Hmong writer tells story of her family

Monday, April 19, 2010

Minnesota-based writer Kao Kalia Yang said her voice was exhausted -- but her heart wasn't -- as she spoke to about 200 people Saturday afternoon at John Muir Middle School in Wausau.

It was Yang's third engagement in Wisconsin this week to speak about her book "The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir," which is about her family's experiences as Hmong refugees living in Minnesota.

The Marathon County Public Library brought Yang to Wausau as a part of its National Library Week celebration. Yang's appearance also coincided with this year's Hmong History Month festivities.

Yang spoke candidly about her childhood, living in refugee camps in Thailand and struggling to fit in to both Hmong and American cultures when her family moved to Minnesota. She also took questions from the audience and spoke about the lessons she tries to impart to students when she speaks at schools across the country.

A teacher in the audience asked Yang whether she should encourage her silent Hmong students to speak in class. For many years as a child, Yang said she did not speak to her family or in school.

Yang recalled one of her teachers who asked her questions without expecting an audible response. Even though Yang never answered out loud, the questions made her think for herself.

Some members of the audience choked back tears as they told Yang how much her book helped them understand the Hmong culture. Yang said she hoped members of the audience would leave with a "little more understanding in their hearts."

Melissa Wilke, 47, of Wausau said the cultural understanding that comes from reading Yang's book is something that is needed in the predominantly Caucausian population of Wausau.

"This was great," Wilke said. "This is something Wausau needs to learn more about."

Wilke said she was assigned to read "The Latehomecomer" for a class she is taking at Northcentral Technical College.

Ong Vang, 30, of Wausau said she plans on reading and reflecting upon the "The Latehomecomer" after hearing Yang speak.

"As a speaker, she is a good role model for Hmong women," Vang said.


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