A candid shot of Pao on the bus A completed basket at the Hmong Senior Center in La Crosse Interviewing Hmong teenagers The doorway to a traditionally-constructed Hmong house Chao Vang chopping vegetables for egg rolls A close-up of Hmong needlework Chicken feet in the home of a shaman An oven in a traditionally-constructed Hmong house located in the Madison area At the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Dance Club 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

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Understanding and Experiencing Hmong Culture

#1: What do you want others to know, experience, understand about Hmong culture?

#2: What was hard for you to understand, accept, believe about Hmong culture?

#3: What has changed in the ways you understand Hmong culture? What experiences led to this change?

Mariah | Sarah M. | Maggie | Benjamin | Emily | Benjamin | Nate | Jeremy | Abigail | Benjamin | Cristina | Benjamin | Cristina | Jeremy | Abigail | Mariah | Abigail | Maggie | Mariah | Tim | Mariah | Abigail | Benjamin | Abigail | Nate | Emily | Abigail | Nate | Tim | Sarah M. | Pao | Benjamin | Martha | Erika | Erika | Jenny | Jeremy | Benjamin | Izzy L. | Izzy S. | Sara K.

Before the trip I thought Hmong culture was just some bizarre culture, to be honest. But now I know what the Hmong truly are...
–Mariah

From the first to the last stop on the trip I learned more about the Hmong, and every place we visited changed my perspective.
–Sarah M.

I want [people] to see that the Hmong have a distinctive culture in many ways, from cooking to blacksmiths to butchering. I’d like others to hear the qeej and learn about how it speaks to spirits in music. I want people to look at sewing patterns in embroidery and clothes—the elephant’s foot and the snail pattern...The colors feel like they’re different from our own because of the way they blend together and become a beautiful thing that flows...the color and juices of imagination, pulling together with thread...
–Maggie

The first thing people should know about Hmong culture is that those superstitions that Hmong eat dogs are not true. If you believe [stereotypes], you’ll never get to know Hmong.
–Benjamin

The Hmong culture is a minority here, so they are often treated unfairly. That has been true for many cultures, but it is especially hard for the Hmong as they are the most recent refugees and have to survive in this modernized country.
–Emily

Hmong people are a lot like European Americans. You just have to know them. They live in houses like ours, the play a lot of the same games, they go to the same schools, have the same feelings. They may have some different customs and traditions, they may have different cultural history, they may have different colored skin, they may have different dialects and speak different languages, but they’re really not that different.
–Benjamin

The way that Hmong people let other cultures venture into their own cultures helped me see that most Hmong are very nice people.
–Nate

One thing that outsiders should know is that most Hmong are very hospitable. I think that their hospitality could be considered to be an aspect of their culture.
–Jeremy

I think others should ...wish that the terrible war that drove [the Hmong] out of Laos never happened. In Laos, they had been free to do what they believed they should do, but here they can’t have completely traditional funerals, or butcher at home, etc.

Others should also understand that the Hmong are afraid of losing their culture. [Then] what would they have left besides a couple of objects from Laos? Everybody should understand that although the Hmong have endured crossing the Mekong River, living in horrible refugee camps, and an extremely difficult life here, they welcome people to their homes and cultures with hospitality...Even if deep down they are shaking in fear for [losing] their culture.
–Abigail

People should know...the Hmong didn’t want to come to the United States. If it weren’t for OUR CIA war, they would still be living a happy, peaceful life in Laos. Instead WE forced them to go through the hardships of crossing the Mekong River, living in refugee camps, and then learning a new language and everything [else] about America. And it’s all our fault.
–Benjamin

I want people to know that Hmong people make their own clothes. [So] if they don’t have anything to do they don’t waste their time
–Cristina

There are a few things that are hard to digest about Hmong culture. One is how Shamans can connect to the spirit world. I mean, how does playing instruments, singing songs, giving gifts, and making sacrifices help heal a person? It really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
–Benjamin

I wish that I could understand and believe things about Shamanism but I think it’s a little too weird for me to believe.
–Cristina

One thing that was hard for me to believe was Shamanism. I couldn’t really believe it because I felt split in half. Part of me said that I should believe in it, and the other part said that there is no such thing as spirits and all that other junk.
–Jeremy

It’s somewhat hard to believe that Shamans can talk to the spirits and catch them with a ring of rattles and put them into the sick person’s body. It just doesn’t seem [possible] that a special person [can] put a black cloth over his head, get onto a bench (supposedly a horse) with a ring of rattles, and with his soul go to the spirit world. How do they do it?
–Abigail

I don’t understand how the Hmong shaman goes into the spirit world and tries to win back the sick person’s lost spirit. And why they slaughter animals for the sick person. And why after they kill the animal they guide its spirit through the back door with a stick! (They tap the stick on the sides of the doorway.) I found it kind of funny that the Shaman rides a bench as a horse! (Not trying to insult the Hmong culture.)
–Mariah

I had trouble with the butchering. Yes, it’s more respectful than slaughterhouses, but I’m an animal lover....Is there any way to not have the animal even get an idea what’s going to happen to it? Like with a chicken, just grab it by the legs and cut off its head off before it even realizes it is upside down?
–Abigail

I find it hard to accept the fact that the Hmong butchers cut the throat of the animal as though it were something born not to see the light of day!
–Maggie

I wish that people would understand Hmong butchering. When we visited the butcher shop, most kids were scared of the blood and heads and legs strewn across the floor. I was scared of the squealing of the pigs. But later I thought it over and decided it was just a different way of doing things. How they butcher is not nearly as bad as how we kill animals. If the Hmong didn’t do their butchering, they would not have meat to eat.
–Mariah

The single thing that was the hardest for me to understand was the concept of spirit money. Shouldn’t a photocopier or scanner and printer give one unlimited spirit money?
–Tim

The Christian church rather bothered me because the missionaries are trying to convert all the Hmong people to being Christians, and I think the Hmong should stay the Hmong and not be Christians unless they want to.
–Mariah.

After our trip, I see TONS of things differently.... Before we saw Dr. Bee Lo I thought nothing at all of healing...But now I see that in Laos, there are so many plants that can make so many medicines!...For instance, Dr. Lo told us that garlic can prevent CANCER and kill bacteria! And he would know, because he specializes in naturopathic medicines. And if you eat a tomato, you don’t have to worry about cancer ( I think even if you have it!) Onion takes away a sore throat....Aloe is VERY good for burns. There’s more, but I think you get the point about how many medicines there are. (But in case you have hay fever or an allergy, ginger will do the trick!
–Abigail