Do the many Hmong Americans who were born to parents who immigrated to this country really know the culture and the history of who they are? They may feel trapped between cultures. They know about American life firsthand, but all they know about their Hmong heritage may be through their parents’ and other elders’ recollection of the past, but they may not entirely appreciate the context of those experiences. Each person must decide for himself or herself how to reconcile the two aspects of his or her identity.
It is unclear where the Hmong originally came from, although the presence of the group was discovered in China more than four thousand years ago. Hmong eventually migrated to Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Surviving difficult living conditions in the high mountains, the Hmong are sometimes described as “superhuman” despite that they’ve often been treated as subhuman. Although this nomadic group of people never had a country to call their own, the positive relationships maintained among clans have ensured the continuation of the Hmong culture. The clans are distinguished according to their traditional attire. Adapting to life in America has been a challenge for many Hmong. America was very unfamiliar to many Hmong immigrants. Eventually learning how to adapt to the rules and regulations, some have found ways to succeed.
The journey I have personally taken over more than two decades seems to resemble some of the stories told in Paul Hillmer’s book A People’s History of the Hmong. Born in the United States to parents who immigrated here in the 1970s, I struggle to know the truth of the past of the Hmong. Hilmer’s book clarifies the truth behind the tales I’ve heard. Raised Catholic, I was never exposed to Shamanism, which Hillmer portrays fascinatingly. Hillmer’s narrative puts the reader in the Shaman’s state of mind. Readers travel through the numerous stages, with their various tools. Each tool used has a meaning, such as the bench symbolizing a horse. The importance of the altar is highly respected by anyone who enters the home. This is only one of the various rituals practiced by this religion .
Paul Hillmer has proved his dedication to, and interest in, the Hmong through the exceptional in-depth research revealed in his book. From the descriptions and storytelling, Hillmer helps readers to relive the series of events and traumatizing circumstances in which the Hmong have survived. Hillmer’s book contains thorough, intense, vital information about Hmong history. This book will become a standard reference on the subject.
From the countless interviews and sources Hillmer used, it’s clear that he sought to gain a variety of perspectives on Hmong history. The individuals interviewed show how far the Hmong have come. Just to name a couple: Senator Mee Moua and Doctor Yang Dao. These individuals are role models for many generations. The hardships the Hmong encountered when arriving in America didn’t stop that generation from becoming accomplished, and their children are building on those accomplishments. For Hmong and non-Hmong alike, this book holds many important lessons.