The Hmong people want to be recognized
for helping the U.S. during the Vietnam war. There are many
different groups of Asians, just not Chinese, just because
they consider us to look a like. They promise to take us to
the U.S. after the war, because we can no longer stay in our
homeland. If we stayed in our homeland, they would have died.
The biggest revelation is that the
Hmong families that have come to America are not that different
from my ancestors and the reasons they came to America. My
great grandfather came to America to escape being drafted
by Bismarck in Germany. They came with little money and did
not speak English. They understood farming and settled with
other German immigrants in Iowa. They grew their own food
on the farm: canning, butchering, etc. My other great grandparents
came from Denmark. My great grandpa was a blacksmith in a
small Iowa town. The family grew their own food. They have
very decorative ceremonial clothes for special occasions.
Needlecraft was a very important part of their traditions.
Except for the religious differences, I don’t see a
lot of difference – in a general sense – between
the Hmong culture and my family’s Danish-Germanic culture.
The Hmong families just immigrated a little later than my
family. Otherwise, we’re more alike than different.
As a parent, I’ve learned a lot about
Hmong culture this year, I really didn’t know very much
about it before. I knew that there were a lot of Hmong refugees
in Wisconsin, and the they’d come here because they
had worked for the CIA in the Vietnam war and so were hated
by the Laotians. I didn’t know that Wisconsin has the
3rd largest Hmong population in the country, or that the Hmong
had a history of being independent and persecuted even before
they reached Southeast Asia. I learned some from information
Tim brought home but more from the video shown at the Bayview
dinner. I enjoyed it tremendously and felt I had more in common
with what Tim was learning because of it. I also liked the
Bayview visit because I’d never been there and had no
idea about the community center and the activities there.
Learned that the Hmong originally came
from China, learned that they practiced herbal medicines,
some of their funeral traditions, and the games they played
in the refugee camps.
My mom said that they have a very rich
tradition of folktales, very imaginative and complex. My study
of Hmong culture has [introduced to] my mom why the Hmong
language is not [phonetic]. An impression that she got is
that the Hmong are very proud of their culture and want to
I have been enormously impressed by the
vitality of the Hmong community and by the way that individuals,
families and friends stay connected even though often separated
by significant distances. I have also become more aware of
the continued, complex influence of the Vietnam war on multiple
generations among the Hmong, ranging from considerations of
cultural pride to nationalism to patriotism in an adopted
Before our son embarked on the Hmong
Cultural Tour, I was generally familiar with the story of
the Hmong in Wisconsin. I once worked in the Dept. of Health
and Social Services for the state of Wisconsin, where I encountered
refugee resettlement services and became aware of their role
in bringing the Hmong to the Midwest. I was also familiar
with a video made by a young woman from Green Bay or Appleton,
about her family’s experience in the Midwest, and her
father’s experience as a shaman. Since the tour began,
I’ve learned about aspects of Hmong life that are new
to me, and have gained a deeper appreciation for other aspects
that were not new.
I was unaware of the ritual slaughter of animals about which
the children learned at the butcher shop. It is impressive
that even in an area as highly regulated in this country as
food safety, the Hmong have found a way to maintain their
connection with food animals and their sprits. It certainly
is a closer connection to food than most of us have.
I was aware of the primacy of animism in Hmong culture, but
did not have an understanding of the rituals used to invoke
the spirits. This was particularly true with respect to funerals,
since Fue Chou Thao talked to the children about funerals
and the children attended one, and wrote with a great deal
of understanding of the role of spirituality in daily life.
Another thing that impressed me was the Hmong willingness
to participate in this project, and to share so many aspects
of their lives with our children. They were not only willing
to participate, but they were eager to do so, to promote understanding
The little bit I have learned about
Hmong culture was provided by Martha’s accounts of the
class field trips. I heard bits and pieces about the music
(what a Qeej or Keng looks and sounds like), religion (the
long journey back to the site of their buried placenta for
the newly departed), and food (one memorable description of
a Hmong butcher shop). But for me, the most memorable part
of the Hmong cultural unit was the video tape showing at Bayview
community center. The tape documented the difficult and sometimes
excruciating process that the Hmong have endured after entering
the U.S. I was especially moved by the stories of Hmong men
who mysteriously die during the night after coming to believe
that they could no longer provide for their families.
