I have received some comments as well as emails from readers about how my blog was the first time they’ve heard of Hmong people. So I decided to see what’s out there about Hmong people in main stream media. Listed in chronological order:
1) TV series Doogie Howser, M.D season 3 episode 4 “It’s a Damn Shaman” aired on October 16, 1991 and has a Hmong boy whose family refuses to go through surgery due to religious beliefs. Odd but many synopsis of the episode say “Laotian kid” rather than Hmong. Anyway, I was shocked to see that it was actually Hmong people playing the parts of the Hmong roles. The language was on point for the most part and there’s even a scene where Neil Patrick Harris speaks a line in Hmong (although I did have to replay it to make out precisely what he said — LOL. The word “nai” and “ho maum” is actually “boss” and “hospital” in Laotian but is typically used by Hmongs who grew up in Laos which is where this particular family in this show is from. The actual Hmong terms are “coj” and “tsev kho mob.” — High five if you caught that too). (You can watch a clip here) This is actually the best Hmong portrayal on a TV series I have seen even though it seems to be the oldest one.
2) Documentary “Between Two Worlds: The Hmong Shaman in America” (1996) produced by Taggart Siegel & Dwight Conquergood. It documents Hmong refugees and their resettlement in America, focusing on their religious beliefs and shaman rituals.
3) The book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Ann Fadiman (1997) explores the clash of a Hmong refugee family and their county hospital over her care for severe epilepsy.
4) Documentary “The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America” by Taggart Siegel and Jim McSilver. Similar to their first film mentioned above but more personal as it focuses on a specific shaman and how he keeps his spiritual rituals ongoing in America. This short film was aired on PBS.
5) The Chai Vang case (2004). A Hmong man shot 8 people during a hunting trip, killing 6 and injuring 2.
6) TV series Grey’s Anatomy 2nd season 5th episode aired on October 23, 2005 “Bring the Pain” features a Hmong patient. She has a tumor in her spinal canal that needs to be operated on but her father refuses surgery due to a shaman needing to perform a soul calling ritual to call back her soul prior to surgery. Honestly, it was a horrible portrayal… The only thing that stuck to me was: The Hmong father was in a suit and smoking a damn cigar….SERIOUSLY? Never seen such a thing in my life. This portrayal was absurd to me. (You can watch a clip here)
7) The Fong Lee case (2006). A 19 years old Hmong man was shot 8 times by a police officer. The officer claimed he had a gun.
8) Film “Gran Torino” (2008) with Clint Eastwood portrays a young Hmong boy who is threatened by a gang into stealing his neighbor’s car. He fails but it serves as a catalyst to developing a relationship with the neighbor. The actors are actually Hmong and there are some good portrayals and some that are off but that will be too long to discuss on this post. Overall I’m feeling 50/50 on this one.
9) The book The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang (2008) is a memoir about her family as well as her adjustment to America. I read tons of good reviews on this being the most accurate representation and having been a refugee myself and adjusting to life in America, this book is making its way to my hands.
10) TV series House Season 8 episode 18 “Body and Soul” aired April 23, 2013 features a Hmong boy whose grandfather thinks is possessed. The boy dreams of being choked and there’s a scene where he shouts something in Hmong and then has a seizure. Honestly, I didn’t know he spoke Hmong until the grandfather says he shouldn’t have spoken Hmong because he does not know Hmong. The accent was too bad and I still couldn’t make out what he said no matter how many times I replayed it.
OVERALL, it appears that Hmong people are portrayed mainly as foreign, uneducated, and gangsters…BUT I am glad for some that educate and inform. Regardless, I am surprised how many people I meet who draws a blank when I answer their “What are you?” with “I am Hmong.” You can refer back to my previous posts on Hmong “Paj Ntaub” and the Secret War for a bit of history about Hmong people.
It is lonely here in Houston, TX. I have yet to meet another Hmong person who lives in Texas. I hear there is a small group in Forth Worth but it seems a myth. 🙁
PLEASE let me know your thoughts! (Especially if you have something to add to the list!)