Museum showcases community diversity, history

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

GREEN BAY — A new exhibit at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County explores the arrival of the Hmong people in Wisconsin and their history as a culture.

“Who are the Hmong?” will be shown at the museum until May 26. It tells the Hmong story in four parts: ancient culture, as United States allies during the Vietnam War, as refugees after the war and as friends and neighbors in Wisconsin, said Rolf Johnson, director of the museum.

“This is an incredibly important and powerful story, and not one that many people know,” Johnson said. “This is a different exhibit for us, with such a powerful story and the involvement of the actual community makes the exhibit very special.”

Many members of the Hmong Asian-American Community Center in Green Bay helped put the exhibit together, either through donations of time or the artifacts that comprise the exhibit, Johnson said. The museum is making an effort to showcase the community’s diversity better, he said, and the Hmong community and exhibit are part of that.

“We would not have been able to create something this rich without the help of the Hmong community,” Johnson said.

Mary Vong is the president of the Hmong Asian-American Community Center, and she said that the exhibit does a great job of explaining the Hmong people for the general public as well as new generations of Hmong.

“This exhibit lets our community and younger generation really know, ‘Who are the Hmong?’” she said. “It puts my family history and background in place.”

Many of the artifacts are accompanied by photographs of the items being used, which provides great context, Johnson said.

The exhibit cost about $25,000 to put together, he said

Traditional games, cookware, paodo — or story cloths — clothing and other items are on display. One of the most powerful pieces is a prosthetic leg made from the remaining aluminum of a bomb from the Vietnam War era, Johnson said — the bomb responsible for the horrific injury.
It’s a credit to the ingenuity of the Hmong people, he said.

The Hmong population has origins in Laos, Thailand and China, Vong said, but live all over the world now.

“We really applaud what the Hmong have done,” Johnson said. “They’ve assimilated (to the United States) so quickly. It’s an amazing story.”


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