I often write about immigration issues, with special emphasis on the Latino community, the largest immigrant group. But California’s Central Valley is home to many other immigrant enclaves. One of these is the Hmong, an Asian ethnic minority whose people lived in the southeast Asian countries of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as in China. The Hmong have a fascinating history (migration across continents and ties with the CIA, for example) and a rich cultural heritage. Their ornate clothing and intricate embroidery are on display every year at Fresno’s Hmong New Year festival. When I met with several Hmong community leaders to brainstorm ideas for stories, they pointed out the massive change that was taking place among the women in their community. Most immigrant groups tend to be more conservative when it comes to gender roles than the American mainstream. And they undergo a change when they come to the United States. The Hmong, who lived isolated in mountain villages back in Asia, were clinging to their ways particularly hard here in California. Yet the tidal wave of change was hard to stop. The women I met are some of the most inspiring, passionate and strong individuals I have ever interviewed. I was impressed by what they had achieved and have great respect for their inner struggles. I was also very impressed by the husbands and in-laws who supported them, sometimes in the face of community opposition. In a way, these Hmong women’s stories are the stories of all women across the ages.
Read the story here
This was a difficult story to write, given how little space I have to work with. I wished to write a magazine article and I had to content myself with 1,000 words. In that space, I have to develop a character and supporting characters, fit a dozen quotes or more, develop several ideas… In the end, I felt bereft of detail. Due to length, my story was stripped down to the ideas and descriptions that would convey the basic premise of the tale. It is easy to misrepresent a culture. I fear doing that, which is why story length so frustrates me at times. Still, my hope is that I was able to convey how much these women have accomplished – and not just as Hmong, but as women in general.