The girls have shared information about
Hmong history, particularly the stories of life in Laos, dangerous
journeys out of Laos across the Mekong, life in refugee camps
in Thailand, and the persistence of Hmong culture in life
in the United States. They have shared particulars of Hmong
cultural practices: medicinal herbs, shamanic rituals, qeej
playing, butchering, funerals, blacksmithing, dress and cooking.
We used the recipe they brought home form the first Hmong
Cultural Tour trip to make egg rolls, which we all enjoyed.
Even my 5-year-old has been informed that if she were Hmong
she would eat rice two to three times every day!
I was able to accompany the field trip to the Hmong American
Friendship Association in Milwaukee, where I learned about
that organization and visited its displays of Hmong artifacts
and photos from Laos and the U.S. Helping to edit student
reports for the website has also given me more information
about how the children as a class responded to their field
–Abigail and Maggie‘s parent
First, of course, we learned about the
Hmong culture in two-ways – 1) from our visit to Vietnam
and weekend trip to N.W. Vietnam, including hikes in and among
Hmong villages; 2) from the various class activities throughout
the year, including the tour.
In both we learned about the importance of traditions and
family – from dress to how elders pass on their wisdom
and experience. In Vietnam we were fortunate to see how Hmong
people live in something that was at least partially akin
to their homes in Laos, Thailand and throughout the region.
We heard about and occasionally observed first-hand the problems
that led to so many Hmong journeying to the United States.
The contrast in standard of living was pretty severe.
Despite the income disparity, though, we felt that the Hmong
are a welcoming people – not afraid of outsiders –
and keep a positive outlook despite their many travails. We
found that to be true in both Vietnam and Wisconsin.
In addition, we saw Hmong medicine in both places; Hmong crafts
in both places; Hmong music in both places; Hmong art; Hmong
dress and Hmong families. It is a rich and interesting culture
that hasn’t seemed to lose much of its vibrancy here
in the U.S.
As a parent, I have learned that culture
is a complicated amalgamation of various overlapping pieces,
history, gender roles, art, music, chores, beliefs, traditions,
clothing, preferences, food, leadership and family systems.
I find the Hmong culture to be still quite a mystery because
although we can give things labels, we can’t really
understand what all the Hmong beliefs were surrounding the
event. I think the words mean different things to them, therefore
we can not really understand.
As a parent volunteer, I was exposed
to Hmong culture when Dylan was in the fourth grade. Prior
to that I had read the book, “The Spirit Catches You
and You Fall Down” so I was excited to learn that Hmong
culture would be the focus of cultural inquiry in the fifth
This year I gained a better understanding of Hmong history,
traditions, and beliefs and a greater appreciation of my own
cultural heritage and the immigrant experience in general.
I shared Dylan’s interest in Shamanism and Animism which
is the basis of traditional Hmong belief and I think this
helped both of us experience Hmong culture on a deeper level.
The Hmong are survivors and I was deeply touched by personal
accounts of the CIA war in Laos, the slaughter of Hmong who
supported the U.S., and the heartbreaking stories of those
who escaped to camps in Thailand and eventual resettlement
in the U.S. I was impressed by the strength and support of
Hmong clans and families and the progress made by their community
in the short time they have been in the U.S.
I have learned that about the resilience
and strong spiritual beliefs of the Hmong people. I learned
that Hmong have been a people who have struggled within many
countries, China, Laos, Thailand and the United States, to
remain independent and yet united as a people. The Hmong have
adapted to the cultures of the country where they live or
have lived, but have retained their history, traditions and
identities within that culture and country. Hmong have strong
family ties. Within the family, elders are valued for their
wisdom and guidance; children are valued for their spirits
and promise for the future. The importance of the individual’s
spirit within Hmong culture is intriguing to me. I can see
that it provides guidance for treating others with honor,
respect, generosity and kindness. To do otherwise would have
harmful effects on the person’s spirit. Spiritual beliefs
provide structure and guidance in matters of traditions (such
as births and deaths) and in health care (the reliance on
shamans and Western medicine at the same time).