APA Collections — Hmong Archives at St. Paul, Minnesota

Hmong Archives: Preserving the Hmong Heritage in St. Paul, Minn.

by Dawn Wing

Friday – March 26, 2013.

At first glance, the charming two-story building is no different from the residential homes surrounding it. Since 2010, 343 Michigan St. has been home to the Hmong Archives, the only non-profit archives dedicated to Hmong culture in the United States. Upon entering, fellow APALA member and former Hmong Archives volunteer and Minnesota-native Mee Xiong and I were greeted warmly by Kou Xiong, a long-time volunteer of the Archives who gave us a tour.


Hmong Archives web logo. Image from HmongArchives.org

Hmong Archives was founded in 1999 by Yuepheng Xiong of Hmong Arts, Books and Crafts (or Hmong ABC)  with the support of Twin Cities Hmong professionals, Minnesota State Representative Steve Trimble, and retired Minnesota Historical Society librarian, Marlin Heise. Its purpose is to research, collect, preserve, interpret and disseminate materials in all formats about or by Hmong people. From 1999 to 2010, the Archives moved to six different locations due to space constraints and funding. Currently, with a growing collection of over 153,000 items, the Archives is now housed at the home of its curator, Mr. Heise. The Archives relies primarily on private donations and grants for its daily operations. It is completely run by volunteers.

Mr. Heise, who was doing research and visiting Hmong students in Vientiane, Laos, was unavailable at the time of our visit. He is primarily responsible for the Archives’ growing acquisitions, as well as conducting outreach and organizing volunteers. Mr. Heise has been actively engaged with the Hmong community and interested in collecting Hmong artifacts since the early 1980s. Mr. Heise’s efforts began with mentoring two young Hmong interns at the Minnesota Historical Society, which grew into developing relationships with the larger community. My gracious tour guide Mr. Xiong is also an expert of the Archives collections himself. He started as an intern over ten years ago and has remained on staff ever since.

Hmong Archive is special. There is no security front desk asking visitors to identify themselves and lock their belongings away. It is very much as cozy and welcoming as it appears from the building’s exterior.  Every part of the house’s interior is packed with cabinets and shelves of documents, audio cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, videotapes, and books in Hmong and other languages.

The Archives contains 13 collections: Archival Boxes, Audio, Books, Cards, Files, Maps, Newspapers, Objects, Periodicals, Photographs, Posters, Videos, and Works of Art. Starting with the first floor, Mr. Xiong showed us Hmong cassette tapes in a cabinet and books stored in floor-to-ceiling shelves. The second floor was also filled with shelves of materials. Mr. Xiong explained the wide variety of VHS and DVD movies made by or about Hmong, including “Gran Torino.”  A film buff, Mr. Xiong asserted that the movie collection is a great and exciting way for Archive users to learn about the progression of contemporary Hmong American film production.

Hmong story cloth with animals. Image from HmongEmbroidery.org

Hmong story cloth. Image from HmongEmbroidery.org

Also in the same room on the second floor, were shelves of CDs of traditional and popul ar Hmong music. Mr. Xiong showed us photocopied articles and photographs of Hmong refugees in Thai camps after the Secret War. These were also available on the second floor of the Archive. Lastly, Mr. Xiong took out traditional Hmong story cloths which are stored in archival boxes. Taking one colorful story cloth after another, he tells me the meaning of patterns, narrative and animal symbolism according to Hmong folklore. Many of these can be viewed online at Hmong Embroidery, which was a collaborative web project between the Archives and Hmong Cultural Center.

The collections go beyond just your typical books and multimedia items. The Archives possesses unique cultural items such as a 1940s Luang Prabang-style black powder rifle which is over 6 feet long. Mr. Heise enjoys allowing college visitors to handle the weapon and ask them to envision using one for hunting in the mountains of Laos. Heise also describes another special item, a Thai-made aluminum rice pot, which to him represents the Hmong experience.

“To me, its shape is beautiful, but what are the stories it could tell about cooking fires in Long Cheng, Laos, or Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, or resettlement in St. Paul? If only it could talk!,” says Heise.

A favorite item for Hmong elders who visit the Archives is the khib or A-frame used for loading firewood or grass. According to Heise, many of these visitors are reminded of fieldwork they have done in their homelands and wish to wear them when they see it.  Besides story cloths, other unique Hmong handmade items include wooden carved airplanes by 10-year-old Nou Xiong from Nong Phue village, Xieng Khuang, Laos. Heise added these to the aeronautical collections at the Archives.

