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Top Picks

Here you will find a list of resources I have found useful in the classroom and in my own research, along with a brief description of that resource. Click on the images if you would like more information or if you are interested in purchasing these texts. Please visit the forums on the SHARE page to share your favorite resources.

Ms. Kong's Top Picks for Educators/Upper Level Readers

These are my personal picks of the essential books for educators, and other upper level readers, interested in exploring Hmong history and culture. 


An Introduction to Hmong Culture by Ya Po Cha. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010


This is my go-to book for questions about Hmong culture. Ya Po Cha explains a wide variety of essential elements of Hmong culture, including translated Hmoob scripts for various ceremonies, critical vocabulary words, and understandable explanations for intricate belief systems

Presenting a holistic perspective of the Hmong way of life, this book touches on major aspects of Hmong culture, including an overview of history and traditions, relationships between Hmong parents and their children, the rites and traditions of Hmong wedding and funeral ceremonies, the celebration of the Hmong New Year, home restrictions, and other superstitious taboos, arts and politics. The book features and explains many Hmong words, phrases and proverbs.

Hmong Songs of Memory: Traditional Secular and Sacred Hmong Music by Victoria Vorreiter. Resonance Press, 2016


I happened upon the Hmong Songs of Memory/Threads of Life Exhibition at Tamarind Village in Chiang Mai, Thailand and was immediately struck by the powerful imagery. Vorreiter's photographs, reflecting her 10 years of research in Hmong villages, are absolutely beautiful and she provides essential information about Hmong culture and belief systems through musical traditions. Her 270 page book includes over 350 full color photographs and a 75 minute ethnographic film that illustrate a wide variety of Hmong instruments and musical traditions. She has even included fully transcribed and well translated kwv txhiaj lyrics and hu plig ceremonial scripts!

Up Against Whiteness: Race, School, and Immigrant Youth by Stacey Lee. Teachers College Press, 2005


Stacey Lee's on-going work is critical to the development of a richer understanding of the complexities of identity development as part of academic achievement. This book has been a major influence on my own graduate work as well as a great resource for professional development book clubs and discussion groups. 


Pushing the boundaries of Asian American educational discourse, this book explores the way a group of first- and second-generation Hmong students created their identities as "new Americans" in response to their school experiences.

The Bride Price: A Hmong Wedding Story by Mai Neng Moua. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017


Mai Neng Moua has been an inspirational force in the Hmong American literary community since her editorial work on the periodical, Paj Ntaub Voice, as well as the landmark collection of Hmong writing, Bamboo Among the Oaks (which I also highly recommend). In this autobiographical piece, Moua bravely shares her experiences as a Hmong American struggling with issues of identity, tradition, religion, gender roles, and inter-generational and intercultural misunderstandings. Moua offers her readers a rare opportunity to explore and discuss these particularly controversial and potentially painful topics.

Hmong and American: From Refugees to Citizens edited by Vincent K. Her and Mary Louise Buley-Meissner. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012


Farmers in Laos, U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, refugees in Thailand, settlers in the Western world—the stories of the Hmong have been told in detail through books and articles and oral histories over the past several decades. Like any immigrant group, the first generation may yearn for the past as they watch their children and grandchildren find their way in the dominant culture of their new home. For Hmong people born and educated in the United States, a definition of self often includes traditional practices and tight-knit family groups but also a fully Americanized point of view. How do these members of the "1.5" and second generation of American Hmong negotiate the expectations of these two cultures? How can their classmates and neighbors better understand what it means to be both Hmong and American? In this collection of essays, historians, sociologists, teachers, counselors, and artists explore the concepts of war, refugee status, resettlement, and assimilation, weaving their own stories into their depictions of a community that continues to develop complex identities, both abundantly shared and deeply personal. 

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company LLC, 2016


In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Following her award-winning book The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang now retells the life of her father Bee Yang, the song poet, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by American’s Secret War. Bee lost his father as a young boy and keenly felt his orphanhood. He would wander from one neighbor to the next, collecting the things they said to each other, whispering the words to himself at night until, one day, a song was born. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee’s mother, the songs leave him for good. But before they do, Bee, with his poetry, has polished a life of poverty for his children, burnished their grim reality so that they might shine. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Kao Kalia Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story — of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost.

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. Coffee House Press, 2008


In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to the United States, but their experiences remain largely unknown. Driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir is a tribute to the remarkable woman whose spirit held them together through their imprisonment in Laos, their narrow escape into Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, their immigration to St. Paul when Yang was only six years old, and their transition to life in America. It is also an eloquent, firsthand account of a people who have worked hard to make their voices heard.

Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora by Chia Youyee Vang. University of Illinois Press, 2010


Hmong America documents Chia Youyee Vang's own migration from Laos to Minnesota at age nine and the transformations she has witnessed in Hmong communities throughout the migration and settlement processes. Vang depicts Hmong experiences in Asia and examines aspects of community building in America to reveal how new Hmong identities have been formed and how they have challenged popular assumptions about race and ethnicity in multicultural America.

