Maggie | Mariah
| Emma | Mark | Jeremy
| Pakou | Izzy L.
| Gabby | Nico |
Nate | Jeremy | Maggie
| Izzy L. | Tim
At the Hmong American Friendship Association
we were met by a women named Seng Lo. She’s lived in
Milwaukee for over twenty years by now. She told us the Hmong
American Friendship Association is so named because Hmong
and American people work there and because everyone helps
each other and, in doing so, learn each other’s language.
When I got to HAFA, I thought
the vast, enormous building would be all fancy and filled
with the flowery smell of funny incense that makes your nostrils
quiver. But, gee, was I wrong! Sure, it was big but it was
definitely NOT fancy. It was cool!
We walked into a room with the biggest
story cloth I’ve ever seen: six feet high and eight
or more feet long. That is taller and much wider than me!
The first room we went to was the sewing
room. Old grandmas were sitting in there, cutting out paper.
Seng Lo told us about the story cloth. It had a teacher and
a little boy or girl. It looked like the little boy or girl
was going to get hit.
Seng Lo guided us through the museum.
It was cool because they had lots of things like the rice
mill…, shamanism stuff like the horns, money and bells
and stuff like that. Then we moved on and she talked about
the rice grinder...and some blacksmith stuff. There were knives,
a gun they used to use to kill animals and a crossbow. The
crossbow was for shooting birds in Laos (the crossbow was
probably the most useful thing to use).
We moved on and saw the enormous and most beautiful, brightly
colored Hmong women’s clothes. In the gift shop there
were so many cool designs, I couldn’t believe my eyes
because there were so many bright colors. The designs on the
clothes were marvelous and hand made.
Sheng Lo said you could tell if someone is white or black
Hmong by their clothes because they each wear different clothes.
Emma put on the Hmong clothes. I think she was happy, I could
tell by the smile on her face. Then some of the other girls
got into the Hmong clothes. I think they were happy like Emma
because of the smiles. Everybody looked like they were having
fun. I was glad they were happy.
In the first display case were things
a shaman (Hmong doctor) would use like goat horns (used to
see if the shaman made a successful journey to the spirit
world), cymbals and gongs that the shaman’s assistant
uses to make the shaman’s army stronger to fight the
evil spirits, and a split, doughnut-like thing the shaman
uses to see if he has caught and returned the spirit back
to the body.
There were Hmong clothes that people
used to wear in Laos. The cloths were old fashioned with many
designs on them. There were corn leaves used for wrapping
things up. There were pictures of the Hmong people leaving
Laos and heading for the United States, gardening, playing
games, doing needlework and just looking at the camera.
There were hollow rings with bells inside
them, used when the shaman gallops off to the spirit world.
The bells jingle pretty loudly.
There was also a Hmong soldier’s uniform and boots
from the CIA (secret) war. Sadly, there were many young soldiers
and many of them died.
There was a rice grinder which is just
a bowl with a big fat stick in it because there were no machines
to do it for them.
There were also big silver necklaces. Every girl should have
The bow and arrow was practically made
of wood alone, including the arrows! The girl’s necklace
looked like silver and gold. I wonder how much it cost? I
bet it probably cost a whole lot of money, or maybe I am wrong,
maybe they cost less.
There were Hmong rifles filled with black
powder, knives and even Hmong mouse traps!!! Last but not
least there was a cool Hmong violin with a big dragon head
and red eyes!”
Hmong women always carried their babies on their backs using
only very tough rags that were sewn together.
A story cloth is a “quilt”
woven by the Hmong women to represent their journey and culture
to other people. For example, we have a story cloth in our
classroom showing everyday life in Laos before the Vietnam
War. Another example is being displayed at the Hmong American
Friendship Association in Milwaukee. This storycloth shows
[the journey] from life in Laos to the new life in America.
Storycloths are kind of a mixture of books,
tapestries, and quilts. They have pictures, look like blankets,
and are hung on walls. They remind the Hmong people of Laos,
family, the hard journey, and life here in America—hardships,
losses, kindness, and hope for a better life here. Storycloths
tell of many things us Americans don’t understand. They
have maps, traditions, ways of traveling, places in Laos,
loved objects, and memories and stories from long ago. They’re
like books, only without the hard-cover beneath the cloth,
no words, either—just pictures, cloth, and memory.
These special things are made in Laos, Thailand, China, refugee
camps, and here in America. Often, there is a mountain design
border near the edge. In the middle, there are pictures. Traditional
animals are often there: pigs, cows, roosters and bulls. One
of the things I found interesting was the size of them. Most
of them are rather small, a few are medium, but a couple of
them are HUGE! The largest one I saw was 5 by 8 feet. The
bigger it is, the more story it contains. On this huge story
cloth there were stages, villages, oceans, animals, and much
more. It showed Hmong buildings, soldiers, aircrafts, people
fleeing, and the Mekong River. The Mekong River was a large
stretch of water that the Hmong people from Laos had to cross
to get into Thailand, where they would be safe. But enemy
soldiers guarded the shores. If they caught you, they would
When we got off the bus to go inside the
Hmong American Friendship Association, all I saw was a small
building with windows. I had no idea what a huge amount of
Hmong culture would be inside.
We met Sheng Lo, the teacher of a sewing class. She showed
us a huge story cloth, six feet wide and eight feet long.
It was covered by plastic for protection. The storycloth showed
four different places: China, Laos, Thailand, and America.
It was divided in half by the Mekong River. The story was
the history of the Hmong. First, it showed them escaping from
China into Laos, where the cloth showed them farming and living
a peaceful life. Then it showed the Americans coming and asking
the Hmong to particpate in the CIA “secret war”.
Many Hmong were killed and many escaped into the jungle. They
could spend years in the jungle, living on roots! [The cloth
showed how] some Hmong finally escaped to the Mekong River,
but only some. The Communists found out where they were hiding
and poisoned the water that they drank. The storycloth shows
people escaping across the Mekong in boats, or with bamboo
under their arms, or swimming. Sheng Lo told us that a man
drew the storycloth and a woman embroidered it.
At the Hmong American Friendship Association
there is a 5 by 8 storycloth made by a 67-year-old woman who
lives in Thailand. It showed all of the Laotian Hmong’s
history—coming to Laos, their life before the Vietnam
war, the CIA secret war, escaping Laos, crossing the Mekong
River with Communist soldiers patrolling the bank, life in
a Thai refugee camp surrounded by barbed wire, the buses to
Bangkok, and a corner for modernized America.
It was amazing.