Embracing The Love Of Reading And Writing In The Hmong Language

By Fue Yang

When people come together, amazing things happen. This October, a group of educators and parents are bringing together Hmong authors from around the country to spark and cultivate a love of reading and writing amongst Hmong youth in the Twin Cities. This year’s theme is “Embracing the Love of Reading and Writing in the Hmong Language,” a free conference opens to the general public and co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, Minnesota Humanities Center, Hennepin County Library, Osseo Area School ISD 279, and Hmong Educational Resources (HER) Publisher.

There will be door prizes and free books giveaway for participants, including the latest book, Nuj Yob: The Hmong Jungle Book, written by Dr. Kou Yang. This giveaway was made possible by generous donations from Mai Lee Vang, Realtor at Coldwell Banker Burnet.

Hmong authors such as Mai Neng Moua, May Y. Yang, Patrick Txhim Vang, Ge Xiong, Maiv Ntxawm (Ger) Thao, Yakao Yang and student authors, Kaj Tug Emily and Rocky Lauj will be speaking at the conference. Additional guest speakers and authors will be featured through social media. Any published Hmong authors and schools would like to be a part of this educational event are encouraged to contact Ms. Pang Yang at yangp@district279.org or 952-992-0373.


Patrick Txhim Vang is a Hmong language teacher from Sacramento City Unified School District, California. As Mr. Vang described, “Peb yug los ua Hmoob, muaj caj muaj ces, muaj keeb kwm zoo, muaj dab qhuas, muaj ntaub muaj ntawv thiab muaj lus zoo ib yam li lwm haiv neeg thiab. kuv zoo siab uas kuv muaj feem los qhia ntawv Hmoob thiab qhia txhua yam rau peb cov mi n yuam Hmoob kom peb tsis txhob dhau mus poob haiv lawm yav tom ntej. Kuv sau tau ntau phau ntawv thiab twb tau muab tso tawm vim kuv txhawj xeeb tias ua li tag peb lawm, tiam tom ntej lawv yuav zoo li cas? Kuv lub zeem muag yog kom peb tsis txhob poob peb cov lus, vim thaum peb poob peb cov lus lawm, peb yuav poob haiv. Tom qab ntawd, peb lub npe Hmoob yuav ploj zuj zus mus. Ib lub zeem muag ntxiv mus los ntawm kuv txoj kev sau ntawv mas yog txoj kev cia siab tias ntau tus tib neeg tau tag sim neej tiam sis lawv nyob hauv tib neeg lub siab mus ib txhis. Kuv xav kom kuv dhau mus yog ib tug tib neeg ntawv uas nyob rau hauv peb haiv Hmoob tsis ploj los ntawm kuv tej ntaub tej ntawv sau tseg rau peb Hmoob. Xaus no, thov qhia rau sawv paub tias nram no yog cov phau ntawv neej neeg Hmoob sib hlub uas kuv tau sau tawm lawm: Ntuj Cais Teb HLub, Ib Tug Neeg Ob Lub Ntuj, Lub Kooj Toog Npab, Ib Sim Neej Xwb, Neeg Lub Neej, Daim Paj Ntaub, Nraug Vauv, Koj Ib Leeg Xwb, Ib ntsais Muag, Yog Sij Hawm, thiab phau kawm ntawv Hmoob, Discovering the Hmong Language. Cov ntawv no twb raug yuav mus qhia rau ntau koog tsev kawm ntawv thoob Meskas, qhov ntau yog cov tsev kawm ntawv middle school thiab high school uas muaj qhia ntawv Hmoob. Kawg no, ua tsaug uas peb Hmoob rov tig los hlub peb, los tuav peb cov lus, peb cov keeb kwm thiab lwm yam, vim yog peb tsis hlub peb ces tsis muaj leej twg hlub peb lawm. Cia siab tias peb yuav tsis dhau mus zoo li tej dab tu caj tu ces, tiam sis yuav dhau mus ua ib haiv neeg muaj suab muaj npe li lwm haiv neeg thiab. Patrick Txhim Vang Hmong Language Teacher.”

Maiv Ntxawm (Ger) Thao is a former elementary school teacher and a current PhD candidate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction Specialization at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As Ms. Thao described, “I have been teaching for eight years as an elementary school teacher and as an ELA Intervention Specialist/ELD Coordinator. My research and passion focus on children’s literature and curriculum by underrepresented and marginalized groups, particularly literature by Hmong authors and the teaching of Hmong language and culture and social justice in education. I have also coordinated the Hmong Language & Culture Enrichment summer program in Madison, WI for the past three summers.

