POP SOAPBOX: Hmong American Senator Mee Moua Dishes on ‘Gran Torino’

Friday, August 7, 2009

Senator Moua from Minnesota was the first Hmong American elected to public office in the United States. She was recently interviewed through an Asian American empowerment forum VisualizAsian.com with Gil Asakawa and Erin Yoshimura and had a few thoughts on Clint Eastwood’s film “Gran Torino.”

It’s the first Hollywood movie to really feature the Hmong people. Clint Eastwood plays an embittered Vietnam vet Walt Kowalski who is dealing with his own demons and a changing neighborhood. The film’s name comes from a scene where Thao Vang, a young neighbor is forced by Hmong gang members to try and steal Kowalski’s prized 1972 Gran Torino. His relationship to this teen and his Hmong family is at the heart of the film.

“I thought the history lessons and dialogue between a young women and the main character were really great. The exchanges were pretty realistic I thought the directors did a really good job of researching the history and bringing it out in the dialogue,” shared Moua. “I thought the cultural themes in the movie could have done a better job… For example, Hmong Americans don’t bring food to someone’s front porch and leave it there as an offering. We just don’t do that…in fact in our culture you make offerings like that to ancestors at their gravesite. We don’t bring offerings to peoples doorsteps. I thought that was odd.”

As for some criticism that the film casts a negative light on Hmong Americans by showing Hmong on Hmong violence. “Sometimes a lot of these pretty harsh crimes are perpetrated in within your own ethnic community. Recently there have been seven homicides in the city of St. Paul, three of these homicides I believe were the victims were Hmong American. Two of these I believe it was Hmong on Hmong. I had a conversation with the police chief in St. Paul and I believe the other four were black on black. So while my heart is a little bit nervous about that portrayal, that is a reality in some of the communities. Not necessarily just unique to the Hmong community but I think that is the reality that other ethnic communities can really identify with — the community person victimizing their own people.”

Senator Moua even shared that when film producers were scouting out locations that she pitched St. Paul as a location since the original script was set in Minnesota. “One of the suggestions I made to them is if they are going to be showing these things about Hmong on Hmong crime, they ought to shoot here and have one of my lawn signs in the front yard of a Hmong American family and I should have a cameo showing me door knocking at one of the homes so that we can have a competing, alternative image of Hmong Americans. They didn’t really buy that,” laughed Moua.


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