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We Are Hmong Minnesota: EXHIBIT EXPERIENCE
“We Are Hmong Minnesota,” March 7-Jan. 3, 2016, at the Minnesota History Center.
The “We Are Hmong Minnesota” exhibit is divided into three sections: life in Laos, an art installation that evokes transition and life in Minnesota.
Life in Laos
Visitors begin by exploring what life was like in Laos and how life changed during the Secret War. A timeline documents change through historic photos and graphics while artifacts evoke everyday experiences. A multimedia piece takes visitors on a journey from ancient times through war and displacement to present-day Minnesota.
“Let Our Spirit Fly” art installation by Sieng Lee
In Hmong tradition, “spirit paper” represents gold and silver. At funeral ceremonies, the paper is folded into boats and then burned, providing protection, abundance, health and healing for the ancestors. In this art installation, thousands of brightly colored spirit papers are used to mark what the artist calls “a remembrance of the countless lives, memories, and heartaches that have paved the way for Hmong Americans today who are still living in transition, looking to redefine a future."
Life in Minnesota
The first Hmong who came to Minnesota were refugees, fleeing violence and political oppression. They came to America without a homeland, in search of a new life. In this area visitors can explore Hmong progress to citizenship, the first social service agencies, treasures brought to Minnesota, the 18 clans, family celebrations, language, religion and spirituality, culture, clothing, Hmong successes, food and farming. An interactive Hmong marketplace is open for visitors to learn about traditional Hmong foods. A wall of art displays work by six contemporary Hmong artists, including paintings by Cy Thao on loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and photography by Pao Houa Her, who says Hmong art is profoundly personal because it is about “asking questions and then also healing, too--to heal something that nobody else can help you heal.”
Throughout the exhibit, visitors will encounter historic and contemporary photographs, oral history audio clips, and artifacts and objects on loan, including:
- Items that reflect life in Laos: everyday clothing, jewelry, baskets used for rice farming, hunting tools including bows and arrows, children’s games made out of bamboo, musical instruments, and opium weights and scales.
- Items used during the Secret War: military uniforms, medals from Hmong politician and war heroes Touby Lyfoung and Col. Ly Teng, a rifle given as a gift from General Vang Pao to President Lyndon B. Johnson, fragments of unexploded ordnance excavated along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and a model of the Long Tieng Airbase.
- Spiritual and religious items: Shaman ritual objects like cymbals, knives, drums and a musical instrument called a qeej, a woman’s ceremonial outfit with a headdress and necklace, and religious items belonging to Rev. Jonah (Nhia Xou) Yang, the first Hmong ordained United Methodist Church minister.
- Minnesota keepsakes and other items: news clips of early Hmong arrivals, a baby carrier from Billy Her, the first Hmong baby born in Minnesota, a Choua Lee campaign sign, and a typewriter modified by Chia Koua Vang so he could write in Hmong language.
- Outfits worn by Minnesota Hmong: a dress made by Ashaley Yang for the Fresh Traditions fashion show, a hunter’s camouflage suit, a girl’s flag football uniform and a Minnesota National Guard uniform worn by Gaushia Yang.