In S. D. Staub (Ed.), Craft and community: Traditional arts in contemporary
society. Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, 18 South Seventh Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
The author focuses on the importance of Hmong textile art in reflecting Hmong culture
and values. She describes the embroidery and applique which adorned clothing, baby
carriers, and funeral clothes made in Laos. When they lived in Laos, Hmong women
sewed for personal beauty and community recognition whereas in Thailand the Hmong
sewed for economic survival and changed their designs, stitches, and products to appeal
to Western consumers. Hmong men participated in the creation of story cloths in the
refugee camps by drawing the designs which women (and some men) stitched. After their
arrival in the United States, Hmong women continued to make and sell needlework and
make New Year clothing. Young Hmong women have limited time for sewing with
school and part-time work, but they still wear special clothing to celebrate the New Year.
This clothing may be purchased rather than made for themselves and reflect changing
styles, fabrics, and materials.
Peterson, S. (1988). Translating experience and the reading of a story cloth. Journal of American
Folklore, 101, 6-22.
In this article, the author focuses on the purposes of story cloths, the themes often
portrayed in story cloths, and standards for evaluating story cloths. She claims that story
cloths are examples of assimilated art because they portray traditional life in a realistic
style to communicate to non-Hmong audiences and to represent the truth for Hmong.
Also explained are Sue Lee's efforts to create two distinct story cloths to portray life in
Laos to sell to raise money for the United Lao National Liberation Front, an organization
supporting a movement to expel the Vietnamese from Laos. The "map" cloth shows all
Laotian ethnic groups in their native dress placed in their geographic region on a map of
Laos. The "soldier cloth" shows soldiers as well as civilians working together for their
Pfaff, T. (1995). Hmong in America: Journal from a secret war. Chippewa Valley Museum, Box
1204, Eau Claire, WI 54702.
This text and excellent pictures provide a very informative resource on the history of the
Hmong, beginning in China, their migration to Laos and other countries, their agricultural
way of life, the New Year harvest celebration, and sewing clothing to represent their
Hmong subgroup. The text also describes the Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War,
their exodus to Thailand following American withdrawal from Vietnam, and the
challenges of life in refugee camps in Thailand, including sewing story cloths as a source
of income. The book closes with the Hmong resettlement in the United States and the
challenges of affordable housing, learning English, making a living, and balancing
Hmong values with American values. It also describes some of the conflicts which have
arisen between Hmong and Non-Hmong in some communities.
Podeschi, R. & Xiong, V. (n.d.). The Hmong and American education: The 1990s. Educational
Policy and Community Studies, Box 413, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
This booklet explains why the Hmong had to flee Laos after the United States withdrew
from Vietnam during the Vietnam War and the subsequent persecution the Hmong
endured for helping the U.S. during the war. The authors also explain the diverse
backgrounds of the Hmong who resettled in the U.S., especially the limited formal
education, and challenges for Hmong children and youth of succeeding in the American
Quincy, K. (1995). Hmong: History of a people (2nd ed.). Cheney, WA: Eastern Washington
The author provides a comprehensive history of the Hmong people, beginning with
Hmong early settlements in China through their contribution to the war in Vietnam. The
author closes the text with a brief chapter on Hmong life in Thailand as well as the United
States. The author addresses the economic, religious, and cultural challenges for the
Hmong to maintain important aspects of their cultural identity as they adapt to life in the
United States. The most valuable aspect of the text is the thorough explanation of Hmong
culture during their life in Laos, including their social organization of village life,
farming, and hunting as well as the religious beliefs associated with birth, marriage, and
death. Hmong textile art is only briefly described.
Roop, P. & Roop, C. (1990). The Hmong in America: We sought refuge here. Appleton Area
School District, Box 2019, Appleton, WI 54913.
This resource provides an excellent introduction to Hmong life in Laos, the New Year,
needlework, folktales, and views on life in the United States from Hmong youth. It is
designed to be a resource for teachers with many suggestions of activities to teach Hmong
history and culture, including directions for making traditional reverse applique paj ntaub
Scott, G. M. Jr. (1992). The advent of a cottage industry of Hmong Paj Ntaub textiles in
Southern California: The roles of an entrepreneur-patron, an applied anthropologist-broker, and a
shopping mall sale. Human Organization, 51, 284-298.
The article describes the difficulties of establishing a self-sufficient Hmong paj ntaub
cottage industry in the United States. Often Hmong artisans sold only those items made
by them and their immediate family which led to limited sales and income. The project
described in the article was more successful due to the efforts of an American
entrepreneur organizing the sale of Hmong textile art created by four Hmong women at
an exclusive shopping mall. However, the author believes the likelihood of Hmong
women becoming economically successful through a paj ntaub cottage industry is slim
because of the limited market and the few artisans available for creating paj ntaub.
