Wrongs of the past, traditions are our ghost images


The readings may be called “Ghost Stories” but the rest of the title assures us it’s not Halloween fare. “Five Writers Read Works on Historical Trauma” at Homewood Studios Tuesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. tackles that which is “not talked about, but always prevalent, and still impacts us, like a ghost image.”

Impacts like the intense opposition Mai Neng Moua had to her future husband paying a bride price for her. “When I heard my mother’s story about bride price,” Moua was certain she did not want to observe that Hmong tradition. She said it took her a long time to write about it, and “I wouldn’t have been able to start without” the encouragement of the group that will do the readings.

The event announcement says, “African-American, Hmong, Japanese-American, Jewish and White Earth Anishinabe writers explore how the stories of their parents, grandparents and historical communities impact the writers’ own lives. From the ridiculous to the tragic, the writers examine the legacies of Holocaust, war, racism and genocide.”

Moua, who co-founded the Hmong literary journal Paj Ntaub Voice and edited Bamboo Among the Oaks, an anthology of contemporary writing by Hmong Americans, met “co-conspirator” Margie Newman at the Loft Literary Center. They received small grants to take their readings to four different venues in a variety of neighborhoods, and produce a chapbook. “I knew Carolyn [Holbrook] and Marcie [Rendon] and Margie knew Joan [Maeda Trygg].

They’ve had two readings so far, each with 50 to 60 people attending. “Our point is to use the arts, the writing, to promote healing,” Moua and Holbrook said in an interview. “We also need to hear from this community” of North Minneapolis. Moua lives in North Minneapolis and Holbrook in North Loop.

At the Wilder Center for Communities in Saint Paul, most listeners agreed that in order to know how to heal, one needs to know about the trauma. “How many generations does it take? One asked. We counted back; it took five generations to find an intact family,” Holbrook said. “Line up the symptoms of what’s called post traumatic slave syndrome and the symptoms are the same as PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.”

As is Moua, Holbrook is writing a memoir to “work through the dysfunction that happens, looking at how we all react. South Africa acknowledged apartheid. The U.S. hasn’t [acknowledged slavery]. There’s a black Holocaust. I get upset when I hear ‘the Holocaust’ because there’s been more than one. It would help to be healed if we’d acknowledge what happened.” They drew distinctions between recent African immigrants, and African Americans, some who descended from slaves, some not.

Holbrook’s piece about a bizarre trip to a cemetery demonstrates how socially normal it used to be, to equate black with bad. “It took me 20 years to write that story,” and for the founder of SASE: The Write Place, that says a lot.

Moua chimed in with, “when we came to the US, we thought all Americans were white. I was told, you see a black person coming toward you, cross the street.”

Holbrook: “Africans are told that. The people most surprised are the Africans, hearing stories about slavery.” There are two stereotyped concepts, “you’re either rich like Will Smith or like the guys you see on the news.”  

Another previous reading was at the American Indian Center, and the final will be in February at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in St. Paul. Preparing for the Homewood reading, they wondered aloud about the Japanese and Native American history in North Minneapolis.

Ghost Stories: Five Writers Read Works on Historical Trauma will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, 7 p.m. at Homewood Studios, 2400 Plymouth Ave N., Minneapolis.

The Readers: Carolyn Holbrook, Mai Neng Moua, Margie Newman, Marcie Rendon, Joan Maeda Trygg. Admission: $5 includes a chapbook containing work by the five writers. Light refreshments will be served.

The project was made possible, in part, with the support of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, and with the support of the St. Paul JCC. This project is funded, in part, with “Legacy Amendment” money.

For further info contact: Mai Neng Moua, mainengmoua@comcast.net, 612-226-6046.