As educators, we have the power to transform lives with the stories we tell. Stories give us the power to relate to our students. Growing up, I was never able to connect to any characters in children’s books. I felt like I did not have a voice because I was always the quiet Asian girl in the back of the room. As an educator, I see the lack and importance of Hmong children’s literature.

The vision of The Hmong Journey: Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug is to share and keep alive the rich culture, traditions, and history of the Hmong people. As I continue to share my story, I realize that I can empower my students to see themselves in stories and books and be proud of their identity. I hope that my story will pave that path for my students, siblings, nieces/nephews, and future children to know that they, too, have a voice and that one day… they will share their stories with the world.

We tell stories to know we’re not alone. We share stories to connect to others. It also gives us a sense of identity and belonging. May we continue to tell our stories…it is our obligation to share our stories, peb cov dab neeg! Ua tsaug!”

Dr. Kou Yang is a Fulbright Scholar and Sasakawa Fellow, and a Professor Emeritus of California State University, Stanislaus. Dr. Yang is also the recipient of the Hmong Studies’ Eagle Award, conferred by the Center for Hmong Studies, for using his research to advance the field and Hmong community.

As a Hmong scholar and researcher, he is a role model and an inspiration for younger Hmong Studies scholars and students. He is listed by Legacy of War as an expert of Laos and the Unexploded Ordnances from the Secret War era. With an extensive publication record on Hmong Diaspora, history and culture, the Hmong American experience, Lao culture, and the American experiences of Indochinese refugees, he is the author of more than 5 books, co-editor of one book, and chapter contributor of 9 books, as well as author of more than 20 peer-reviewed journal essays, and 15 newspaper op/ed and articles. In the 1980s, he has self-published many folk stories, children book and poetry in Hmong. For research and leisure, he has travelled widely, with visit to Australia, Canada, China (including Tibet and Inner Mongolia), Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, France, India, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea, Hungary, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Peru, Slovenia, Singapore, Switzerland, Vatican, and Vietnam.

Kaj Tug Emily Lee is a Junior at Park Center High School and author of The Cultural Dish, Dear My Teacher, and Hmong Youth Poetry Collection: From Mountains to 10,000 Lakes. As Lee describes, “Ever since I can remember, I have always loved writing, it was like second nature to me. In my eyes, writing stories was the gateway that saved me from all my worries and insecurities. Although writing has helped me address and sort out many of my problems, but there was always one subject I had always avoided writing about, my Hmong heritage. Despite whatever problems I have dealt with or whatever pressures I had, I have always avoided addressing any problems surrounding my Hmong identity. For me, writing about my Hmong heritage just wasn’t important enough. My Hmong culture has always been like a ghost, a ghost that would haunt me wherever I go. When I was younger, even now, every family gathering I had always gotten a lecture on how I couldn’t read, speak, and write in Hmong, saying I was a failure. At first, I tried, I tried speaking and learning, but all I would get is lectures and more of my confidence destroyed every time. After a while, I stopped trying and just gained resentment for the Hmong culture, people, and myself, after all I am Hmong. Now, with all of this in mind being a published teen author means the world to me. When I am writing I can truly say that is the most real, genuine, and best version of myself. Writing is one of the most important things in my life, and to finally feel able to share it with something I resented for so long and finally found a place for, my Hmong, only meant so much more to me as a writer. As a writer being able to write about something you, the author, cares about so much, whether painful, joyful, or just outright madness is already amazing. However, when the reader can understand your perspective and enjoy your writing just as much as you do that is incredible, and that’s what publishing tells you. It tells you that someone besides yourself cares, connects, and enjoys your writing just as much as you do, in which I can only feel elated and honored being a published author.”

