Selective Silent Former Hmong-American Author Speaks to Students | Campus


Kao Kalia Yang, an American Hmong author, did not speak until her first book, “The Latecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir”, came out.

“Every time I tried to speak, the other kids would laugh because the words got so rusty in my throat,” she said. “And so I came to a place where I couldn’t speak anymore. “

Yang said she was a selective mute throughout high school and middle school. She just nodded and used another body language, starting to whisper a bit in college.

In 2008, when her first book was published – the first literary novel by an American Hmong published in the United States – she spoke to around 300 people.

“The day it was released was the first day in my entire American experience that I spoke to be heard. I had grown up primarily as a selective mute in (English), ”Yang said. “I can speak Hmong so easily; it’s a song on my lips.

Yang read excerpts from “The Latecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” and another of his books, “Somewhere in the Unknown World,” which relates the stories of refugees in Minnesota on Monday night to a crowd of about 20 to 30 people, at an event organized by the Asian and Asian American Resource and Cultural Center.

Audrey Middaugh, a freshman at the College of Health Sciences and Humanities, reads the book for an Asian American Studies class and said it was her favorite book she had read so far. ‘now in the classroom.

“It’s extremely moving and I don’t read a lot of memoirs,” she said. “I don’t read a lot of non-fiction and love the book.”

Middaugh and other members of the audience agreed with Yang’s emphasis on sharing stories.

“What I took away was that she was a voice for marginalized communities,” said Katriel Lin, a freshman at the College of the Liberal Arts. “She was inspired to use her gift as a storyteller to inspire the younger generation like us.”

Yang, herself, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where she lived until the age of six and a half, when her family came to the United States as a refugee from the war in Laos. .

Her first book was a “love letter to her grandmother,” Yang said, later adding that all of her writing was “a love letter to someone somewhere.” She has also written a memoir on her father and is working on a book about her mother.

In addition to these stories, she has written several children’s novels and her young adult novel “The Diamond Explorer” is scheduled for release in 2023.

While reading his work, Yang spoke about the lack of representation of the Hmong, not only in history, but also in literature. She stressed the importance of sharing her words and her story.

“Barnes & Noble and Borders, they said,” We don’t want to carry this book. Who wants to visit another sadder chapter of the Vietnam War? ‘ Yang said, “But then these teachers who taught me went to the stores, and they said, ‘We want this book.’ “

This is how Kao Kalia Yang’s books entered big box stores.

Yang read an excerpt from her book, part of which tells how she learned to explain who the Hmong were, saying, “The Hmong are an ethnic minority. We don’t have a country. We are here looking for a house.

After the release of her first book, she said she would bring in refugees and ask him to write about their stories.

“We live in a world that is creating more and more refugees every minute,” she said. “And because I’m from a marginalized space… I said ‘No, let me teach writing, so your kids can write your story, so your brother, your sister can write your story.”

After former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, she said she knew the world was changing and took it upon herself to write her collective memoir on refugees.

She read an excerpt from this book about an Afghan. The story told of an Afghan attempt to leave Afghanistan after receiving threats from the Taliban.

“What happened in Afghanistan is so similar to what happened to my people,” Yang said, referring to the recent Taliban takeover after the United States withdrew from the country. “The history of Afghanistan is the history of Afghanistan; Hmong history is Hmong history, but there are some parallels in the history of the world, in lessons that have never been learned about mankind.

Yang said recently that after the takeover, the Taliban came to ask the man’s family where he was. The Taliban threatened to beat the Afghan man’s father, and the man contacted Yang seeking humanitarian aid for his family.

“It’s a living, breathing story,” she said. “I do the work I do because I believe our stories have the power to forever change and improve our human lives.”

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