With an approach that intermingles the archival research of a historian, the personal experiences of a refugee, and the participant-observer perspectives of a community insider, Vang constructs a nuanced and complex portrait of the more than 130,000 Hmong people who came to the United States as political refugees beginning in the mid-1970s. She offers critiques of previous representations of the Hmong community and provides the sociological underpinnings for a bold reassessment of Hmong history in the greater context of globalization. This new understanding redefines concepts of Hmong homogeneity and characterizes ordinary Hmong migrants not as passive victims but as dynamic actors who have exercised much power over their political and social destinies.

While Vang focuses on the Hmong community in the Twin Cities, she also has conducted research in numerous Hmong enclaves in the United States and abroad. In addition to recounting historical events, she incorporates the voices of those who personally experienced and informed the development of ethnic and faith-based traditions, political mobilization around unequal treatment of Hmong Americans, and changing aesthetics and cultural politics regarding ethnic celebrations.

Hmong Art: Tradition and Change by The John Michael Kohler Arts Center. John Michael Kohler Arts Center of the Sheboygan Arts Foundation, Inc., 1986


Hmong Art: Tradition and Change is the first exhibition and publication to document extensively the textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, and other artifacts produced by Hmong folk artists throughout this country. The book includes three scholarly essays on Hmong culture; an overview of Hmong history by University of Minnesota anthropologist Timothy Dunnigan; a discussion of Hmong performing arts by ethnomusicologist Amy Catlin; and an essay on Hmong material culture, costumes and jewelry, by Joanne Cubbs. soft-bound, 168 pp., 70 color plates, 62 b/w illustrations, 1986.

Hmong in Minnesota by Chia Youyee Vang. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008


Chia Youyee Vang reveals the colorful, intricate history of Hmong Minnesotans, many of whom were forced to flee their homeland of Laos when the communists seized power during the Vietnam War. Having assisted U.S. troops in the "Secret War," Hmong soldiers and civilians were eligible to settle in the United States. Vang offers a unique window into the lives of the Minnesota Hmong through the stories of individuals who represent the experiences of many. One voice is that of Mao Heu Thao, one of the first refugees to come to Minnesota, sponsored by Catholic Charities in 1976. She tells of the unexpectedly cold weather, the strange food, and the kindness of her hosts.

By introducing readers to the immigrants themselves, Hmong in Minnesota conveys a population's struggle to adjust to new environments, build communities, maintain cultural practices, and make its mark on government policies and programs.

Bamboo Among the Oaks edited by Mai Neng Moua. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008


In this groundbreaking anthology, first- and second-generation Hmong Americans―the first to write creatively in English―share their perspectives on being Hmong in America. In stories, poetry, essays, and drama, these writers address the common challenges of immigrants adapting to a new homeland: preserving ethnic identity and traditions, assimilating to and battling with the dominant culture, negotiating generational conflicts exacerbated by the clash of cultures, and developing new identities in multiracial America. Many pieces examine Hmong history and culture and the authors' experiences as Americans. Others comment on issues significant to the community: the role of women in a traditionally patriarchal culture, the effects of violence and abuse, the stories of Hmong military action in Laos during the Vietnam War. These writers don't pretend to provide a single story of the Hmong; instead, a multitude of voices emerge, some wrapped up in the past, others looking toward the future, where the notion of "Hmong American" continues to evolve.

Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Graywolf Press, 2017


Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived. 

Dej Siab: From My Liver To Yours by Mai Neng Vang. H.E.R. Publisher, 2020


“Through the years, I’ve come to realize that healing is not a linear process - there are no definitive steps to take before one can say they have healed from their traumas. More than this, healing looks different for everyone, but regardless of how we heal or how long it takes us to heal, healing is so necessary for us to reconcile with the generations of trauma and hurt that our ancestors, mothers, sisters, aunties have endured…The poems found in this book are a series of love letters: love letters to who I was, from who I am, for who I will become. As a reader, you bear witness to the struggles, the joys, and the thoughts that I have as someone who is constantly becoming. In this way, we, too, are having a heart-to-heart throughout this book. I hope that you find relevance and solace in my words and are able to draw strength and dejsiab from these pages.” – Mai Neng Vang, Author.

History on the Run: Secrecy, Fugivity, and Hmong Refugee Epistemologies by Ma  Vang. Duke University Press, 2021


During its secret war in Laos (1961–1975), the United States recruited proxy soldiers among the Hmong people. Following the war, many of these Hmong soldiers migrated to the United States with refugee status. In History on the Run Ma Vang examines the experiences of Hmong refugees in the United States to theorize refugee histories and secrecy, in particular those of the Hmong. Vang conceptualizes these histories as fugitive histories, as they move and are carried by people who move. Charting the incomplete archives of the war made secret through redacted US state documents, ethnography, film, and literature, Vang shows how Hmong refugees tell their stories in ways that exist separately from narratives of U.S. empire and that cannot be traditionally archived. In so doing, Vang outlines a methodology for writing histories that foreground refugee epistemologies despite systematic attempts to silence those histories.

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