Rocky Lauj is a Junior at Park Center High School author of Dear My Teacher. As Lauj describes, “Ib txwm loj hlob, kuv yeej xav tsis txog tias kuv yuav los ua ib book publisher los si ib tug author. Qhov kuv zoo siab yog, muaj peb hmoob los ua publishers xws li kuv tus kheej, es peb thiaj li los qhia txog peb hmoob tej keeb kwm los rau luag lwm haiv neeg thiab qhia txog ntawm peb tus kheej txog peb lub neej rau lub ntiaj teb. Lub no kuv yuav los qhia txog ntawm kuv tus kheej yog vim li cas kuv thiaj li los ua ib tug publisher nyob rau hauv peb lub hmoob community. Thaum kuv tus xib fwb Ms.Yang xav kom peb sau txog peb tus kheej kuv sau txog ntawm kuv tsev neeg ua peb lub neej mus xws li cas thiab nyob li cas. Ces muaj ib hnub kuv tus xib fwb xav muab kuv zaj neej neeg los tso rau hauv ib phau ntawv, ces kuv yeej kam vim kuv xav kom ti neeg paub tias koj tsis yog ib tug ua tau pom tej ua koj tsis xav pom,yeej muaj ntau tus ua los ntsib thiab pom rau ntawm koj tej xwm txheej. Tiam si tej xwm txheej no yeej muaj, kuv tus kheej los twb ntsib los lawm, xws li kev si cav, si nrauj, txoj kev tus siab thiab ntau yam ntxiv. Peb muaj peb phau ntawv ua peb muab cov los publish, kom peb niam peb txiv, kuv tij tau los nyeem. Kuv zaj neej neeg nyob rau hauv phau ntawv ob npe hu ua Dear My Teacher nrog rau ntau tus tub ntxhias hluas ua nyob rau hauv peb lub tsev kawm ntawv. Thaum kuv zaj neej neeg los nyob rau hauv phau ob, kuv yog ib tug ua tau mus tham txog kuv lub neej los si lwm tus lub neej. Phau ob yog peb cov me nyuam tub ntxhais kawm ntawv lawv zaj neej neeg xwb. Tiam si yog anonymous xwb, ntxhai taus hais tias peb tsis paub leej twg zaj neej neeg nyob tau hauv phau ntawv tiam si koj tus kheej xwb. Thaum pib kuv yeej tsis xav txog tias kuv yuav los us ib twg author nrog kuv cov phooj ywg, es peb thiaj li tau publish peb lub neej kom cov niam, txiv, kuv tij tau nyeem. Yog koj xav los ua ib tug author, koj yuav tsum ua siab ntev thiab sau ntawv kom zoo, tsis tag li ntawv yog koj xav los ua ib twg author koj yuav tsum muaj kev pab koj, koj thiaj li publish tau koj phau ntawv. Tsis tag li ntawv yog koj nyiam sua ntawm, nyeem ntawv kuv ntseeg tau tias koj yeej yuav los ua ib tug author thiab koj thiaj li publish tau koj cov dab neeg los neej neeg tau lub ntiaj teb. Kuv zoo siab hias tias kuv tus xib fwb Ms.Yang tau muab ib lub sij hawm los tau peb. Thiab kuv thov hai ua tsaug rau lawv ua lawv tsem muab lawv lub dag lub zog los pab rau qhov no thiab, es peb thiaj li publish tau peb cov neej neeg nov, thiab peb cov pomes ua yog phau peb. Tsis txhob nyoo swb. Ua Tsaug.”

Ge Xiong is an author, whose first book, A World Without Boundaries, is an award winner that describes his experience navigating language and multiple identities. As Xiong describes, “As a people who have existed with a unique language and culture for as long as humans have on the face of the earth, ‘Hmoob or Moob,’ as written phonetically in the writing system created by Christian missionary in the 1950’ using the Roman Alphabet system, is the identity given to us by our ancestors. However, we have been known by other more dominant ethnic groups in Asia as Miao and Meo which we recently rejected and corrected. As a result, Hmong or Mong has become the new identity and has become more widely known after we had been involved in the horrific war known as the Vietnam War in which those who were on the side of the United States alone had sacrificed over 30,000 lives and had become widely in diaspora where we will be further divided linguistically. The new identity, as pronounced and written dialectally, has created confusion and division. As an author, a former teacher, and community educator, I am among the lucky members of the new Hmong generation who have emerged from the darkness of illiteracy. I enjoy reading books and the creative and thoughtful words of writers. I also love writing and had longed for telling a story about an era during which a people endure a life displaced by atrocities, migration, war, unsustainable way of life, and human inter-connections. My first book, A World Without Boundaries, is an award winner that describes my personal experience in those contexts. In my brutal days as executive director of a community organization, Hmong Educational Advancements, my mind was drenched in the responsibilities of constant program development and grant writing. Now that I am retired, I enjoyed the leisure of writing. I have several books, including a new memoir, a story on cultural issues and healthcare, and a series of two fiction novels, in the work. This will lead me to telling my hopelessness as a Hmong writer. As a people badly damaged by conflicts and destructions throughout history, the focus of our lives, priorities, and values had been shaped to reflect our circumstantial challenges. Though our language has amazingly survived destructions and forced integrations, the value of institutional education and literacy development had been lost. Communication has only been practiced through an oral culture. Stories were never in written forms. When education was introduced and forced upon us in the colonial era, its purpose was misunderstood. It remains largely misunderstood until today. Today, entertainment replaces reading; writing contests are unheard of; Hmong children are never read to at bedtime, nor are they listened to when they read; and books are not precious gifts and stocked for resources and beauty. Local libraries only stock culturally relevant books when there are demands. For these reasons, Hmong writers cease their writing after first or second book. We need to instill the belief that: books and reading are powerful, ageless, and timeless.”