FRESNO, Calif. (Dec. 9, 2015) — The Hmongstory 40 project — a new multimedia exhibit depicting the culture and history of Hmong communities in California — will be unveiled with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Fresno Fairgrounds Agricultural Building, 1121 S. Chance Ave.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro, an ardent supporter of the project, will speak at the opening and announce a proposed new option to minor in Hmong studies. If approved, Fresno State would be the only university in the western United States to offer the option, and the fifth university in the nation.
The free, public exhibit will be open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec.12-Jan. 2, including the Hmong New Year celebration Dec. 26-Jan. 1 at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
Hmongstory 40 is a statewide, grassroots preservation project by Hmong communities in Fresno, Merced and Sacramento. It was founded by Lar Yang, a local Hmong business owner and Fresno State alumnus with a degree in graphic design.
The exhibit shares the history of Hmong refugees from Laos and Thailand who migrated to California—particularly the Central Valley — in 1975 after the Vietnam War. The exhibit was created for three specific reasons, said Yang, who served on the planning and management committee.
“Hmongstory 40 will celebrate the Hmong accomplishments and influential members, educate the public about Hmong historical events and encourage younger and future generations of people to carry on preservation of experiences and traditions,” Yang said.
The 12,000-square-foot exhibit will be laid out in four stages: life in Laos, Laos and the “Secret War,” Thailand refugee camps and California. It will consist of stories submitted by high school and college students and elders tracing their family history, never-before-seen photographs from private collections and interactive stations.
Yang and a team of community members and students campaigned to raise $250,000 for the construction and operation of the exhibit. Fresno State provided $35,000 to the campaign.
The project is co-sponsored by the United Way Fresno and Madera Counties, The California Endowment, City of Fresno, The Big Fresno Fair, Fresno Regional Foundation, Fresno Unified School District, Sierra Health Foundation and University of California, Merced. Fresno State is the presenting sponsor.
The exhibit will also travel to UC Merced in spring 2016 and to Sacramento in fall 2016.
At the ribbon cutting, Castro will join Yang and other members of the Hmongstory 40 team as well as community leaders. Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval, dean-designate of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State, and Paula Castadio, vice president of University Advancement, will also attend. Phong Yang, director of Fresno State’s Office of Undergraduate Student Recruitment, also serves on the committee and is one of several Fresno State alumni spearheading the drive.
“I am very impressed by the bold vision of Hmongstory 40 and the efforts these leaders have made to share this powerful story with our community,” Castro said. “Fresno State is deeply honored to serve as a cornerstone sponsor of this important project.”
Long-range support from the University could include a digital archive through the College of Arts and Humanities, said Jiménez-Sandoval, who last month was named dean of the college effective Jan. 1.
He also said the proposed Hmong minor program in the Linguistics Department is in its final stage of the approval process with plans to launch it in the fall 2016 semester. Many California colleges have Asian or Southeast Asian studies degree programs but this would be the first for Hmong studies specifically, Jiménez-Sandoval said.(Full press release to come).