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I Am Hmong

At Patrick Henry High School, we value and appreciate the presence of Hmong students in our community. This page will showcase staff and student work around Hmong language and culture.

The Story of the First Hmong Story Cloth

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On February 24th at the Fifth Annual Community Involvement Day one of the favorite classes of students was presented by Ms. Manichan Xiong, one of the first Hmong women to create the Hmong Story cloth and mother of Sivai Xiong who graduated from Patrick Henry in 2010.

It is not the first time that Ms. Manichan Xiong has presented at Community Involvement Day and the Legacy gathered information about this passionate speaker who spoke of her love of the Hmong people and her hope that her story will be shared and passed on to all.

This article was written by Kou Vang, ELL Family Outreach Liaison for the Minneapolis Public Schools.

This article is about Manichan Xiong, the first Hmong woman to create the Hmong story cloth in Ban Vinai, Thailand. The reasons behind the story cloth were created because of her life at the time. She came to Thailand in 1976 and was settled in Ban Vinai Camp. Her family struggled with many things in their lives such as food, shelter, clothing, and work. Her husband went back to Laos to help the refugees who were left behind. She was alone providing for her children. She was at a stage in her life that was very sad that she couldn’t read or write, she wasn’t educated enough to provide for her families and children. She felt helpless. Then they got to know one of the Thai Native men named David who helped them with ideas how to make some money. He helped them built a little shelter in Camp Ban Vinai to do some sewing (Paj Ntaub) to sell in Bangkok, Thailand then later on was sent to sell in the United State.

She thought of an idea that since she couldn’t read or write she would tell the Hmong stories (their lives) by sewing on a cloth that will tell how Hmong people lived, why and how they escaped the war from Laos to Thailand, then finally came to America. While living in the Vinai camp, she tried very hard to learn Hmong written language everyday and she did learn to read and write Hmong Languages later on. She was able to write a letter to her relatives who lived in the United States and it made her very happy because her relatives sent her $100.00. She lived in Vinai camp for many years and sewed many story cloths (Paj Ntaub) to sell over many countries such as in United State, Australia, France, and Thailand. She built a very good business helping her family, her friends, her neighbors, and her communities. She didn’t come to America until they closed camp Ban Vinai.

This article was written by SiVai Xiong '10

My name is SiVai Xiong, I am the daughter of Manichan Xiong. Having a mother like my mom is one of a kind, because she is a wonderful mother and I have learned many things from her. She has taught me how to be a leader and how to do things on my own. My mom is the type of person that would start something and have to finish it. She has always told me that once I start something, stay committed to it and never give up. I’ve learned that even though it is hard to always follow through, as long as you finish you will never regret. She’s has showed me how to never regret anything in life, because it’s just another lesson in life that you have to learn to get to the next level or step. I love my mom. She is not like every other mom. In 2007 my brother sponsored me into the Miss Hmong Florida Pageant and my mom trained me to become someone I never realized I was able to be. With help from my mom, I am who I am today and I don’t regret anything. That year I was crowned Miss Hmong Florida of 2007 and my mom was so proud of me. Throughout the years my mom planned my whole year together, and she was there by my side through the whole thing. I am safe to say that, if I didn’t have a mother like her, I would not be where I am today and I would not be who I am today.

The History of Hmong Story Cloth
In an interview with Carlos Gallego of the Asian American Press from April 7th, 2008, then Patrick Henry Art Teacher Seexeng Lee noted it was unimportant whether the storyteller of Hmong history is male or female, although if they were a little older they tended to have greater legitimacy. The topics also did not vary according to gender, “The beautiful thing about Hmong common for storytellers do not have to be male to tell great stories or to learn them. One of the best storytellers in my section of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp was my distant grandmother, every night the kids in the neighborhood would go and ask her to tell us stories.” He mentioned his father was a talented storyteller as well. He further indicated that in the story “Yer and the Tiger, ” while there might be minor variations between storytellers, generally it had the same beginning, middle and end.

Textiles are another form of Hmong art. Paj Nataub (flower cloth) is the best-known art form. It is very elaborate embroidery that serves many purposes throughout Hmong culture. For example, when a baby is first born, he is considered is very fragile and a cap is given for a baby to wear. Many believe when the sprits see the designs they will think they are flowers and they will leave the baby alone. Its beauty also serves to intrigue the baby and keep its spirit from wandering. “The Hmong believe if the spirit stays with you, you are not going to be sick, but if the spirit wanders away, you are going to be sick.”

