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Hmong People in the States

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THE STATE OF HMONG-AMERICAN STUDIES (A BIBLIOGRAPHIC ESSAY)
By Mark E. Pfeifer, PhD
Director, Hmong Resource Center, Saint Paul
Editor, Hmong Studies Journal
Introduction
In the newly published volume Hmong/Miao in Asia, Chiang Mai:
Silkworm Books, co-editor Nicholas Tapp provides an insightful essay “The
State of Hmong Studies: An Essay on Bibliography” which traces the temporal development of research on the Hmong and assesses some of the key works within the interdisciplinary realm of Hmong Studies. Tapp’s essay is very valuable as an overview of the growth of Hmong Studies research based in Asia.
Unfortunately, the sections of his piece pertaining to Hmong-American Studies, are, as he himself acknowledges, dated as they are heavily focused on publications from the 1980s and early 1990s. It is the purpose of the present short essay to provide the reader with an assessment of recent developments in
Hmong-American Studies and some insights about certain research areas that need further development in the field.
Health and Medicine
Hmong-American Studies research has grown dramatically since the early 1990s. The Hmong Resource Center library in Saint Paul now possesses more than 150 dissertations/theses and 450 journal articles pertaining to HmongAmericans
(as opposed to Hmong in Asia and other countries). The vast majority
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of these works have been published since 1994. There are certain fields within
Hmong-American Studies that have seen very important milestone publications emerge in the past few years. Foremost of these areas is the study of HmongAmerican experiences with Health and Medicine. While there are many individual studies about different health and medicine-related issues experienced by
Hmong-Americans that have appeared in medical journals over the years,
Healing by Heart: Clinical and Ethical Case Stories of Hmong Families and
Western Providers (2003), edited by Kathleen A. Culhane-Pera, et al. was the first publication to provide a compilation with numerous articles by different authors giving a comprehensive overview along with patient case studies of
Hmong physical and mental health. Sections of the work are subdivided into the following parts: Hmong Health-Related Cultural Beliefs, Practices and Values,
Hmong Women’s Health, Hmong Children’s Health, Hmong and Chronic Disease,
Mental Illness and Domestic Violence, and End of Life-Care of Hmong patients.
Also published in 2003, Saint Cloud State Anthropology professor Dia
Cha’s Hmong American Concepts of Health, Healing and Conventional
Medicine provides a comprehensive overview of traditional and changing Hmong concepts of health, medicine and healing practices. Chapters in the work discuss the impact of Christianity and refugee resettlement on Hmong society and health care, the traditional Hmong health system, Hmong-American health care in the state of Colorado, Hmong cultural beliefs related to health, healing and illness and Hmong health-related behavior. The volume also includes a detailed glossary with explanations of important Hmong health, medical and spiritual
2
terms. The Culhane-Pera and Cha volumes have made extensive information about Hmong health beliefs and Hmong-American interactions with the U.S. medical system much more accessible. These are seminal works in HmongAmerican
Studies.
Education
Contrary to the situation with Health and Medicine, the definitive work(s) pertaining to Hmong-American interactions with the primary, secondary or higher educational systems have yet to be written. There are a vast plethora of recent case studies related to educational issues, however, that have been published as journal articles or theses/dissertations. Among the most insightful of these are the works of UW-Madison Professor Stacey J. Lee. Lee’s 2001 article
“Learning ‘America’: Hmong American High School Students.” Education and Urban Society 34(2): 233-246 explores the way Hmong-American students at a public high school in Wisconsin interpret what it means to be Hmong in the
United States. It examines the way a culture of “Whiteness” at the school shapes
Hmong-American students’ experiences and their understandings about being
American. The researcher explores the content of what the school teaches
Hmong students about America and being American; the social constructions non-Hmong students and staff have of Hmong-American students and the ways the Hmong-American students in the Wisconsin school respond to the culture of
“Whiteness”. One specific issue dealt with at considerable length by the author is the school’s practice of referring most Hmong students to ESL programs as soon
3
as they encounter academic difficulties. Lee’s (2001) article “More than ‘model minorities’ or ‘delinquents’: A look at Hmong American high school students.” Harvard Educational Review. 71(3): 505-528 discusses the ways in which economic forces, relationships with the dominant society, perceptions of opportunities, family relationships, culture, and educational experiences affect
Hmong American Students’ attitudes toward school, and the variation that exists among 1.5 generation and second-generation youth. The researcher assesses how forces inside and outside school settings affect Hmong student attitudes toward education. The article concludes with recommendations for how schools might better meet the needs of Hmong-origin students.
An extensive body of work (especially in terms of dissertations and theses) has also emerged pertaining to Hmong-American youth and their responses to the deviant American youth culture. In this subfield, perhaps most notable for their scholarly rigor in the assessment of explanatory variables are
Zha Blong Xiong’s 2000 work Hmong American parent-adolescent problemsolving interactions: An analytic induction analysis, PhD dissertation.
University of Minnesota and Mai Xiong’s 2002 publication A descriptive study of Hmong youth gang members in the California Central Valley. EdD
Dissertation, University of the Pacific.
Gender
The experiences of Hmong-American women have been the focus of many research articles and theses/dissertations. The most definitive work
4
pertaining to Hmong-American Women remains Nancy Donnelly’s 1994 book
Changing lives of refugee Hmong women. Seattle: University of
Washington Press. This work explains through case studies, female gender roles in Hmong society as well as the Hmong marriage and courtship processes.
A more recent study of note is Stacey J. Lee’s 2001 article: “Transforming and exploring the landscape of gender and sexuality: Hmong American teenaged girls.” Race, Gender, and Class. 8(2):35-46. Hmong-American boys and men have not received nearly the same level of research attention as girls and women. For this reason, two articles particularly stand out as they assess
Hmong-American male gender roles and gender-specific experiences in the
United States. These works are Kou Yang’s "Hmong Mens' Adaptation to Life in the United States." Hmong Studies Journal 1(2) and Stacey J. Lee’s
2003 piece “Hmong American Masculinities: Creating New Identities in the
U.S.” In Adolescent Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures in Boyhood. Eds.
Way, N., and J.Y. Chu. New York: New York University Press, 13-31.
Family Life and Relationships
Hmong marriage trends in the United States (in particular related to early marriage) have received quite a bit of attention in graduate dissertations and theses over the past decade. An important research article in this area is Bic
Ngo’s 2002 piece “Contesting ‘Culture’: The Perspectives of Hmong
American Female Students on Early Marriage.” Anthropology and
Education Quarterly 33(2): 163-188. Drawing on the perspectives and

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