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Hmong Cultural Delights

Excerpts from student papers in which they seek to capture their excitement about what they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched in Wisconsin Hmong communities.

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I want to learn how to butcher important animals for ceremonies...because I am Hmong.

I was surprised when a Hmong man was showing us how to play tub lub (too loo), a Hmong game with spinning top and poles with long strings on them. 

One of the things that surprised me the most...the fact that there are different Hmong like red, striped, white, black, and blue [Hmong]. Another thing that surprised me was that the Hmong had no written language until 1975. Also that weddings last 3 days and funerals last 7 days. With 6,000 Hmong in Milwaukee, 5,000 in Sheboygan, and 5,500 in Green Bay, I realize that the Hmong have grown to be just as much a part of our community as any one of us. 

Another one [of my favorite things] is I liked when we talked with the Hmong children and when 2 of them tried on some traditional Hmong clothes, even though they felt kind of embarrassed because they only wear that stuff at the Hmong New Year. I liked it when we got to put on some Hmong clothes at the Hmong-American Association. It was very different and very heavy but it kind of makes people feel kind of Hmong. 

At the butcher shop, I was grossed out because of the smell. I think it was the blood. Waves of it poured up my nose, and as I stared at the dead hog, I could stand it no longer. At the house, after the butcher shop, I was at once soothed by the beautiful sound of a qeej player. The sometimes slow, steady beat and the sometimes wild, happy sounds fill the air with sometimes calmness, sometimes joy, the urge to run. Right then it sounded like somebody who wanted to let his/her joy out, but kept it to his/herself.

One of the most amazing people I met was Chong Pao Xiong, the storyteller at Green Bay. When he told the story, he didn't use one voice, yet he didn't exactly use a huge variety. He would talk in a normal voice, expelling the story, and then when dialogue started, he would talk in a higher voice, using slightly different but still a high voice for each character. 

I really marveled at the huge story cloth at the Hmong-American Friends association. It was so huge and detailed, I wondered how someone would take so much time and hard work sewing a story cloth. 

The colors, shapes, patterns and needlework on the Hmong clothes was rich with beauty –it lunged at me. And those egg rolls –oh my, were they friendly to my stomach!

One time I really felt Hmong was when I tried on the Hmong clothes in the gift shop. I felt like disappearing or reappearing in Laos and dancing. I imagined I had black hair, no American clothes, and coins jingling around my waist. I wanted to even speak Hmong! I now know that there’s more to being Hmong than just going around wearing coins and yelling, being Hmong means being free. I know what terrors they've had to go through, and their struggles for life. I hope they get through. 

When I had the hat on, the skirt cover type thing, and the shirt on, I felt for a minute a little bit Hmong because of the clothes I was wearing. I felt like I could have gone to Hmong New Year and done the ball toss with someone. 

I’ll never forget the wonderful smell of freshly cooked egg rolls. The soft and hard shell of the eggroll, gently rolled around tenderly cooked veggies. The gooshy, mushy texture of the noodles in your mouth; everything good in its own special way. 

When I saw the women’s beautiful work, my fingers wanted to be in motion and I wanted to sew. 
–Izzy L.

The day we made egg rolls for lunch…was the first time I felt close to the Hmong women and girls. I felt a little like a Hmong girl. 
–Izzy L.

The place where I really started to understand Hmong culture was the Union Oriental Market, where a man named Vue Yang worked. One food that looked absolutely disgusting was the lion’s head! 

We went to the butcher shop, and it smelled like crazy. The smell was a horrible smell, a mix of blood and cow manure. It was terrifying, with all of the blood and guts… 

A thing that took my breath away is the giant paj ntaub (pandou) at the Hmong American Friendship in Sheboygan. It was bigger than me! 

My other favorite thing was meeting Nhia Vue and listening to his tremendously good qeej. Nhia got to America just two months ago, and he still can’t speak American, but he speaks well enough with his awesome qeej music. 

In this whole trip, I felt Hmong because [I was] going to Hmong places, dressing like Hmong, eating Hmong, and most of all studying Hmong. 

The colors I enjoy are the bright colors in the paj ntaub story cloth, and the beads and coins that the Hmong clothes have on. 

I wish I can learn how to make a flute and a qeej. I’d also want to Hmong cross stitch and to make all my clothes and stop asking for money to buy clothes for myself. 

I learned there were different kinds of Hmong, like white Hmong, black Hmong, green/blue Hmong, striped or flower Hmong, and Chinese Hmong. 
–Sara K.

I liked all of the shapes on the Hmong paj ntaub. It was like an elephant foot, heart, snail, seashell, flower. The colors that were on the paj ntaub were mostly bright. 

I want to learn about being a shaman, because I like helping people and caring about people. I am already Hmong. I understand more about money paper and the paper on the wall. The paper on the wall is for helping and guiding the house. 

I was afraid of the knives in the exhibit. 

I was amazed… that Hmong people eat rice three times a day or they eat rice for every meal. 

Also at the Hmong-American Friendship Center in Milwaukee, when I saw the paj ntaub that was six feet wide and eight feet long. It had a lot of different Hmong on it traveling from place to place, and being kept from going to places were they can get away from the war. Then going to Ban Vinai, then finally coming to America.