Today, use of Paj Nataub is widespread. In addition to traditional uses, it can now be found in such items as purses, water bottle holders, baby carriers and bookmarks. Sadly, however, the art form is being lost as in the United States it is rare for moms or grandmothers to pass on this art form due to it being very time consuming and few youth having an interest in learning the craft. Luckily, according to Seexeng, there are still some programs such as Concordia Hmong Culture and Language program along and few other school programs out there still trying to teach it to young Hmong girls.

”It has been practiced for centuries and passed down from mother to daughter . . beginning as early as 4 years old.” He shared various types of textile arts including weaving (basket making) and skirt making. The making of a traditional skirt takes about one year to complete, so it is easier for Hmong living in the United States to order traditional dresses and costumes from Laos, Vietnam or Thailand. Fewer and fewer are made by Hmong in the United States, he admitted.

“Another contributing factor to the death of this method was that Hmong nowadays got a hold of new, lighter, cheaper, easily accessible, more colorful, printable fabrics such as cotton, polyester, silk and synthetic fabrics.” Lee also pointed out that some traditional Paj Ntaub and many of the Story Cloths are no longer made by Hmong, because Hmong in Laos or Thailand are paying others (non-Hmong) to create it. They then export them here (US) to be sold at the local flea markets.

Mr. Lee also shared information on the origin of the story cloth, which does not have the same cultural significance as the Paj Ntaub. The Story Cloth was made in the refugee camps as a way for women to occupy their time and raise money for their families.

Seexeng continues to inspire both Hmong and non-Hmong alike as his work gains in popularity. For more information about Seexeng visit his website www.seexeng.com .

Notes from Mr. Tou Ger Xiong, Presented to school-wide auditorium in April, 2003 and Recorded By: Susan Breedlove, 2003


This traditional art of embroidered fabric is called Pa ndau or paj ntaub. The Hmong People have carried Pa ndau with them wherever they go thus keeping their culture and values alive for future generations. The complex symbols in pa ndau could not be understood by their Chinese oppressors. Many Hmong say that pa ndau was once used as a communication tool because the Chinese prohibited them from using their own language. After a failed uprising against the Chinese, the Hmong fled south into the modern countries of Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, taking with them their pa ndau.

Two Types of Pa Ndau
Pa ndau literally means “flower cloth.” One type of pa ndau is known as “story cloth,” such as represented in this display. The second type of pa ndau consists of only designs and patterns and is a foundation for all Hmong costumes. All designs, patterns, and objects are hand sewn, using embroidery, batkik, applique’ and reverse appliqué. The fabric is usually cotton.

Pa Ndau in Laos
In Laos, a Hmong man was said to value two qualities most highly in a wife: her ability to sing poetry and her skill at Paj ntaub (pa ndau).

The Pa Ndau of The Former Work Displayed Outside the Library

This pa ndau story is based on the Hmong exodus from Laos to Thailand. It depicts people journeying to the Mekong River with Communist soldiers chasing them from behind and an airplane above. Crossing the Mekong was a very dangerous escape. Many family members and friends of students at Patrick Henry High lost relatives as they swam to the Thai shore. Some used bamboo to stay afloat; some used inflated plastic bags. Many people were shot or drowned while attempting swim across. Because the Hmong had fought on the side of the United States, they had to get out when the Communists took over.

Similarities Between Hmong and African Americans Story Cloth Parallel by Ms. Breedlove
African Americans used story cloths as a way of communicating, also. Quilts were a strategic part of the Underground Railroad. Messages were coded in designs not understood by their oppressors, just as in the situation of the Hmong people. The quilts made by African Americans, were hung on clotheslines and on window sills to direct those escaping enslavement. Both the Hmong and the enslaved Africans had oppressors who did not want them to communicate in their native languages.

Sources
Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, New York: The Noon Day Press,1997.
The Hmong Youth Cultural Awareness Project. A Free People: Our Stories, Our Voices, Our Dreams. Minneapolis: Hmong Youth Cultural Awareness Project, 1994.

More Similarities Between Hmong and African Americans Story Cloth Parallel
Pa Ndau: Artist: Ka Lee
Mother of PHHS students Joua Lee (2007 graduate, now attending Macalester College), Hnia Lee (class of 2008), Gao Lee (class of 2009), Kou Lee (class of 2010), and Kong Lee (class of 2013).

