Monday, July 18, 2011

The late homecomer - a hmong family memoir

I've been reading the novel "The Late Homecomer" and every page is like reading about the life of a woman and her community that I've seen and heard everyday growing up around me, but never felt in my heart I understood and always wanted to....

Kao Kalia Yang tells the incredible story of her families journey from the mountains of Northern Laos, where they were forced to flee for their lives into Thailand due to a secret war in which the young Hmong village men  were fighting for the Americans.  From the camps in Thailand, they then immigrated to St. Paul Minnesota.....the city I was born.  I grew up on the "other side" of her story, which makes it all the more precious for me to learn about her families journey to the East Side of St. Paul childhood home.

...thru this book, combined with the experiences of my travels thru Thailand and northern Laos, a whole world and culture that once mystified and puzzled me is opening up!  It's as if the authors personal life and my life have been running on two different sets of tracks, always running close to parallel and now they have finally crossed!

Her story has hit me deep.  We were the same age growing up in the same city, but with completely different experiences..until now.  I understand her difficult cultural experiences growing up in my home town, perhaps even sharing the elementary school playground with my brother, or her mother buying groceries next to my mother, but I've also now gotten the chance to travel thru Thailand and Laos and eaten the Khao Pad she loved as a toddler and seen the mountains of Laos her family once farmed.  I crossed the Mekong river which her family was forced to swim across to save their lives and I've driven in buses thru the winding forest jungles of Northern have first hand experience now of both sides of her story, it makes every detail that I read of what they've been thru come to life!

It's a unique experience now to finally hear and understand her story from where I stand today, not as a little white girl confused about why her classmate doesn't speak to her or want to share her potato chips, but as an open minded grown adult yearning to understand and learn about how other women live in other cultures....or perhaps like hear how women coming from other cultures think about and live in my own...speaking of it as a foreign land where mustard looks like baby poop....perhaps similar to how I felt about some of the fishy sauces I tried and made pucker faces at in Laos!

My husband is from Chile and although my time there has not been anywhere as close to what Kao's family has been thru to move to America, the experience of living in a different culture as an outsider long term, unable to speak the language, eating weird foods and feeling stared at (something all travelers experience) has made me much more focused on how important it is that women learn how to communicate their stories of their lives to one another, that although we all look different, we are more similar then we think, our own unique group of like individuals...women who've experienced many parts of the world....we are not alone!

Like Kao has done in her articulate and heart felt novel of her families history....without storytellers who can cross the great cultural divides and speak out to other women about their experiences, we will remain divided!  The more I travel, the more I crave to hear stories such as hers, both the good and the bad of their adventures as women and what it's been like for them.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the hmong community and have a clearer understanding of why they needed to immigrate to the States and what that was like, this is a wonderful book I think you would appreciate and enjoy reading!  I hope that some day it could become required reading in my school district where students of different race still sit on opposite sides of the lunch room, scared to cross the divide....may my children's understanding of the cultures around them be more open minded then my own!


  1. I think I own this book... Or if I don't own it, I am pretty sure I had our diversity committee at work buy it. So either way, it's in my possession, or sort of, and something I need to read soon. Sounds like a great story!!

  2. Definitely check it out! It was very cool for me to learn some hmong family history...I actually went to the same high school as the author for two years at Harding! Small world! ('re in MPLS? AWESOME!!!!)