Dr. Mark Edward Pfeifer, Dr. Monica Chiu, and Dr. Kou Yang, three editors who compiled an academic anthology of Hmong Americans.
AAP staff report
An academic anthology explores the Hmong American journey and contributions to Asian American studies, as well as to American history and culture and refugee, immigrant, and diasporic trajectories.
“Diversity in Diaspora: Hmong Americans in the Twenty First Century (University of Hawai‘i Press) moves Hmong American studies away from the typical refugee recapitulation related to origin and acculturation through several academic chapters in all fields study.
The book’s chief editor is Dr. Mark Edward Pfeifer, who is editor of the Hmong Studies Journal in St. Paul, and a lecturer in anthropology at the State University of New York Institute of Technology. The two co-editors are Dr. Monica Chiu, an associate professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, and Dr. Kou Yang, a professor of Asian American studies and ethnic and gender studies at California State University, Stanislaus.
“The University of Hawai‘i Press has a very strong academic reputation in Asian American Studies and Asian Studies, which is why I approached them to work on the project,” said Pfeifer. “I am particularly pleased that the cover of the book is a picture of a dance performance at the Hmong Cultural Center in Saint Paul.
Pfeifer has assisted the Hmong Cultural Center as a librarian and consultant for most of the past 13 years. He said the cover and recognition given to Hmong Cultural Center brings both his academic and community work together in a way that means a lot.
“Having served as editor of the Hmong Studies Journal since 2003 and as a bibliographer of Hmong Studies for several years I knew that there had not been a comprehensive scholarly anthology of this scope and coverage of topics related to Hmong American Studies published since the mid-1980s,” he said. “Dr. Nicholas Tapp and Dr. Gary Yia Lee along with several colleagues had published together a seminal anthology of Hmong in Asia Studies in 2004 and it was my goal to do something similar for Hmong American Studies with this project. I hope that this book will be used in Hmong Studies and Asian American Studies classes around the United States. I myself plan to use it as a textbook in the Cultural Diversity Anthropology course I teach as a Lecturer for the State University of New York Institute of Technology.”
Diversity in Diaspora showcases the desire to shape new contours of Hmong American studies as Hmong American scholars themselves address new issues. It represents an essential step in carving out space for Hmong Americans as primary actors in their own right and in placing Hmong American studies within the purview of Asian American studies.
Following a summary of more than three decades’ of Hmong American experience and a demographic overview, chapters investigate the causes of and solutions to socioeconomic immobility in the Hmong American community and political and civic activism, including Hmong American electoral participation and its affects on policymaking.
Kou Yang, Ed.D., is a Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. He said that from my perspective as a co-editor and contributor, this book is unique in many ways.
Starting with the introductory chapter that links Hmong American studies to Asian American studies and Ethnic Studies, Yang said that it might be the first to do so, and as such makes the book a reference tool for Ethnic Studies courses.
Secondly, he said the book includes many diverse topics, ranging from Hmong American history to Hmong American demography, socio-economic status, political engagement, education, women, aging, and others.
“Over all, it covers many important topics that need to address in contemporary Hmong studies or Asian American Studies,” Yang said.
Lastly, contributors are from diverse academic background, bringing their diverse expertise and research findings to the book, he said.
“As such, the book is very appropriate to be used a reference to Gender Studies, Gerontology, Social Work,” Yang said. “It can also be helpful to service providers and policy makers.”
The Introduction from Monica Chiu addresses the Hmong American phenomena as “simultaneously hypervisible and out of sight.” The first generation refugees were unfamiliar with modern American life as assimilated second and third generations spend considerable time explaining themselves to the mainstream that is both unaware of their experience and attempts to lump them with the much broader Asian American history.
The Hmong inclusion into national American identity starts with a long and largely unwritten migration from China throughout Laos and Southeast Asia. Their costly contributions to a secret CIA war also went unheralded in the years of secrecy, even as hundreds of thousands of them moved to the United States as refugees.
Chiu says that in poststructuralist Asian American Studies, the Hmong are an example of the need to rethink accepted definitions of ethnicity, nationality, and the duality between “American” and “Asian.”
“The influence of Hmong culture on young men is examined, followed by profiles of female Hmong leaders who discuss the challenges they face and interviews with aging Hmong Americans,” she said. “A section on arts and literature looks at the continuing relevance of oral tradition to Hmong Americans’ successful navigation in the diaspora, similarities between rap and kwv txhiaj (unrehearsed, sung poetry), and Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir, The Latehomecomer. The final chapter addresses the lay of the land in Hmong American studies, constituting a comprehensive literature review.”
