September 27, 2023

Dr. Nicholas Tapp, center, visits the Hmong Archives in St. Paul, last Friday, and talks with director Marlin Heise, left, and librarian Ray Murray. Tapp, a British Professor now based with School of Cul- ture, History & Language at Australian National University, and currently working in with ethnic Hmong out of Shanghai, China, was in town to recieve the 2010 Eagle Award from the Center for Hmong Studies the conference banquet April 10. He has lived and worked with Hmong populations all over Southeast Asia and China for around 40 years, and authored several books.

The Center for Hmong Studies held its third International Conference on Hmong Studies last weekend at Concordia University in St. Paul. The event drew hundreds of students and scholars from around the country and the world.

“It was wonderful to see so many young people as well as young scholars attending the conference,” said Lee Pao Xiong, director, Center for Hmong Studies. “Our goal was to provide an opportunity for scholars to share their research findings with the community and other academics. I think we have accomplished that.”

Xiong said that the conference received more than 60 abstracts from around the world – 30 more than previous conferences. The 30 selected for presentations were chosen in part for an ability to inspire students to go into the field of Hmong Studies.

“In looking at the number of young people in attendance, I think we have also achieved that,” he added.

Living legends of Hmong history and Hmong studies were in town for the conference, including Dr. Yang Dao, and General Vang Pao, who was also in town to work on a Special Guerilla Unit veterans benefits bill, together with Col. Bill Lair, who was the conference keynote speaker.

A WWII veteran, and a young college graduate from Oklahoma, in 1960, Lair joined the newly formed CIA and was sent to Thailand to recruit the little known mountain people of Laos to fight in a secret war against the communist North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao armies.

Lair, who had been reported to be in ill health, dismissed the rumors at a meeting, and said he would be willing to go to Washington if necessary to help pass legislation that would bring Hmong SGU veterans benefits and recognition.

“He did a wonderful job of articulating the journey of the Hmong and how the United States and the Hmong found each other,” said Xiong. “He is now old and it was good to hear historical accounts in person. It was also inspiration to hear from him his perspective on the progress of the Hmong people within the last thirty-five years.”

The Eagle Award is presented at each conference to outstanding scholars in Hmong studies. The two previous Eagle Award recipients were Dr. Jacques Lemoine, and Dr. Gary Yia Lee.

The 2010 award was presented to was presented to Nicholas Tapp, Ph.D., who has lived and worked with Hmong populations all over Southeast Asia and China for around 40 years. He has authored several books, and is currently based in Shanghai where he continues work with the ethnic Hmong in China – based out of Australian National University as a Professor of the School of Culture, History & Language,

Lee Pao Xiong described Dr. Tapp as a very patient and humble scholar.

“It was a great honor to have Dr. Nicholas Tapp here,” said Xiong. “We want to recognize his work in the field of Hmong Studies. “It was great to hear him to say that his career is a ‘direct result of the Hmong people. They helped him’. We are proud of his work.”

Yang Yonghua, president of his Hmong Cultural Association of Xing Wen County, Sichuan Province, China, is not a scholar but impressed the conference goers with his presentation on “The Hmong of Sichuan: Assimilation and Cultural Preservation.”

Yang said that by meeting attending this conference and talking with the international Hmong community, it is his hope to learn about how these communities maintain a culture as they move forward.

In the U.S., he said the Hmong have excelled in education, economically and politically, but was more relieved and proud to see them so successful. He is working to prevent the cultural loss as isolated Hmong communities of rural China join the mass migration to the cities for better opportunities.

Pa Der Vang, Ph.D., LICSW, an assistant professor at School of Social Work, California State University, San Bernardino, spoke about her study on the effects of teenage marriage along several variables among Hmong women in the United States. The results indicated poor outcomes for teenage brides.

The Twin Cities native said the conference reminded her of what it means to be Hmong – and appreciated the joint effort of Lee Pao Xiong and his immediate family along with numerous volunteers with putting together the event.

“What a great display of the power that lies within a collective community,” said Vang. “The topics presented at the conference made important contributions to the discourse in Hmong identity and our movement through history as a people. I was awed by the presence of accomplished scholars who pave the way for future scholars such as myself.”

The conference was also a chance to see that more Hmong scholars are now doing research on the Hmong people.

“We are finding our place in research, academia, and connecting research to the community,” she added. “I hope this will continue to build momentum because it creates a space and a home for Hmong scholars and research in our own community.”

Dr. Grit Grigoleit of the University of Passau and Hamburg, Germany, was present for her third conference to talk about the work that produced her doctoral degree in 2009, “Hmong Identity Construction in the U.S.” Her work to her around the Midwest and she conducted research in the Twin Cities.

Tomoko Torimaru, PhD, an independent scholar of History and Technology in Textiles, came from Fukuoka District in Japan to present a new discovery about “Chain Stitch” on my field research of the Hmong embroidery technique.

She described two different kind of “Chain Stitch” are used among the Hmong people in Guizhou, China. One is just a standard “Chain Stitch” like western style. She named the other one “Ancient Chain Stitch.”

Another new element of the conference was the Hmong International Film Festival. The newly formed Hmong International Filmmakers Organization brought several previews, shorts and feature films of Hmong American and films about the Hmong in China.

Dr. Jerry Yang, the psychiatrist who turned a temporary layoff from work into a multimillion dollar victory in the 2007 World Series of Poker Championships, attended the event in support of HIFO and Hmong films.

The entertainment at the banquet brought big cheers with Ciaj Sia Lee, and to Tou Ger Xiong for bridging an international community of Hmong with humor and shared suffering and identity.

Oskar Ly brought her models to display the latest in her fashion art. She said that as a Hmong Artist, she strives to push the limits and expose the Hmong senses while exploring diversity in mind, spirit, soul, “the physical and emotional facets of human beings.”

“I was very intentional in working with diverse talents in skills, identity, background and physical features who support the Hmong community,” said Ly. “I was honored to be able to present my work at such a notable event.”

Ly said that even though the Hmong have come a long way, she could only hope that the community continues a dialogue of Hmong existence and experience beyond these places and spaces.

“I also hope scholars, organizers, and community members continue to embrace the diversity in our community’s creativity and abilities beyond the opportunity I received,” she added.