We went to the Chippewa Valley Museum
on our Hmong tour and did a lot of things. We saw an object
theatre, looked at panels, and went through archives.
An object theater is a very dark room
where you sit down and there are voices from speakers and
pictures that appear.
This told the whole story of people who
came to Wisconsin, with a small section about the Hmong. This
also told about getting used to life in America. Food, work,
The object theatre was about foodways.
… [A film] had voices, laughing and talking. We heard
some songs in the background. It also showed the foods that
they talked about, and it was kind of freaky because this
thing kept on turning around and we saw all the kinds of food
that looked real.
The object theatre was awesome, pictures
popped up and went away, lights came on and off. One of the
display sets is somewhat of a dining room [with] a table,
some silverware, a candle and a vase full of flowers. Also
in the dining room there was a kitchen. This is because the
refugees/pioneers couldn’t afford to but an entire other
room. In the other display area many things “appeared”
because there were three rotations. One was about musical
“opportunities” the refugees had, one was about
hunting and the other one, I can’t remember …
… I can only tell one thing I
remember. When the Hmong came they didn’t know anything.
They did not know how to speak English or how to cook because
they usually cooked on stoves with fire, so they thought the
fireplace was to cook their food. They had a guide who was
Hmong, so the guide told everything. When Mayhoua came she
thought the Jell-O’s were crayon because they had colors.
… She [also] had lots of depressions because she was
having a hard time in America. But later on she started to
understand about American culture.
Archives are kind of like
a library, except there are objects and pictures in archives
and there’s no fiction section, it’s all information.
There were two tables with pictures scattered all over them.
First someone talked to us about creating and researching
an exhibit. They said there [are] four big areas in the exhibit,
what was life like in Laos before the war, what changes happened
during the war, fleeing across the Mekong, and how being a
refugee is different than being an immigrant. I think they
showed all these very well.
In the library we saw photos from the
original, larger exhibit. The ones from Laos basically were
of farming. They showed the fields, the villages, the houses,
but most of them were of people farming, although there were
some household work ones too. The museum must have been lucky
to get some of the photos they had from the war. They had
some of not only people in uniform, marching, but of training.
I have no idea where they got those.
One that struck me was a lady picking
vegetables. She had an odd look on her face, as if scared
or tired. … One of my favorite pictures was of a big
family (5 kids) in America sitting on a couch, while their
dad tells them something. … The Hmong life in Laos pictures
show pigs and chickens running around wild. A teenager is
feeding a ton of wild chickens. She looks a little freaked
out. I know I would be. They had some secret war pictures.
One was of a Hmong soldier with and army general. What shocked
me was that the troop[s] behind them [were] only Hmong. There
were no American soldiers!
The last place we went at the museum was
the panel exhibit of Hmong culture. [The exhibit] “Across
the Mountain Tops of Laos” showed how happy the Hmong
were before The Vietnam War. There was a photo of the beautiful
landscape they lived in. There was an article they talked
about the farming they did. One Hmong child said this: “I
remember going with my parents to the rice field. I remember
seeing them cut down trees. … They know how to make
axes.” There was a photo of a village and there was
a photo of the paj ntaub (pandau) that was just patterns.
The war one had one of the most terrible photos I had ever
seen. That photo was of a boy, must have been 5 or 6, in uniform,
getting ready to go to war. The article there was from a Hmong
soldier. “It was a time … of fighting, and a lot
of American jets or airplanes shooting bombs. … We were
surrounded by the communists. …” There was a photo
of a home in the mountains, the fields destroyed by Pathet
The Hmong then fled and got “Crowded into Refugee Camps,”
as the title says. This one showed a picture of the new paj
ntaub, the story cloth. There was a photo of tons of Hmong
standing, crowded, waiting for the apartment. As one refugee
said, “In 1976, there were 12,000 of us.”
“Starting over in Eau Claire” had what we might
think of as a normal life. Why would normal life be put in
an exhibit? Because it wasn’t normal for the Hmong.
The largest picture was of a normal, busy highway. But in
Laos, the Hmong didn’t even have cars. All the other
photos were like that except for one. It was of a Hmong girl
standing alone, confused, on a school playground.