ANTHR 327 (HMONG 305)
The Hmong Diaspora: Culture, Language, and History
Dr. Jacob R. Hickman
Winter 2021: Tues / Thurs 9:30am-10:45am
Remote Live (via Zoom)
Teaching Assistant: Sarah Sowards Taylor
The Southeast Asian Massif is one of the most culturally and linguistically variegated regions in the world. Hmong are one of the more populous upland ethnic minority groups in Southeast Asia and China and comprise a variety of ethnolinguistic subgroups. The Hmong diaspora provides an interesting social context to address many key social scientific questions. Although there are now significant populations of Hmong on five continents, the epicenter of the Hmong diaspora is southwestern China. From here Hmong began to emigrate in large numbers to the Southeast Asian peninsula during the nineteenth century. This diaspora was further globalized after the Second Indochina war (which ended in 1975), which displaced hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos to camps in Thailand. Most of these Hmong refugees would eventually resettle in third-party countries such as the United States or France. Some of them, however, would resettle permanently in the Thai countryside in preexisting Hmong communities. As a result of these divergent migration patterns, some families became transnational families almost overnight, as some members of the family stayed in Southeast Asia, while other relatives were resettled in places like Minnesota and California. These disparate resettlement circumstances provide a unique context for examining theoretical understandings of how people deal with dramatic social change, and the innovative strategies they develop to deal with some of the most dramatically changing circumstances that humans have faced.
Key themes that we will investigate will include Hmong history (including the folk history of the ancient Hmong kingdom); politics in which Hmong were embroiled in China, Southeast Asia, and Western countries where they have resettled; religious frameworks, ranging from shamanism and ancestral practices to conversion to Christianity to new religious movements; refugee resettlement and adaptation to new ways of life in places like the United States and France; Hmong philosophy and ideas of self and personhood; Hmong-specific concepts that are encoded in Hmong language(s); linguistic structure and function and phylogeny; moral values in Hmong society; gender relations; and other dimensions of Hmong life around the globe. There will be ample opportunity to engage with Hmong ritual practice and original texts, and students will learn to analyze and contextualize these.
While this course will focus on the Hmong diaspora in particular, its reach will extend to fundamental questions about what it means to be human. We will thus engage with a variety of social science theories that seek to provide understanding to these questions. By diving deeply into one group's culture, history, and language, we will be able to parse out some of the nuance of scholarly attempts to answer these difficult questions. We will ask how these theoretical frameworks help us understand the vast and complex cultural landscape of Southeast Asia, but reach far beyond the confines of the region to ask what the Hmong story can teach us about ourselves. How do ethnographic data from Southeast Asia challenge predominant notions in social science understandings of the human condition or force us to reformulate the way we understand our own life experience? Thus, this course will be as much theoretically driven and focused as it will geographically, but the point is to create a direct dialogue between a set of theoretical ideas and ethnographic perspectives on groups that lend particular insight into understanding the social processes at hand. In sum, this course is not just for those who care deeply about Hmong issues or the Asia-Pacific region more broadly, but rather it is designed to use this case study to ask fundamental anthropological questions about what it means to be human.
This course will be a seminar style. The instructor may wax in and out of lecture mode as he shares ethnographic examples from his own research or tries to situate or explicate particular theoretical points, but student participation and rich discussion is critical. As a result, your participation in the seminar will constitute an important part of the final grade. The syllabus will include an array of reading and multi-media materials, and it is critical that you come prepared each session to discuss your take on the materials for each seminar discussion.
Hla dej yuav hle khau;
Tsiv teb tsaws chaw yuav hle hau.
When you cross a stream take off your shoes;
When you move to a new place you ought to change headman.
Hmong Proverb (Heimbach 1996:461)
Books to Purchase
(other readings will be provided as PDFs)
Yang, Kao Kalia. 2008. The Latehomecomer: a Hmong family memoir. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press.
Lee, Mai Na M. 2015. Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Schein, Louisa. 2000. Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China's Cultural Politics. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Ngô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
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