Image of Hmong ncas or mouth harps

Hmong ncas, mouth harps. Image from The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, located in Seattle, Wash.

Researchers from around the world visit and contact Hmong Archives,  from Austria to China. Mr. Heise and the Archives volunteers assist with research questions dealing with topics such as Hmong jaw harps or ncas, the Secret War in Laos and discovering the Hmong word for “gay.” With their collective knowledge of the Norwegian, Danish, German, Hmong, Lao, Thai and Chinese languages, the staff translate materials into English so that they are more accessible to users. The Archives has loaned objects to a Chicago museum and to Twin Cities organizations.

As for the future of Hmong Archives, Heise states, “Hopefully we will move into a large, archivally and environmentally friendly building in a Hmong neighborhood. This building should accommodate several Hmong nonprofits that will mutually benefit us by co-location.”

For now, the Archives has plenty of projects to keep its staff busy, such as cataloging all their items and making them available online. They also hope to continue collaborative projects with community partners as they did with Hmong Cultural Center on the HmongEmbroidery.org project.

Make a visit to the Hmong Archives:

343 Michigan Street
Saint Paul, MN 55102


Business Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10am – 6pm. Visitors may come during business hours or by appointment.

Mental Health: A Normal State of Mind by Eugenia Beh

Depression became a normal part of my everyday vocabulary when I was twelve. I remember Newsweek did a cover story on Prozac back then. Upon reading the article, so many things began to make sense. At some point during elementary school, I suddenly became very shy. It came to such a state that simply greeting other kids was agonizing. Saying hello and good-bye to my neighbor’s daughter on the short walk to and from the school bus stop was painful. Before this time, my mother used to say I was outgoing and tiao pi, or mischievous. This made my grandfather remark that it was hard to believe I was a girl because I acted so much like my Uncle James, whom I adored, when he was young.

I don’t know what caused me to become so reticent and tongue-tied in public. This crippling shyness remained with me throughout elementary school, leaving me isolated and silent. It was not uncommon for me to go days without speaking more than a few words. Perhaps because little Asian girls were (and are still) expected to be shy, my silence was not considered a problem by anyone. I didn’t cause any “trouble.” And yet, a part of me knew that whatever it was that was holding me back wasn’t because I was Asian. I saw other Asian kids, including my sister, who had no problems talking and laughing in public, who weren’t afraid to go outside, who acted like normal people. This made me wonder what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t change. I developed suicidal ideation, although I didn’t know that was what it was called then. I became convinced that my life was hopeless.

Learning about depression made me realize that what I was experiencing had a name and that it was a condition that affected many people, not just me. There was help available through medication and counseling. This was further enforced in my mind when I went to college and had many friends and classmates who were diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders. They had received treatment at the campus health center. In fact, it was harder to know someone who wasn’t on anti-depressants than to know someone who was. Even though I was in a relatively safe environment that did not stigmatize mental illness, it was not until I had my own health insurance that I was able to get the treatment that I needed. When I first tried to broach this topic with my parents, they reacted with anger, disbelief, and ultimately, denial. To my parents, depression was not something that existed and anti-depressants were dangerous to take. I, too, harbored fears about going on medication that had so many side effects (really, if you look at the list of side effects, you wonder how in the world this is supposed to make you better). I was also concerned that the medication would “change” me, that I would be somehow cheating by not suffering enough. However, as one therapist pointed out, taking medication isn’t “cheating” or getting an “unfair advantage” — it just tries to help you be at the same level with others.

Although I have no wish to give to Big Pharma for the rest of my life, for now, I’ve come to accept that my new normal is to be on medication, possibly for a long time, and to see a therapist on a regular basis. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I’m one of the ones who have responded positively to medication, despite my lingering skepticism about the psychopharmacology industry. I probably would be worse off than I am now without treatment. Although they still ask when I can no longer take my medication and if I’ve tried going off of them, my parents have since come to understand that I am receiving treatment, even if they don’t entirely understand depression and still distrust medication. My former therapist was right though. Medication doesn’t bestow any kind of special advantage, nor did it turn me into a zombie or a former shell of myself, as I had feared. It only brings me as close to being “normal” as I can be. Perhaps in the end, that is all that I can expect of it.


