A candid shot of Pao on the bus A candid shot of Pao on the bus Mariah at the gardens Chrissy Lee dressed in traditional Hmong clothing Eating lunch on the tour Jeremy takes a photo of himself Maggie with baby bananas at the Union Oriental grocery store A candid shot of an excited child Mariah celebrates her birthday while on the tour Mr. Wagler lectures a wayward teddy bear

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.

Dr. Lo is a naturopath doctor. He knows all the Western kinds of medicine with their high technology and stuff, but he also knows natural medicines and traditional Hmong herbal medicines. This just goes to show you that shamans aren’t the only Hmong doctors.

I used to think absolutely zip of baskets and their uses. But on the trip we met a basketmaker, and he told us that in Laos, baskets were made of bamboo cut in thin strips. They were used to hold dishes, since there weren’t any cupboards. I never thought of that. He also told us kids could make baskets before their teens, but once they were teenagers they HAD to.

I learned that Hmong blacksmithing is actually quite similar to American blacksmithing. ..[But] the differences are that the Hmong make things that their culture absolutely needs while American blacksmiths make things that look nice and hard-worked-on, so that they can make more money. The difference I see is greed and helpfulness.

When the Hmong started working at Lemke Cheese, the Americans working there felt intimidated. [They worried] the Hmong would come and take their jobs, and they [thought] that when they talked in Hmong, they were probably talking about them. These and many more rude suspicions were said about the Hmong, none of them true.

When the Hmong came, companies said Hey! More workers! We’ll take ‘em! and gave the Hmong jobs. One of those companies was Lemke Cheese. However, there were problems. A major one was friendship. When Chang Yang was hired the workers weren’t very happy. But Chang went around and made friends with them! Now they’re as happy as can be. Chang also made friends with HIS boss. They go on picnics together.

While most people didn’t want to hire Hmong people when the Hmong first came, Lemke actually wanted to hire the Hmong, because the Hmong are very strong and resourceful. Why would a cheese factory need strong people? Because some of the blocks of cheese are over 70 pounds.

We don’t often think about who puts those wrappers on our cheese, or who makes the shoes we put on every morning, but if you get Kraft Cheese or Win-Brenner outdoor boots, it could very well have been a hard working Hmong man or woman from Wassau.

After the trip, I realized that the Hmong are not just Asian people in colorful, traditional clothing who dance, sing, and practice Shamanism. They do not just have jobs at the bottom of factories doing dirty work. Many Hmong have high positions in all kinds of fields, and many have started their own businesses....At the cheese factory, I realized Hmong could have very important jobs like Chang Yang, and even if their job isn’t the most fun or the most profitable the Hmong workers smile and chat, and overall have a nice time. I thought that was really neat....Some Hmong people got together and realized that many Hmong refugees new to the country needed jobs. So they started the shoe factory...I thought that was really thoughtful and caring to make the factory for others...We saw many things on the trip, and each changed my perspective, and now I see the Hmong as really awesome, normal people.
–Sarah M.

I never knew the Hmong can be a boss of a cheese processor.

Before we had been learning about the traditional Hmong culture with shamanism and qeej and all that, but now I see a whole new Hmong culture....I never thought a Hmong person would be the manager of a cheese packaging company. Or the head of a boys and girls club. Or play a game that almost the same as duck, duck, goose...

Sometimes you’ll notice how Hmong people’s English isn’t the best but then most Hmong people know about five languages including English! You wonder how they got the time to do that with all the work they had to do back in Laos. I think that a lot of Americans think the Hmong are stupid. Do you call knowing five languages stupid?! I don’t. I think a lot of Hmong people are smarter than many Americans.

This trip has taken me on a journey mentally and physically through what is the same between my culture and the Hmong....One stop that changed me was the Hmong Christian Church. It showed me that when a big change happens to a people they adapt to the culture around them. Some stay the same and think [traditions] are important, yet others believe that moving on and experiencing a new culture is important...

Have you ever noticed how some Hmong call Laos their home and some call the USA their home? What defines home?

All the Hmong people and American people we have interviewed or met have their own ways of doing their cultures. Outside, we are all different. But on the inside we are really all the same.

I jumped off the diving board and held my breath as I landed into Hmong culture, deeper, deeper, until I reached as far as I could get. Then, I started going up, seeing less and less until I reached the surface, where I found my own culture waiting there for me.

Until next time, when I’ll be able to hold my breath longer, and I’ll go even deeper into Hmong culture...

This is probably something everyone asks, but WHY? Where did it all come from? Why is Hmong culture the way it is? Why do Hmong do what they do and European Americans don’t? This question will probably never be answered. Do you wonder about those things too? Maybe.

The Americans didn’t help [the Hmong] much. We wanted them to leave. We made up rumors that weren’t true. We paid them less at their jobs than we would pay [others]. [But] it was our fault in the first place that the Hmong came because we recruited them to help us fight the [Vietnam] war. We were the ones who got them in trouble in the first place...They had to leave Laos or die.
–Izzy L.

Before the trip I thought Hmong ball toss would be very boring. Just standing and throwing a ball back and forth. But on one trip we actually did the ball tossing. I got to know what it was really like, not boring, not exactly fun, but a nice slow activity that is the center of conversation.
– Izzy S.

Before I went on this trip I thought that Pakou, Mark and Pao were not very traditional Hmong. But now I know they could be very traditional and they just aren’t at school...One example is when the dancers were performing I thought they would be very traditional, but when I talked to them I felt like their culture was a lot like mine. One of them was even Christian. It is sort of like the saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a Hmong by their name...Just because they were Christian didn’t mean they weren’t Hmong, and just because they were Hmong didn’t mean they weren’t Christian....
–Sara K.