Diversity in Diaspora

Diversity in Diaspora: Hmong Americans in the Twenty-First Century

Mark Edward Pfeifer
Monica Chiu
Kou Yang
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Diversity in Diaspora
    Book Description:

    This anthology wrestles with Hmong Americans' inclusion into and contributions to Asian American studies, as well as to American history and culture and refugee, immigrant, and diasporic trajectories. It negotiates both Hmong American political and cultural citizenship, meticulously rewriting the established view of the Hmong as "new" Asian neighbors-an approach articulated, Hollywood style, in Clint Eastwood's filmGran Torino.The collection boldly moves Hmong American studies away from its usual groove of refugee recapitulation that entrenches Hmong Americans points-of-origin and acculturation studies rather than propelling the field into other exciting academic avenues.Following a summary of more than three decades' of Hmong American experience and a demographic overview, chapters investigate the causes of and solutions to socioeconomic immobility in the Hmong American community and political and civic activism, including Hmong American electoral participation and its affects on policymaking. The influence of Hmong culture on young men is examined, followed by profiles of female Hmong leaders who discuss the challenges they face and interviews with aging Hmong Americans. A section on arts and literature looks at the continuing relevance of oral tradition to Hmong Americans' successful navigation in the diaspora, similarities between rap andrwv txhiaj(unrehearsed, sung poetry), and Kao Kalia Yang's memoir,The Latehomecomer.The final chapter addresses the lay of the land in Hmong American studies, constituting a comprehensive literature review.Diversity in Diasporashowcases the desire to shape new contours of Hmong American studies as Hmong American scholars themselves address new issues. It represents an essential step in carving out space for Hmong Americans as primary actors in their own right and in placing Hmong American studies within the purview of Asian American studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3777-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xx)
    Monica Chiu

    Clint Eastwood’sGran Torino(2008) marks the first time Hmong Americans were featured prominently in a Hollywood film. Over thirty years after the arrival of the first Hmong refugees to the United States, their representation on the silver screen warrants applause as well as critical attention. Asian Americans in mainstream cultural venues likeGran Torino—a Hollywood film with a national audience—pose particular challenges to Asian Americans. In their introduction to a collection on Asian Americans in popular culture, editors Shilpa Davé, LeiLani Nishime, and Tasha G. Oren argue that “paradoxically, the current visibility of global ‘Asianness’ renders the...

  4. Part I Hmong Social and Political Adaptation in the United States
    • 1 The American Experience of the Hmong: A Historical Review
      (pp. 3-53)
      Kou Yang

      The Secret War in Laos, which was part of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, ended in 1975. The end of this war forced an estimated one-half of the Hmong of Laos to become refugees abroad, and the majority of these refugees were resettled in the United States of America. The mentioned war is known as the Secret War because the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was involved in it without informing the U.S. Congress and the American public about the covert operations (Chagnon & Rumpf 1982). The Soviet Union and North Vietnam were also secretly involved in the war....

    • 2 Hmong Americans: A Demographic Portrait
      (pp. 54-65)
      Mark Edward Pfeifer

      Most of the figures included in this portion of the chapter are from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) released by the U.S. Census Bureau in the fall of 2010. The American Community Survey involves estimates based on surveys distributed to only a subset of the U.S. population and is thus problematic in some respects in comparison to the decennial census that is intended to be distributed to all Americans but is also problematic when counting minority populations. This concise chapter is intended to provide basic demographic, educational, and socioeconomic data related to the Hmong in the United States. It...

    • 3 An Analysis of Poverty in Hmong American Communities
      (pp. 66-105)
      Yang Sao Xiong

      Despite Hmong Americans’ daily struggle to use whatever limited resources they can find to make ends meet, they remain one of America’s most underprivileged ethnic groups. For example, in 2000 nearly 60 percent of Hmong Americans ages twenty-five and over had less than a high school graduate education, compared to the nation’s 20 percent. Thirty-eight percent of Hmong Americans lived in poverty in 1999, compared to 12.4 and 12.6 percent of the nation’s population and Asian Americans, respectively (U.S. Census 2004). Since their settlement, scores of studies have documented Hmong Americans’ difficult adjustments to various aspects of life in American...

    • 4 Civic Values and Political Engagement in Two Hmong American Communities
      (pp. 106-130)
      Carolyn Wong

      Less than two decades after the first wave of Hmong refugees arrived in the United States during the 1980s, several Hmong Americans have displayed a strong interest and aptitude for mainstream electoral politics. The person of Hmong descent who has attained the highest elected office to date is Mee Moua, winning election as the first Hmong American state senator in Minnesota in 2002. After serving two terms, Moua announced in 2010 that she would not run for a third term. Meanwhile, in California in 2006, Blong Xiong won election as the first Hmong American member of the Fresno City Council....

