This book,a mostly-oral history of Hmong refugees from the country of Laos, is a must-read for anyone interested the immigrant experience, or in the implications of U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia.
Lillian Faderman, award-winning author of books on lesbian history and multiethnic studies, collaborates with a Hmong assistant, Ghia Xiong, to collect refugee stories of passage into American life. The book, divided between tales of survival and escape from the old world, and disorientation and upset in the new, is in turns harrowing and inspiring. Elder immigrants speak of the erosion of their traditions in the face of American culture, while the young talk of being pulled between love for their parents and a need to assimilate for their own survival. Here and there Faderman effectively draws parallels between the Hmong experience and the history of her own mother, a Jew who emigrated from Eastern Europe to America in the 1930s, and encourages readers to consider the story of their own ancestors' arrival into this country.
Several photos in the book express the spirit of Hmong people and offer visual evidence of the conflicts they face. But it is Ghia Xiong, himself a Hmong refugee, who most eloquently speaks for the immigrant experience in his own brief afterword. Of the book's subjects, he says, "I felt that they also were lost in this enormous American jungle. As wise and determined as many of them were, they could not see their way to the light." Perhaps this book will inspire readers to help illuminate the path. --Maria Dolan