Nico in a traditional Hmong hat Photo of Pao talking a photo of the photographer Close up of Hmong embroidery Izzy in Hmong clothing My Tia Ly, Mr. Wagler and Mo Lee share a joke while preparing eggrolls Mo Lee's son in a Hmong hat Mr. Vue Yang showing off a bowl A candid shot of Pao on the bus A candid shot of Pao on the bus

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Personal Stories


Emily | Abigail | Maggie | Thomas

I will tell you about one culture shock I had and that was at the Butcher Shop. All the animals were dead (almost at least). They were hung by one foot and killed. You may think that’s brutal, but would you rather be on a conveyor belt getting killed one by one over and over? Or one quick slice to the neck, a short death but happy life? You pick.

The butcher shop wasn’t too bad. It was just different from what I was used to. I had many encounters like that. For example, at the Union Oriental Market there were lots of weird foods like lion head! The Hmong funeral was very different from anything I have ever seen in my life. The dead body lay peacefully on the floor, dressed in lovely traditional Hmong clothes. A spiritual guide sang to the dead lady. The Hmong believe that when somebody dies they go back to Laos to find his/her placenta, then he/she is reborn. The Hmong funeral changed my understanding of Hmong culture forever.

I got to make egg rolls with Hmong ladies! Now that I know the recipe I sometimes get to make egg rolls at home... The blacksmith was incredible... Did you know that I got to learn a Hmong dance? Did you know some Hmong kids our age taught it to me? The shoe factory mostly taught me how hard Hmong people work...

I learned a LOT about Hmong culture this year but I definitely did not learn everything.

At first, when I saw a Hmong face, I thought they were Chinese or Japanese. I have known Mark since third grade, but our class didn’t really talk about his or anyone’s culture. My first real knowledge of Hmong culture was when I was in fourth grade, when Mr. Wagler started talking about it. I had so many questions, including:
1. Who are the Hmong?
2. Where are they from?
3. Why haven’t I heard of them before?

Now I have all those questions answered, and since I’m on the topic, here are the answers:
1. If the Hmong were lucky, they would get to go to America. As they arrived over the years, they brought their cultural traditions with them, making the country a more culturally enriching place.
2. The Hmong are a culture that originated in China. Then it migrated to Vietnam, where they had to flee because of the “secret war”. They moved to Thailand [and Laos?], which was very hard because of the long walks through the jungle and the deathly crossing of the Mekong River. Then they had to live in refugee camps where they were hardly given enough food to survive.
3. They are a minority group that not many people have heard of, but just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Our class read a great book called a Hmong family...Also, I LOVED the Tou Ger Xiong video. He is such a good example that the Hmong culture isn’t all playing the qeej (pronounced kang) and going to funerals and weddings. It’s a lot of fun and games too! Tou Ger Xiong had a way of making it [the story of the Hmong people] funny. If somebody else had told the same story without Tou’s jubilant attitude it might have been quite depressing.Drawings of Hmong tools by Alex. Click for larger image

Spring Trip
One of my favorite places was the Blacksmith. He put it [a knife?] in the fire 18 times and pounded it countless times. “The more the better,” he said. When we told him that he put it in the fire 18 times, he said: “What? Only 18?”

There are still a lot of things I don’t understand about Hmong culture, though. Like some of the traditions of a Hmong funeral. I believe that killing roosters is wrong, unnecessary killing, but if they believe that the rooster guides them to the spirit world, then I guess it’s okay.

I think I have finally grasped the idea that when you play an instrument, it’s actually speaking the Hmong language, and I have a theory: Maybe, when the Hmong culture was just starting, they formed their language around the music. For example, the word for “long” is a high note almost, and there is a note on the qeej that sounds like it...

...I understand that the qeej speaks to Hmong people and the spirits and that it is very important to the Hmong people and very difficult to learn to play. I also understand that qeej playing is dying out, bit by bit, more and more, along with many other traditions. Hmong elders are afraid. If it dies, what will they have left of Laos?...

One of my favorite places on the trips was Dr. Bee Lo’s house. Dr. Lo is humorous, fun to be around, and educational at the same time. He is very skilled with all types of medicines and cures, naturopathic especially. He told us about all sorts of cures for all sorts of pain, sicknesses, and diseases (even cancer!) and occasionally would joke about something or other. He let us try some of the cures (put on by grownups, of course) and looked at our eyes and told us what kind of people we were, and will be. Although nobody understands why he said Sara K. wasn’t talkative, not even Sara K herself!...

I used to think that “Hmong” was just a word, spelled “mung,” and used for a bunch of kids who wore colorful clothes with coins and danced at assemblies. I had never even heard of Laos or the Mekong River. Then came the project, which completely changed my thinking...Truth be told, I wasn’t very keen on going on tour #1. I knew the notetaking wasn’t going to be fun...But by the end of the trip, my knowledge had doubled. I knew about marriage negotiation, the similarities with Bosnian refugees, games, clans, stories, paj ndaub, cooking, old villages in Laos, and more. I wrote reports, studied more, and prepared myself for the other tour yet to come...

I thought Sue Bassett’s presentation was especially interesting because I’m interested in Hmong healing, herbs, and medicine. I felt sorry for all the injured and sick people, some with deceased family members. I thought about how I would feel if half my family were lost to bombing, sickness, etc.

Finally, when the second tour came, I felt tired of going around studying the same things over and over. I thought it wasn’t worth the effort and work just for a web page, good reports, learning materials, and a couple other things. But I felt I had to go...My favorite place was Dr. Bee Lo’s house. I got to see and taste some of the herbs that Dr. Lo uses here in America and that were used back in Laos. Some of them were ginger root, garlic, onion, tomato, and Gingko. I tasted ginger root and garlic. They were both rather spicy, but the ginger had a special sweetness.

After three days and two nights of being away from home, I was dead tired. I thought I would never survive the hard job ahead of me without assistance. I felt like giving up. But I didn’t. I came to my senses and it felt good to know that most of it was over and done with.

I experienced a great deal on my trips, and I learned more about the Hmong in one school year than I have about any other culture (except my own) in 9 3/4 years. And the end isn’t here—yet!

When I was young, I didn’t know what Hmong was. But I had Hmong friends the whole time...When I first heard the word Hmong, it was in class. Mr. Wagler wrote HMONG CULTURAL TOUR in big letters on the board. I was like, “Huh-mong?”

The first real Hmong experience I had that impacted me was the butcher shop. When I went in, the smell of blood and carcass filled the air. They were talking about how they ran the business. I was thinking of any possible reason someone would want to take some kids to a place where there are a pig’s guts, eyeballs, and eyes on a tray...After the butcher shop, what I remember best is learning about Shamanist practices, like how they connect to the spirit world. They light incense, burn money, and give eggs to the spirit world to show respect. They also kill cows, chickens and pigs to help guide people to the spirit world. They use split horns and big heavy rings with red fabric tied on to communicate with the spirit world. They flip and throw the horns to understand what the spirits say. I thought all of these tools were pretty weird at first—killing an animal because someone died and taking bullhorns and throwing them around. I was confused about [why] shamans sit and stand blindfolded on a bench and yell things. But after experiencing a lot of this, I understand it differently.