Friday, October 23, 2009

Lao Oral Histories in November!

Dr. Vinya Sysamouth from the Center for Lao Studies is coming to Minnesota in November all the way up from sunny California! I hope he dresses warmly and reads the memo that it occasionally gets cold out here.

The purpose of his trip is to come up and assist us in the collection of oral histories in the Lao community, a project I have long considered to be of deep and significant importance, and one I know many others are interested in. While he's up here, if you or someone you know is interested in sharing your story with him so that he can record it for the benefit of the Lao community, it would be deeply appreciated. You can e-mail him at

In Minnesota, the Hmong Archives, Asian Media Access and for a while the Hmong American Institute for Learning (now HARC) were actively working to document the stories of the elders and other community members. One of the best written oral histories, to me, was Gayle Morrsion's Sky Is Falling, a story of the last days of the city of Long Tieng during the war for Laos in 1975, although most of those perspectives are from only two sides of the conflict. It is still a significant text.

But to me, the model that remains the most impressive was the one developed by the Center for Multicultural Cooperation and their Hmong Voices series, which turned it into an intergenerational project, matching an elder with a youth and an adult. As they trained the youth how to conduct interviews, write well and use digital equipment, they integrated rare footage from the archives in a masterful way to create some amazing mini-documentaries. They're only a few minutes long each, but well worth examining as best practices, not only for the history it documents but the skills it gives tomorrow's young leaders.

One example on their website is Escape from Fear. Escape from Fear chronicles the story of Yee Yia Vang, as presented by his daughter Connie. Vang tells of his dangerous escape from Laos, and Connie learns the importance of her heritage and history. She's very young as she engages with the material, but I think that also adds deeply to the community's process of speaking about our collective history.
You can also find the story of Fresno's first Hmong city council member, Blong Xiong online.

I hope one day we'll see many of these stories emerge from across the community to develop a fuller picture not only of who we have been but where we want our community to go.
Artists like Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan and the fine Refugee Nation project are one additional, key part of this process- how do we bring what we've collected back into the community? Something to think about.

1 comment:

ueyangcmc said...

Thank you so much for mentioning us, Center for Multicultural Cooperation, in this article. I am the Project Coordinator for the Hmong Voices project here in Fresno, CA. If anyone has any questions or want to learn more about the project, please feel free to email me at

Thanks again!! Community collab is awesome!