Hmong History Month looks to past, future

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An actor from the movie "Gran Torino" and an author with a national reputation will help the Wausau area celebrate April as Hmong History Month.

The seventh annual celebration will begin Saturday with a kickoff celebration at Wausau Center mall. This year's theme will be "Our Continuing Journey." Events held throughout April will highlight the past, contemplate the present and look to the future for central Wisconsin's largest minority group.

Taken together, the history month events tell the story of the Hmong journey from war-torn Laos to America, and how that change in geography, lifestyle and society has affected ancient traditions. Scheduled events seek to explain Hmong culture to outsiders, while other events are tailored for the Hmong themselves to discuss how old ways can and should mix with life in modern America.

April's program also will explore Hmong cultural traditions such as shamanism, wedding practices and the history of the Hmong language.

"It's about why we came to America and the steps in our lives," said Long Lor, 27, of Rothschild, a supervisor at Wausau Financial Systems and a member of the Hmong History Month planning committee. "And it's just to remember who we are. We don't want to forget our ancestors."

Themes of Hmong identity, language and culture are underscored by the appearance of Elvis Thao of Milwaukee, an actor who appeared in Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino," which spotlighted the culture clash felt by the Hmong. Thao will speak at a Hmong Community Conference tailored for Hmong parents and youths to be held April 24 at John Muir Middle School.

Kao Kalia Yang of St. Paul, Minn., the award-winning author of "The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir," also will take part in the festivities. She was a keynote speaker at last year's celebration, and her book explores conflicts that arise when trying to preserve traditional ways while building a new life in America. She'll talk about her writing and its impact in "When the Story is Told," a presentation set for April 17.

Hmong History Month allows the Hmong community to re-evaluate its values and share its culture with outsiders, said Peter Yang, the executive director of the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association and another member of the planning committee. Ultimately, the goal is to increase understanding.

"We're a part of the community," Yang said. "And hopefully, what's important to us is important to the larger community, too."


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