Hmong and American: From Refugees to Citizens edited by Vincent K. Her and Mary Louise Buley-Meissner is an anthology of essays that takes a reflective look at the Hmong American community.
This book is unique in light of other collections or studies about Hmong Americans in that it is one of the few pieces that takes a contemporary look at Hmong American resettlement in the United States, not only discussing issues they historically faced, but also touching on present developments.
In the introduction, the editors include an excerpt from Hmong writer, Mai Neng Moua: “Why are we waiting for others to tell our stories, to define us, to legitimate us? … It is essential for the Hmong … to express themselves—to write our stories in our own voices and to create our own images of ourselves. When we do not, others write our stories for us, and we are in danger of accepting the images others have painted of us.”
This book is a testimony of Moua’s statement, working to share insight from notable Hmong and non-Hmong (a handful who identify as friends from the Hmong community) who write about their experiences both objectively and subjectively. The inclusion of non-Hmong authors was an interesting and notable characteristic of the book. Hmong or non-Hmong, the anthology is woven with stories that are poignant, thoughtful, and informative. This blend of insider and outsider perspectives is perhaps intentionally combined to enlighten the reader, enabling a multifaceted look from within and outside the Hmong community.
The Hmong are a minority group, originally from China, who migrated to parts of Southeast Asia due to warfare. Warfare would once again spur migration for this minority group. The Hmong are often associated with the CIA Secret War, a covert operation during the Vietnam War that involved American recruitment of the Hmong to offset Communist forces from invading Laos. Due to their involvement in the war, the Hmong had to flee to Thailand to avoid persecution. Those who survived the treacherous journey arrived at refugee camps, and waited to start new lives in a foreign country. The Hmong were considered refugees and many, if not all, had trouble adjusting to their new lives in America. These difficulties were not limited to one age group, rather, troubles permeated cross-generationally, from elders, the 1.5 generation, and even American-born children. Yet, the earliest waves of Hmong refugees, dating back to the 1970s, shows that despite difficulties adjusting to their new lives, the Hmong have an indelible presence in multicultural America.
This book works to not only discuss life after the war, but how the Hmong community has lived almost four decades since their arrival in America.
The work is divided into three broad themes: “Identity and History,” “Family Challenges and Community Transitions,” and “Cultural Integration through Education and the Arts.” The three themes individually and concurrently give insight to the reader about a minority group that is often associated and stereotyped by a backwardness and unwillingness to adapt to American society. The book touches on both media and popular perceptions of the Hmong community, and internal perceptions of one’s own community.
Hmong Americans personally writing about their communities, families, friends, histories, and futures is a highlight of the book. The essays offer material from personal interviews and/or first-hand accounts of the Hmong American experience. Warfare, pressures of assimilation, traditional Hmong customs versus American customs, gender roles, Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender issues, elders’ challenges, and so on speak to the theme of Hmong and American. The authors of each piece convey unique, personal experiences and research to provide an in-depth look at historical, political, social, and contemporary experiences and themes that have affected the Hmong community. An overarching and underlying theme in all of these essays is the idea of the Hmong American identity, of the American influence on the lives of the Hmong, and the Hmong community’s influence and participation “in helping to create the ethnic and social fabric of this nation.”
The conversational style of subjective and objective stories will attract both scholars and larger audiences. This much-needed, updated look is testimonial to the development of the Hmong and American identity, and readers will find this work to be approachable, readable, and memorable.