There is so much power in how our stories are told. In how the protagonist grows into who they are to become. In how the writer develops the stories and brings the events, memories and experiences into light. Heartfelt, tragic and profound like a crisp delicious egg roll wrapped into a whirlwind of inspiration. Staring Down the Tiger is a potent compilation of stories that speak truths unapologetically through the eyes of various Hmong writers.

Every word is cherished as I relive the parallelism of struggles and triumphs alongside the writers. Growing up as a 1.5-gen caught between being Hmong American and being too American myself, this compilation brought me solace and reassurance like eating comfort food only one would know. The anecdotes are profound and zesty like the spicy pepper concoctions, a staple at every Hmong gathering. I relearned that change does come from “talking back,” and being a trailblazer is not something to be ashamed of. Taking the road less traveled is not necessarily a bad thing but an opportunity to transform into the best of ourselves.

Challenging the norm sets up the next generation with a fresh perspective early on so they can understand how far we have come. Pa Xiong, author of How to Make Squirrel Stew said it best when she said, “You take a moment to feel fortunate that this tradition ends with you and that neither your son or daughter will have to know these life lessons.”
“Solider B31” was a refreshing and historical account on the importance of “survival.”

Yang’s emotional tone breathed life into the idea of survival and how we must not forget the people, the events and our past so that we can forge a new path for our kin. In Song Yang’s words, “We survive not for those we’ve lost, but for those who need us to keep living.” A powerful rendition and reminder of our ancestors and their sacrifices.

Tou Saiko Lee sheds light on the power of respecting, loving and understanding the women in our lives. His take is spot on and provides the reader another perspective into the world ready for change. To paraphrase Lee’s words: “When we learn to honor the women in our lives and raise the boys to grow up and respect women, it is then that we can have prosperity.”

Overall, Pa Der Vang does an exceptional job of showcasing the voices of each writer. Each writer powerful in their own right, illustrates with such intensity, freshness and nostalgia making Staring Down the Tiger a must read. The captivating anecdotes may even provoke you to write your own stories so that others can devour your words and make sense of their own lives even if they are seen as trifles.

I end with words of wisdom from my late father, Xaycha Vue, “Starting over in a land with new traditions and new customs, so foreign to us, we must learn and keep what is good and throw out the old. That is if we are to survive and continue moving forward.”

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