Landscape of the Hmong Community
Professor Lee Pao Xiong visited the Cambridge campus on Oct. 1 to speak with students about Hmong culture, in conjunction with a campus-wide reading of The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang.
The following stories report on the event and illustrate the unique aspects each student took away from their attendance. Special thanks to William Breen in helping develop this series.
Contributing writers: Emily Pike, Jennifer Curtis, Taylor Boettcher, Jordan Segelstrom, Meaghan McNamee., Jacob Walgrave and Dylan Jansen
Hmong Family History
By Emily Pike Contributing Writer
Do you know what defines you and your family? Lee Pao Xiong recently spoke at ARCC’s Cambridge campus in response to the widespread reading of Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomer, a book devoted entirely to the history of the Hmong people. In it Kao Kalia tells about her family’s history and how important knowing our history is for our day to day lives. Xiong expanded on this notion during his lecture and brought history to life by serving traditional Hmong food.
Room G201 was packed, the smell of delicious Hmong food wafted through the halls drawing even more people. Plates were piled high with temping dishes such as sticky eggrolls, Hmong cookies, and papaya salad. Eager students gathered together in groups and dug in, some sporting looks of absolute bliss as they took their first bite and others trying not to grimace as they swallowed. This was new, new flavors and new textures. Soon the crowd moved next door to the auditorium where Lee Pao Xiong, the Professor of Hmong Studies and American Government at Concordia University, spoke.
After a short introduction by ARCC’s English professor, Bill Breen, Xiong took the stage. He began by asking what defines a people. “If you can’t define yourself by clothing, food, language, culture or tradition, all that is left is history,” Xiong said. He then went on to talk about the incredible history of the Hmong people. From their ancestor Chi You who was the patriarch of the entire Hmong race, to the Hmong people fleeing Laos and first coming to America in 1975.
One student in attendance, Rachel Swanson, a freshmen at ARCC reflected after the event. “It was really interesting, I learned new facts about the Hmong history.” After hearing about the Hmong history, Swanson commented on her own family’s history. “I am Scandinavian and I would like to learn who the first immigrant to America in our family was,” Swanson said.
I believe knowing your family’s history, just as Xiong says, is crucial to knowing who you are. Our ancestors lived and died to give us a better life for today. Do you know what defines your family?
Take a Dive into a Different Culture… with Food!
By Jennifer Curtis Contributing Writer
When an event provides food, you can bet that plenty of students will attend, even if the food is a little bit out of their comfort zone.
Many classes at ARCC have been required to read the book The Latehomecomer, about a young Hmong woman’s experience coming to America with her family. Reading this book has brought up curiosity about the Hmong community throughout the student body. Bringing in a Hmong speaker was nothing less than a perfect idea.
The event started out with probably the best part, food. They had many different traditional Hmong dishes to try. The food they provided included rice, pork, egg rolls, salad, cookies and corn bread. I heard a lot of positive feedback from students about the cookies. Siglind Dial, an ARCC student said, “It tastes like a giant fortune cookie!”
Once attendees were done eating, Lee Pao Xiong spoke. He started his presentation with the question, What defines people? He talked about Hmong traditions, clothes, food, language and history. He mentioned that Minnesota has the largest Hmong population. A lot of Minnesotans wonder why that is but Minnesota actually invited the Hmong from the refugee camps. Xiong said, “We didn’t choose Minnesota, Minnesota chose us.”
A Taste of Diversity
By Taylor Boettcher Contributing Writer
Food is a way to bring any culture together, and that is what the Cambridge campus did on Oct 1in rooms G201 and 202. Egg rolls, multiple kinds of rice, pork, salad, cookies, and corn cakes were all provided for attendees to get a taste of Hmong culture, before discussing its history.
Speaker Lee Pao Xiong, professor of Hmong studies, said, “In our culture we normally meet first, and eat last, but than the food is always cold!” That being said attendees ate first, and met after so the food would still be warm and fresh.
Although, the funny thing is egg rolls are not a traditional Hmong food. Hmong people in Laos would most likely not even know what one is, or tastes like. After sampling the different types of dishes, people were ready to hear all about Hmong history.
When we see Hmong celebrations today and the clothing that they wore, we may think of very bright and fancy clothing. According to Xiong, the clothing was dull and colorless. Now the clothing colors or choices most often would reflect which religion they practiced.
Another interesting point that our speaker pointed out was that when the Hmong came to America they were not immigrants. There is a huge difference between immigrants and refugees. The Hmong people were the refugees.
When asked why some Hmong refugees ended up in Minnesota, which holds the largest Hmong population in America, the answer was simply they had no choice. The refugees had to go wherever they were able to, and welcomed. “If we had a choice, we would have chosen somewhere tropical,” Xiong said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Learning Outside the Book
By Meaghan McNamee Contributing Writer
“I came in thinking that I was going to be speaking with someone who survived through the Secret War. I left knowing more than I ever could with a simple textbook,” ARCC student Siglind Dial said. Though these words are not my own, I couldn’t agree more.
When the speaker first introduced himself as a professor, I thought I was going to be sitting through another boring lecture about the Hmong and all that they experienced. I wish I could go back now and change the way I thought. Lee Pao Xiong brought his experience and knowledge to life. He created a timeline of events that replayed in my head throughout the entire day. He incorporated his beliefs and his wisdom into his words and let us soak them in.
He began by asking us a simple question: “How do we define a people?” Easy enough, right? We look at their beliefs and values and go from there. These were my exact thoughts at the time. However, I now realize how mistaken I was.
People are not defined by their clothing, or the food they eat. They’re not divided between their traditions and ceremonies. Not even language defines who a person is. In all cases, a person is defined by their past: all the things they have seen, all the hardship they have endured, and all of their losses and gains. That is truly what defines who we are.
