Dang Yang Base of Hmong Violin Base of Hmong Violin Reeds for instruments Dang Yang Shows his Hmong Violin Dang Yang Tools Used in Making Instruments Top of Hmong Violin Base of Hmong Violin Dang Yang

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Dang Yang: Life Story

Sarah M. | Mariah | Nate | Pao | Alex | Erika | Gabby

Dang Yang (pronounced Da Ya in traditional Hmong) was born in Laos, high in the mountains. He learned to make and play beautiful instruments when he was a child. In 1958 his family moved to Kaos, a little Hmong village. Dang’s family stayed there while his father went out to find and bring back Dang’s father-in-law and brother-in-law. But a messenger came and told the family that the Communist army had killed Dang’s father. They were very sad, and for months they cried. The people in the village had a party for them. There they played a song on the Hmong violin that was happy and joyful. Dang has remembered the song to this day. All of a sudden, the cloud of darkness over Dang’s family vanished.

In 1967 Dang’s mother married again. Soon after that the Communists started to take over the country, and Dang’s family was forced to move from town to town. In 1968, at the age of 15, Dang joined the army. He was the one from his family chosen to go, because in Hmong tradition it is the eldest son who goes. If the father leaves the family, it is very bad luck. Dang stayed in the army for seven years. In 1975 he returned to the village he had lived in, hoping to find his family, but there was nothing. No people, no houses—just pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and horses the villagers had left behind in their flight from the Communists.

When Dang finally found his family, they traveled together through the jungle. While they were walking through the huge jungle, Dang’s mother and father died of water poisoning. The journey took Dang and nine others one month and 15 days. On foot!

On July 22, 1980, Dang arrived in America. For the first two years he lived with a sponsor in Manitowoc. For a hobby, Dang and his friends played soccer! See—he isn’t much different from other Americans at all!

In the summer of 1982 he moved to Milwaukee. Somebody told him about a job opening, and needing a job he quickly accepted, even though it only paid three dollars per hour. In 1983, Dang realized that he was very lonely. Right around that time he met Lee. Lee told us that whenever she saw Dang he was sad and crying in loneliness. He asked her to marry him, and even though she was only 15 she agreed. It might seem a little strange to think about marrying so young, but in Hmong culture that is the custom. However, Lee tells HER daughters that they must finish high school and college before they can marry, because times have changed, and it is very important to have a good education. Now Lee and Dang speak very good English (as well as Hmong, Laos, French and Thai!) and are living in a house in Milwaukee. So I think that they are adjusting well to American culture.
–Sarah M.

Dang Yang’s father died when Dang Yang was seven years old. It must of been sad for him, really sad.
–Mariah

Drawings of Hmong instruments by Martha. Click for larger image

When Dang went to America he played songs about his mother and father. That made him sad, so he cried a lot.
–Nate

Every New Year Lee makes Hmong clothes [for the family]. Dang’s clothes are black with orange designs. Their daughter is the best dresser in her school. Lee says that she wants her daughter to always dress good.
–Pao

Dang Yang was born in Laos in 1953. The village he lived in was small. Dang's father died when he was seven. His mother married a second time. Dang's family moved from town to town for a while until 1968, when Dang was fifteen and was drafted for the army. By the time he got out, his whole village was gone.
–Alex

Lee married Dang in America when she was 15. The Hmong traditionally marry early. Lee wants her daughters NOT to marry that young. She wants them to go to college, to have an education, and to take care of themselves, and then marry. But if someone special comes along, she won't outlaw marriage as a possibility.
–Erika

Lee wants her children to learn how to sew and Dang wants them to learn how to make and play instruments. They tell their children Hmong folktales. Their family sometimes goes to Shamans. Lee got married when she was 15, but she wants her children to finish college.
–Gabby