Scripter, S. & Yang, S. (2009). Cooking from the heart: The Hmong kitchen in America.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
The text portrays Hmong cooking and how it has evolved in America, an important aspect
of Hmong culture. It goes beyond typical cookbooks to explain ingredients, meanings of
certain foods, and how foods are eaten. There are special occasions for Hmong family and
friends to get together to eat and observe spiritual or healing rituals and dining practices.
These occasions include weddings, “calling the soul” of a new baby, recognition of
achievements, bestowing an adult name on a man after his first son is born, funerals,
welcoming visitors, healing rituals, honoring and protecting the family spirit, celebrating
the New Year, and tying strings on wrists to protect loved ones. The text summarizes
Hmong history from their lives in China; their move to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and
Vietnam; their involvement in the war in Laos and Vietnam; their persecution by the
Pathet Lao, and their status as refugees in the U.S. It also depicts significant aspects of
Hmong culture, including traditional animist beliefs, some people’s change to Christian
beliefs, the importance of families and clans, and Green Hmong and White Hmong
dialects. The text describes cooking techniques and equipment, important ingredients,
herbs for seasoning and healing, how tables are set for eating, and acceptable practices
while eating. Many of the ingredients must be purchased at a Hmong farmers’ market or
an Asian grocery store. The recipes are divided into categories by the main ingredient and
the introduction to the recipes explains the importance and history of the ingredients. The
chapters focus on rice, vegetables and herbs, chicken, eggs, pork, beef and water buffalo,
fish and game, beverages and desserts, and cooking for a crowd, such as the Hmong New
Year and a three-day funeral. Readers are invited to learn more about Hmong culture
through the foods that are prepared and eaten.
Soltow, W. A. (1991). Quilting the world over. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book.
One chapter focuses on Hmong sewing, briefly giving a history of the Hmong, why they
became refugees in the United States, and the challenges of living in a country so
different from their homeland. The author explains the importance of needlework in
maintaining Hmong culture in the U.S., describes aspects of Hmong stitches and designs,
and their uses. An explanation of how to make a Hmong-style reverse applique Christmas
Star Pillow is given which illustrates the application of Hmong designs and sewing
techniques in creating American products.
Vang, L. & Lewis, J. (1990). Grandmother's path; Grandfather's way. Lue Vang and Judy
Lewis, Box 423, Rancho Cordova, CA 95741.
This text provides background information on the history, religion, language, education,
clans, families, homes, and values of the Hmong. It also provides some information on
Hmong subgroups and their distinguishing dialects and clothing. The authors give details
of Hmong textile art, including the process and purposes of creating baby carriers,
needlework squares, and clothing. A very valuable section of the book is the description
of the activities of a Hmong family living in Laos on a typical day and the activities
usually completed each month.
Xiong, C. N. H., Delgado, M. & Stark, B. (1995). The Hmong: The people and their history.
Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Schools.
The curriculum guide traces Hmong history, beginning with the Hmong origins in China,
to their movement to Southeast Asia, participation in the Vietnam War, and closes with
their lives as refugees in Thailand and the United States. Different qualities of Hmong
culture include Hmong language, dress, religion, courtship and marriage practices,
traditional village and farm life in Laos, educational opportunities in Laos and the United
States, Hmong heroes, and adjustments to life in the United States.
Yang, K. K. (2008). The latehomecomer: A Hmong family memoir. Minneapolis: Coffee House
This biography is a very moving, engaging text detailing the author’s family’s
experiences in Laos following the Vietnam War, their harsh lives in the refugee camps of
Thailand, and their continuing struggles in the U.S. to achieve some economic security.
She collected her parents’ and her grandmother’s stories of their lives in Laos and
Thailand for the book. The author’s parents met in 1978 (after the Vietnam War) while
both families were fleeing North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao soldiers and scavenging for
food in the Laotian jungle. Readers learn of the strength of the author’s grandmother, her
father’s mother, who was a widow, shaman, and a medicine woman as she kept her
daughters-in-law and their children together while her seven sons hid from the North
Vietnamese and Pathet Lao soldiers. When the sons reunited with their families, they
crossed the Mekong River to Thailand in 1979 because they knew they could not survive
in Laos. The author’s mother, father, grandmother, and older sister crossed the Mekong
River tied together, although none could swim. They lived in the Ban Vanai refugee camp
for eight years. It was a dirty, hot, foul-smelling place with little food and clothing and
cramped housing, but the author was born there and she remembers being surrounded by
family who loved her. Her grandmother also has fond memories of the camp because her
sons and their families were all living in one place and residents sought her herbal
medicines. The author, her sister, mother, father, and grandmother spent another six
months in the Phanat Nikhom Transition camp in Thailand in which they specifically
prepared to live in America. Unfortunately, when they settled in the U.S. Kao Kalia’s
grandmother moved to California to live with one son while Kao Kalia and her parents
and sister moved to Minnesota in 1987 to live near Uncle Chue and Uncle Nhia, two of
her father’s brothers. Readers learn of Kao Kalia’s experiences living in a housing
project, a government-subsidized house, and the first home her parents could afford to
purchase, which was permeated with mold. In Minnesota, the author’s family grew from
four to nine, including three sons, who are highly valued in the Hmong culture. As the
family increased in size, Kao Kalia and her older sister Dawb assume responsibilities for
caring for their younger siblings after school and at night so their parents can work the
night shift. They do this without complaint. Kao Kalia’s descriptions of her school
experiences are most informative with descriptions of punishments for not following
rules, struggles to speak English correctly, and reminders to speak in class. The author
finds her voice in writing and encouragement from at least one teacher to develop her
writing. Her writing talent also seems to motivate her to collect her parents’ and
grandmother’s stories to document in writing. The author as well as her older sister Dawb
both graduate from college, and it is through the Kao Kalia’s writing that readers can
develop a greater understanding of the love and strong bonds among her family members
and the important rituals surrounding her grandmother’s funeral.