Through reading The Latehomecomer, I was shown a very graphic and horrible side to a war that I hadn’t the faintest idea about. Readers are thrown into a world of hatred and torture and loss. The speaker, Xiong, illustrated this well with his examples of the Hmong history. He also showed how dedicated and strong these people are. For example, he tells a touching story of loss and hardship, but how the Hmong overcome it.
In this time, Chi You was the highest power in their beliefs; they wanted nothing more than to satisfy him in everywhere possible. In doing so, Chi You’s general was forced to commit suicide to fool the enemy into thinking that Chi You was dead. They dressed the general in You’s clothing and left him for the enemy to find. When the enemy did find the general, they dismembered his body into three parts. This may mean nothing in our society, but to them, this says a lot. It takes a full bodied figure to be reincarnated and so the Hmong believe that a dismembered body could not be reincarnated fully. To this day, there are three headstones believed to be Chi You, when in all actuality, it is his general.
Overall, I really enjoyed the speaker’s presentation and the atmosphere he created. I felt comfortable and open to learn. Going into the room, I had a very closed-mindset and I wasn’t really open to anything, but hearing this man’s dedication to his culture really inspired me. I think we all can learn a lesson from him, in which we allow ourselves to become open to new things.
‘Our Souls Are Back Home’ A Review of Lee Pao Xiong’s Talk
By Jordan Segelstrom Contributing Writer
What a wonderful way to gain more knowledge about a different race! While being exceptionally happy to be here, his sincerity was pronounced. The passion in his voice made me feel like I experienced being at the grubby refugee camps with them. It was like I was born into a different upbringing and I have never felt so engaged with a big discussion.
Lee Pao Xiong was an amazing representative for the Hmong culture. His speech was structured similar to a lecture. He greatly emphasized what it means to be Hmong. Without Xiong, I wouldn’t understand certain things about their culture. We are all different in our own ways. “Can we define people by clothing? If you wear Hmong clothes, does that make you Hmong?” asked Xiong. Culture isn’t the only factor that defines who you are. Yes, you have your “race,” but overall, you are who you want to be.
I loved how he gave an overview of how the Hmong came to be. I never knew they had to face so many hardships. I was shocked to hear that some Hmong made tiny villages in caves, and still continue to dwell in these places. He feels strongly that their history is stitched close to their hearts. This was a proven point in Xiong’s presentation. “Our bodies are here, but our souls are back home,” Xiong said.
Most students who attended this hour-long speech had read The Latehomecomer, a memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. This book has touched many hearts, so Xiong thought it would be a great idea to discuss events that took place in the novel. Being very active with the audience, he asked what we thought about the book. “This book is one word: wonderful!” an audience member shouted from the back. Xiong also briefly talked about how he is close with Yang and said she loves what she’s doing.
If Xiong comes back, I recommend students to attend. You will want to be fully engaged because of his sincerity and passion for his culture. You’d be able to start to understand his people’s struggle, and also broaden your horizon of knowledge! Xiong was an incredible speaker and a wonderful person.
Two Sides to Every Story A Review of Lee Pao Xiong’s Talk
By Jacob Walgrave Contributing Writer
I was very happy with the presentation that Lee Pao Xiong gave. I always am interested in learning about different cultures so it was a treat to get to learn about such a rich culture. The presentation started as we all waited in a line with our mouths watering as we waited smelling the fresh smells of authentic Hmong food. After we all tried something new we all gathered in the auditorium to hear Mr. Xiong speak.
The presentation was not exactly how I expected it to be, but I don’t think that mattered because I still learned a lot of new information from attending. I originally though that the presentation was going to more focused on The Latehomecomer, however it was more focused on the Hmong culture in general.
I think what made this event so enjoyable to me was that I learned that what we learn in text books don’t always show different perspectives or both sides of a story. It was very cool to hear about a culture directly from someone who is from that culture. Until Xiong’s talk, I never realized that the Hmong people really helped us and were part of the CIA. “The Hmong people guarded radar sites for the United States,” Xiong said. I also was shocked when Xiong said “only five planes were sent out to take some of the Hmong people back to America.”
This event was a great one to attend and really shows that the best way to learn about a culture is by someone in that culture. There are two sides to every story and it was great to hear Xiong’s story.
Coming Together A Review of Lee Pao Xiong’s Talk
By Dylan Jansen Contributing Writer
Room G202 is packed with people. All seats are filled with some even resorting to sitting on the steps, or standing. The campus director of Diversity and Multiculturalism,Venoreen Browne-Boatswain, said “This is the largest group I have seen attend one of these events.” All of these people came to listen to speaker Lee Pao Xiong talk about the Hmong culture and test out the Hmong food provided. It seemed like a celebration of many different people coming together to celebrate learning about a new culture.
While waiting for the speaker to arrive, many in attendance headed into the conjoining room, G201, to test out some Hmong cuisine. The food smelled fresh, and the line was out the door to sample the dishes. Some of the food was delicious, others not so much, but everyone tried it out regardless.
Once the speaker arrived, everyone proceeded back into room G202 for the main event. At first, the presentation appeared as if it was going to be just another boring PowerPoint, but with many eyes on the stage, Xiong took control of his audience. He mostly talked about the history of the Hmong, adding to it with his and his family’s life stories.
The information provided kept the audience very interested and drawn into his presentation. He used powerful quotes, talking about how the Hmong people migrated to the United States as refugees. “The Hmong were possibly the most deserving to come to the U.S., but none of them wanted to come,” Xiong said. He went on to explain that a lot of the Hmong people’s bodies were in America but their spirits remained in their homeland.
Overall, Xiong was very informative, humorous, and an overall great speaker to provide information to students on campus. His presentation brought many people from various backgrounds together to celebrate a culture that not many know about.