"Southeast Asian" is just as much an umbrella term as "Asian American." This was made especially clear to us when we attended an Open House event at the Lao Iu Mien Culture Association in Oakland, CA a few years ago.
Very much like how it seems strange to say that Chinese and Korean culture are the same, to say that Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, Mien, Thai, Indonesian, Cambodian, Malaysian, etc., culture is all the same falls into that same category of strange (and extremely misguided). At the Mien Center, we realized just how different Vietnamese and Mien culture was, from the food we ate, the languages we spoke, the cultural pastimes we engaged in, the religions and gods we invoked, the clothes we wore, the customs we abided by. It was so incredible to be surrounded by such loving and gracious human beings (we were even mistaken as Mien a few times!), but being there was a stark reminder of how even our shared Southeast Asian identity was not necessarily a universal experience.
One of the biggest things we share however, is the lack of coverage of our stories, our histories, our voices. So when we came across Hmongstory 40, we knew we had to feature it as a Community Spotlight. Hmongstory 40 is an exhibit that is will be open in Fresno (December 2015), Sacramento (Spring 2016), and Merced (Summer 2016), and it will be showcasing Hmong history in the wider context of the diaspora, particularly in California.
From the About Us section of their website:
The year 2015 will mark 40 years of the Hmong migration from Laos and Thailand to the United States of America. To commemorate this special anniversary, an exhibition comprising of photographs, stories, fine art, and artifacts will be organized to showcase the Hmong experience.
Hmongstory 40 is a joint effort from many people from throughout the state of California. It represents a collaborative that shares a common vision. This exhibition will provide a rare and intimate opportunity to connect with the Hmong people. From the past to the present, Hmongstory 40 will construct a different narrative that is still absent within the Hmong community and the general public at large.
Traditionally, the Hmong are widely know for their customs, traditions, and tapestry arts. There are numerous books, articles, and stories that have been written about the Hmong people. However, there has never been a complete exhibition organized to illustrate a richer perspective of looking into the Hmong experience. With this exhibition, we hope to achieve these objectives:
- To celebrate and highlight 40 years of accomplishments by Hmong in California and abroad.
- To recognize and pay tribute to our leaders, parents, and community members.
- To bridge and connect a new generation of Hmong Americans to the trauma and experiences of refugee settlement endured by their families.
- To educate the general public about the Hmong and the events that led to the changes in their history.
- To encourage the importance of cultural and historical documentation and preservation of the Hmong experience for future generations.
We think it is so incredible that the community was able to come together and turn their dream of sharing their story into a reality.