Teacher Resources: Videos
Educational Television Productions of Northeast Wisconsin. (Producers). (2013). Who are the
Hmong? Part 1. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDZcsAqg854
This 10-minute video includes different speakers describing Hmong culture and history,
including their experiences in the Vietnam War, in refugee camps in Thailand,
opportunities in America, how the culture changed especially among youth after moving
to the United States, and the issue of Hmong pride.
Educational Television Productions of Northeast Wisconsin. (Producers). (2013). Who are the
Hmong? Part 2. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjc03jWOCZk
This eight-minute video includes different speakers describing different aspects of
Hmong culture and some of the challenges of adapting to life in America. Such
challenges include learning technology, taking advantage of educational opportunities,
and language differences between parents and children. Important aspects of Hmong
culture are the tendency for Hmong people to live close to other Hmong and to rely on
each other for support and how clans determine children’s identity and marriage partners.
Long, L. (Producer and Director). (1998). New faces on Main Street: A sixty-minute
investigative video documentary illustrating perspectives of Southeast Asian and Latino
immigrants in northeast Wisconsin and the Midwest [Video]. (Available from Newist, CESA 7
Television Production, IS 1040, UW Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Drive, Green Bay, WI 54311)
This video explains why Hmong people came as refugees to the United States and
specifically to Wisconsin following the war in Vietnam and Laos. It introduces some of
the challenges for the Hmong in dealing with learning a new language and finding jobs as
well as some of the prejudices and stereotypes non Hmong people hold about the Hmong.
The video clarifies some of the misunderstandings about the Hmong in an effort to reduce
stereotypes, prejudice, and racism directed at this group of people.
Siegel, T., McSilver, J. & Siegel, S. (Producers). (2001). The split horn: Life of a Hmong shaman
in America [Video]. (Available from Filmakers Library, Inc. 124 East 40th Street, New York,
New York 10016, 212-808-4980.
The video focuses on one Hmong family living in Appleton, Wisconsin. It provides a
brief history of the Hmong in Laos and the effects of the Vietnam War which precipitated
their immigration to the U.S. The video is especially insightful in portraying the father’s
activities as a shaman engaging in various ceremonies for healing, the conflicts in Hmong
traditional beliefs with some Christian beliefs, and Hmong beliefs and practices about
death. The importance of specially stitched clothing for the deceased to wear and the
importance of music to guide the deceased to the home of his ancestors are part of
traditional Hmong funerals. An especially poignant aspect of the video is the cultural
conflict between the parents and their children. The father is saddened by the children’s
lack of interest in continuing some of the Hmong traditions, including those of the
Teacher Resources: Websites
Hmong Cultural Center. (2015). Learn about Hmong. Retrieved from
This website is developed by the Hmong Cultural Center of Minnesota. The website
includes a presentation to introduce viewers to main ideas about the Hmong, including
their population around the world and in the U.S., clan names, history, and cultural
etiquette. The website also has webinars about different aspects of Hmong history and
culture, including the Hmong refugee movement in the U.S., diversity within the Hmong
community, and functions of clans. The Hmong Embroidery section of the website is a
virtual Hmong textiles museum. It includes online exhibits of 213 Hmong embroidery
pieces intended to educate viewers about the many different types of traditional and
modern Hmong embroidery and the meanings attached to Hmong embroidered art works.
The website contains video clips of Hmong traditional dances performed by the Hmong
Cultural Center’s Dance Troupe. Yet another component of the website is a PowerPoint
explaining the Hmong role in the CIA’s “Secret War” in Laos during the 1960s and
1970s, the Hmong refugee experience from the 1970s to 1990s, the Hmong population in
the United States, Hmong religious beliefs, a little about the Hmong language, and
suggesting for interacting appropriately with traditional Hmong.
Annotated bibliography list