The traditional art of embroidered fabric is called pa ndau or paj ntaub. The Hmong people have carried pa ndau with them wherever they go, thus keeping their culture and values alive for future generations. This tapestry is an example of one of two types of pa ndau; it consists of signs and patterns.
Many Hmong say that pa ndau was once used as a communication tool because the Chinese prohibited them from using their own language. The complex symbols in pa ndau could not be understood by their Chinese oppressors. After a failed uprising against the Chinese, the Hmong fled south into the current countries of Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, taking with them their pa ndau.
Pa ndau literally means “flower cloth.” This type of pa ndau is known as “story cloth.” The tradition of Hmong story cloths began in the refugee camps in Thailand in the 1970s.

This pa ndau story is based on the Hmong exodus from Laos to Thailand. It depicts people journeying to the Mekong River with Communist soldiers chasing them from behind and an airplane above. Crossing the Mekong was a very dangerous escape. Many family members and friends of students at Henry High lost relatives as they swam to the Thai shore. Some used bamboo to stay afloat. Some used inflated plastic bags. Many people were shot or drowned while attempting to swim across. Because the Hmong had fought on the side of the United States in Vietnam, they had to get out when the Communists took over.

Many cultures have used story cloths as a way of communicating. Both the Hmong and the enslaved Africans had oppressors who did not want them to communicate in their native languages. Thus the Hmong developed the pa ndau and the African Americans, quilts depicting directives of the Underground Railroad. Quilts in those days were “aired out” by being hung from window sills; thus, the Underground Railroad quilts were given a place to be displayed.
Social activism has played a part in some of the story cloths. The Chileans have madeArpilleras or cuadros (“hanging pictures”) which portray highly political scenes of oppression. Social activism was also behind the making of quilts by women of the Temperance Movement. Those totally against the drinking of alcoholic beverages put a T or double T in the corner of their quilts indicating preference for complete abstinence or tee-totaling.
Story telling in fabric has also been a means of “writing” history as with the Dakota of the Midwest who drew pictographs on buffalo hides and historical accounts of Hmong history. Daily life is portrayed in some pa dnau, by the Akan of Ghana in their Adinkra cloth and by Peruvians in their Arpilleras. The later were used as a means of earning money for their communities. Early European American settlers made quilts depicting activities of their lives, also.
Storytelling in African culture has been a way of passing on the beliefs and traditions of one generation to another. The hand-printed cloths of the Akan are known as adinkra. The dye is prepared from tree bark boiled with lumps of iron. As in the woven cloth of the Asante, each motif is given a name which may have a magical, historical or proverbial significance. Symbols encoded several stories.
Quilts were a strategic part of the Underground Railroad. Messages were coded in designs not understood by their oppressors. The quilts, made by African Americans, were hung on clotheslines and on window sills to direct those escaping enslavement.
Arpilleras or cuadros (“hanging pictures”) are hand-sewn three dimensional textile pictures which illustrate the stories of the lives of the women of the pueblo jovenes of Lima, Peru, and provide essential income for their families. The women got the idea for the tapestries from similar quilt work done in Chile, but they transformed it into something uniquely Peruvian. Whereas Chilean works are highly political with scenes of oppression, the Peruvian work is religious and commercial.


Occasionally they inject a touch of social commentary. This arpillera tells the stories of life: stories of planting and harvesting potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, grapes, and corn. Note that the nearby Hmong pa ndau has a similar scene.

“Winter Count” A Story Cloth on Canvas Artists: Dakota, 19th-20th Century Located at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Horses, tipis, warriors, and buffalo are images from Plains Indian life. Each figure stands for a specific year in the life of a Dakota group. Together, these images form a “winter count,” a record of the years (or “winters”) tribe’s history.

Thank you to the following people who have made the displays, “Common Threads,” possible (See pictures of many of these individuals here):
PHHS Senior Pang Khang
Ms. Merthlyn Collins, resident of North Mpls.
Ms. Soua Moua Vang, Minneapolis
Farmer’s Market in North Mpls.
Ms. Ka Lee, parent of PHHS students, resident of North Mpls.
The Northside Arts Collective
Ms. Chong, Mr. McGee, & Mr. Murray,
PHHS staff
PHHS Senior Pang Khang
Volunteer, Crafter of Display Signs