    • 5 Electoral Participation in the Hmong American Community: An Initial Analysis
      (pp. 131-148)
      Steven Doherty

      The impact of increasing immigration is reshaping the American political landscape. The arrival of new immigrants and more diverse immigrant populations has created new electoral forces within the American political process. One of the more notable of these new communities is the Hmong American community. An immigrant and refugee group from Laos, the Hmong community has had distinctive social and political experiences in America. Allies of the United States during the Indochina conflict, the Hmong faced severe retribution from the communist regimes of Vietnam and Laos after the American withdrawal. Given a special refugee status by the federal government, the...

  5. Part II Intersections of Hmong Identity with Gender and Age
    • 6 Great Expectations: The Struggles of Hmong American High School Boys
      (pp. 151-164)
      Bic Ngo and Pa Nhia Lor

      For journalists and researchers, the culture of Hmong refugees has been of central importance to understanding their transition to the United States. Beginning with the first wave of refugees in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Hmong have been incessantly characterized as traditional, patriarchal, preliterate, and rural in contrast to an exceptionally modern, educated, urban U.S. society. As Fass declared, the Hmong are the most “culturally distant” group to have immigrated to the United States (1991, 1). Even after more than two decades in the country, in a 2005 Minneapolis-St. PaulStar Tribunespecial series, newspaper journalists continued to...

    • 7 Women in the Hmong Diaspora
      (pp. 165-187)
      Dia Cha

      This chapter draws on ethnographic research data gathered since 1992 from an applied anthropological action research project among Hmong women in the refugee camps of Thailand and among female returnees to Laos; a 2002 survey of Hmong American women in the United States; 2004 field research in Laos and China; observations made from annual visits to Thailand and Laos since 2003; a biennial visit to China since 2004; and participant observations of contemporary Hmong American life by the author. Research methods include ethnography, observation, participant observation, survey, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions.

      In 1992, the author spent six months...

    • 8 Hmong Americans: The Conceptualization and Experience of Aging in the United States
      (pp. 188-206)
      Linda A. Gerdner

      The Hmong who are living in the United States originated from the remote highlands of Laos, where they lived in small villages comprised of extended patrilineal households (Cooper 1998; Quincy 1995). Historically, elders were treated with great respect and were revered for the wisdom they had acquired over a lifetime, as reflected in the following two proverbs. The first proverb isCov laus lawv noj ntau diav mov lawv yeej paub dau(Elders have eaten more spoonfuls of rice and therefore know more). The meaning of this proverb is that wisdom is the product of a long life. The second...

  6. Part III Hmong Arts and Literature
    • 9 The Double Diaspora: China and Laos in the Folklore of Hmong American Refugees
      (pp. 209-232)
      Jeremy Hein

      When Hmong refugees first migrated to the United States in 1975, they joined a multicultural society with a long and complex immigration history. American society often boasts of the more than thirty-six million European immigrants who came to the United States between 1820 and 1930 (Dinnerstein and Reimers 1999). Much less publicized is that in 1924, the U.S. government intentionally curtailed immigration by implementing a quota system that favored western Europeans (i.e., Protestants) and discriminated against southern and eastern Europeans (i.e., Catholics and Jews). Even less well known is the large internal migration of U.S. citizens in the two decades...

    • 10 “Reharmonizing” the Generations: Rap, Poetry, and Hmong Oral Tradition
      (pp. 233-246)
      Nicholas Poss

      In 1985, Amy Catlin wrote about performances of Hmong popular music at New Year festivals in the United States that “harmonized” both “the new life with the life left behind, as well as the younger generation with the old” (1985, 96). Born in the post-1975 refugee camps of Thailand, this music combined the soft sounds of Asian and Western pop with themes of loneliness and longing common to traditional Hmong music and verbal arts. Songwriters resituated the homeland lost from China, the place of ancestral origin and return preserved in Hmong rituals, to Laos, the source of the modern Hmong...

    • 11 Haunting and Inhabitation in Yang’s Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
      (pp. 247-268)
      Monica Chiu

      According to Teri Shaffer Yamada, Cambodian American autobiography is a “painful testimony of cultural genocide and dislocation” that shifts the traditional understanding of American autobiography away from a reflection on individualism to a powerful form of “testimonial discourse” in the theater of “global human rights” (2004, 144). Cambodian American autobiographies were well received in the 1980s by a public whose horror at Pol Pot’s genocide paved the way for the genre’s enthusiastic reception, argues Yamada. Equally numerous have been autobiographies by victims of so-called Third World antidemocratic political regimes: those who survived the Vietnam War, including accounts of perilous sea...

    • 12 Hmong American Studies: A Bibliographic Essay
      (pp. 269-286)
      Mark Edward Pfeifer

      Much of the earliest work on Hmong resettlement and adaptation in the United States was coordinated by a set of researchers at the University of Minnesota. In 1982, Bruce T. Downing and Douglas P. Olney editedThe Hmong in the West: Observations and Reports. This book is a compilation of the papers presented at a 1981 conference on Hmong research held at the University of Minnesota. This anthology consists of numerous articles from a range of scholars describing different aspects of Hmong culture and reasons for their exodus from Laos. Chapters also discuss resettlement and adaptation issues including literacy, employment...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 287-290)
  8. Index
    (pp. 291-299)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-301)