The three editors, Pfeifer, Chiu and Yang, wanted to move Hmong American studies into a prominent place in the American social, political, and literary imaginary, and among the national panels and discussions within the broader fields of American and Asian American studies. The book begins by inquiring why so many Americans, our students included, are unfamiliar with the term “Hmong American.”
That said, the book attempts to turn away from offering another set of definitions and explanations of terms such as “Hmong,” its pronunciation, the country of Laos, Hmong participation in the “American War” (which is what Southeast Asians call the Viet Nam War).
“Because the nation has been rehearsing this information for more than 30 years since the arrival of the first Hmong refugees, I argue that Hmong Americans have been held hostage to this refugee representation; they are “incontrovertibly progressive against some of the [continued, insidious] regressive images” featured in popular media, like Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino, as I state in the introduction,” she said. “On what other arenas can we focus to reposition Hmong Americans in the cultural imaginary as active citizens to whom we must pay careful attention for their political engagement and voting power; their contributions to how the nation grapples with work, gender, and aging; their contributions to music and literature; their demographics which are changing the face and operations of specific cities in the Midwest and Pacific coast areas. See the questions I pose that could assist in legitimizing Hmong Americans and Hmong American studies as agents in their own right.”
Part I of the book is Hmong Social and Political Adaptation in the United States
• The American Experience of the Hmong: A Historical Review — Kou Yang
• Hmong Americans: A Demographic Portrait — Mark Edward Pfeifer
• An Analysis of Poverty in Hmong American Communities — Yang Sao Xiong
• Civic Values and Political Engagement in Two Hmong American Communities — Carolyn Wong
• Electoral Participation in the Hmong American Community: An Initial Analysis — Steven Doherty
Steven Doherty, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at Dickinson State University in North Dakota. He said the publication of this high quality volume greatly contributes to scholarship on the Hmong American experience — a crucial topic in a nation that is becoming more ethnically diverse.
“The last elections showed an even stronger connection between ethnicity and voting in both state and federal elections and more examination of Hmong American electoral behavior will contribute to our understanding of this segment of the American electorate,” Doherty said. “While there exist a limited amount of published data on this topic, I hope my contribution gave some discussion of how to frame the issue for future research.”
The Hmong American social and political experience in the United Stats is unique, Doherty added. He said that refugee communities in general tend to exhibit considerable “lag time” before they organize politically and start fielding and supporting candidates for elected office.
“The Hmong appear to have integrated politically remarkably quick,” Doherty said.
Part II of the book is Intersections of Hmong Identity with Gender and Age
• Great Expectations: The Struggles of Hmong American High School Boys — Bic Ngo and Pa Nhia Lor
• Women in the Hmong Diaspora — Dia Cha
• Hmong Americans: The Conceptualization and Experience of Aging in the United States — Linda A. Gerdner
Part III of the book is Hmong Arts and Literature
• The Double Diaspora: China and Laos in the Folklore of Hmong American Refugees — Jeremy Hein
• “Reharmonizing” the Generations: Rap, Poetry, and Hmong Oral Tradition — Nicholas Poss
• Haunting and Inhabitation in Yang’s Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir — Monica Chiu
• Hmong American Studies: A Bibliographic Essay — Mark Edward Pfeifer
“This book is intended as a comprehensive scholarly anthology on important issues and trends impacting Hmong Americans,” Pfeifer said. “More specifically, individual chapters of the book provides information on Hmong American History, the Hmong American Studies research literature, U.S. Hmong demographics, socioeconomic adaptation and experiences with poverty, political involvement and electoral participation, the gendered experiences of Hmong males and females, conceptualization and experiences of aging among Hmong in the U.S., and Hmong American literature, folklore, and contemporary arts.
“Several very distinguished scholars of Hmong American Studies working in multiple disciplines contributed articles including Dr. Dia Cha, Dr. Kou Yang, Yang Sao Xiong, Dr. Jeremy Hein, Dr. Nicholas Poss, Dr. Bic Ngo, Dr. Linda Gerdner and Dr. Carolyn Wong,” he added. “I believe that in terms of the range of topics covered related to Hmong American Studies, this anthology is the most comprehensive and authoritative that has been published since Bruce Downing and a research team at the University of Minnesota edited The Hmong in Transition anthology in 1986.
“I believe this is also the first scholarly book to make broader connections between Hmong American Studies and Asian American Studies,” Pfeifer said. “The University of Hawaii Press has a strong focus on Asian American and Asian Studies. I believe in this respect the book also makes an important contribution to the broader scholarly literature.”