Writer shares Hmong experience in U.S.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mai Neng Moua remembers little of her early childhood and the traditions of the Hmong (pronounced "mong") from her early years her homeland, Laos.

Moua's experience as an ethnic Hmong -- a people with roots in China who spread to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- is one of a Hmong youth trying to find her place in American culture.

Through her writing and her search for other Hmong writers, she has tried to put that experience down on paper.

"When I started writing, I wanted to read the works of Hmong writers," Moua said. "In college I was a sociology major, so I read a lot of books and articles about the Hmong community, but most of them were written by non-Hmong people. I wanted to hear from the Hmong inside voice, of what's going on. I want to get them to write their own stories from their own perspectives."

Moua will discuss Hmong culture in America, writers and her efforts to record those writings in an upcoming Multicultural Speakers Series lecture at Southeast Missouri State University from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The event will be in the University Center Party Room.

Moua is the editor of the Paj Ntaub Voice, a Hmong literary journal, and an anthology of Hmong literature called "Bamboo Among the Oaks."

Moua also is an author and founder of the not-for-profit Hmong American Institute for Learning.

She was born in Laos in 1974. In 1976 her father was killed in fighting in a regional conflict in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Her family left the country, living in refugee camps in Thailand until moving to the United States in 1981.

Moua now lives in the large Hmong population of St. Paul, Minn., the city where she finished her childhood and learned how to integrate American culture into her own Hmong heritage.

Growing up a Hmong in the United States creates its own conflicts, Moua said.

The Hmong are a very patriarchal culture, but growing up, American children are taught to look at males and females as equal, creating a cultural clash between older Hmong raised in the traditions of home and younger Hmong learning American culture. The clash is one all ethnic groups experience, she said, but one that is fresh among the Hmong because of their short time in the United States.

"A lot of those things have changed now that we're in the U.S.," Moua said. "When I go to school and interact with American kids, I'm getting messages that men and women are equal, I think that's where the tension comes in."

Two cultures pull Hmong children in two directions, and through her work, Moua hopes to record that experience among part of the 200,000 Hmong in the United States, while also preserving part of the group's cultural background.

For more information about the lecture contact Dr. Susan Swartwout at 651-2641 or Dr. Karen Garcia at 651-2618.


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