Tie a Yellow Ribbon image, from the PBS presentation, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, on Asian American women and depression. Image from Angry Asian Man website

From the PBS presentation, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, on Asian American women and depression. Image from Angry Asian Man website.











Eugenia Beh
Electronic Resources Librarian
Texas A&M University
APALA President, 2013-2014




MentalHealth.gov:  http://www.mentalhealth.gov/

NAAPIMHA (National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association):  http://naapimha.org/

Friends Do Make a Difference Campaign: http://naapimha.org/friends-do-make-a-difference/

Raising Awareness About Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the AAPI Community: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/05/10/raising-awareness-about-mental-health-and-suicide-prevention-aapi-community

Suicidal Thoughts Among Asians, Native Hawai’ians or Other Pacific Islanders: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2K13/Spotlight/Spot118-suicidal-thoughts.pdf

The It’s Ok Campaign: http://itsokcampaign.org/

Chai (Counselors Helping South Asians/Indians, Inc.): http://chaicounselors.wordpress.com/

Asian American Mental Health, Ramey Ko story (by a friend of mine): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvvlLdHS1FA&feature=youtu.be

Member Highlights Showcase — Charlotte Roh

My name is Charlotte Roh and I matriculate from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign in July 2013.

I am currently an Association of Research Libraries Career Enhancement Program (ARL CEP) Fellow at the University of Arizona, Tucson. I am investigating collaborative opportunities for the University of Arizona Press and Library. It is similar to the work I did last semester with Illinois Business Consulting, and I really enjoy it because I get to put my academic publishing experience with Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press to work in a library setting. I am currently interviewing leaders in scholarly communications and library publishing, which is just amazing.

I joined APALA in January 2012, right when I first started library school, on the advice of Jina Park (also an APALA member and scholarship recipient). I am so glad that I did, because it was through fellow members such as Charlene Hsu Gross and Michelle Baildon that I learned about opportunities like the Spectrum Scholar Program and the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC). I was also a little isolated in the Midwest, so I really enjoyed all the listserv emails from members around the country. It made me feel so connected and encouraged! I haven’t been a member that long, but APALA has already been a community for me and made an impact on my library career. I am glad to give back as the layout editor for the APALA newsletter.

I am Korean American, and was born and raised in Southern California, in an area that has a dense population of Korean Americans. So I grew up very privileged in terms of identity, very sheltered. Moving to New York in my 20s and then Illinois for library school were both difficult transitions for me. Half of New York is from somewhere else, so there is a constant clash of cultures. However, in Illinois that clash is more subtle. For example, the University of Illinois has an undergraduate population that is 19% Asian American, but there were only two Asian Americans in my cohort at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). Fortunately I arrived at a time when the program was actively pursuing inclusion, so I was able to participate in founding the GSLIS Students of Color student group and co-chair the Inclusions and Exclusions Reading Group.

My three career priorities are education, research, and making a holistic impact on a community. Ideally these priorities are interrelated and can really happen in any kind of librarianship, which is something I love about the profession. In my library work, I have found real satisfaction building relationships in the course of solving a research problem or participating in a teaching/learning moment. I want to continue to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion, and hope to make a positive impact in librarianship as a field.

I am so grateful for the APALA community. You have really made a difference in my life, thank you!

Charlotte’s photo credit goes to Molly Magee.

Member Highlights Showcase — Heawon Paik

Heawon Paick is a lifetime member of APALA. Those of us who are recent members would benefit greatly from getting to know such a distinguished member of our association.

Heawon has been an APALA member since 1998 (or 1999). She served as APALA president in 2004-2005. Since then, she has been part of APALA’s Scholarship Awards Committee, as both member and chair, and the Mentoring Committee as a mentor. Heawon currently serves as the chair of the APALA Publicity Committee.

Since 2004, Heawon has been the branch manager of John Muir Branch, then of Junipero Serra Branch Library of the Los Angeles Public Library, a public library system in Southern California that is 72-branches large. Heawon’s branch, Junipero Serra, is in South Central Los Angeles, which is only a short distance south of downtown Los Angeles.

Of her MLIS education, Heawon writes:

I studied at Maryville College for one and a half years then was going to go back to Korea, but decided against it.  Then I went to University of Tennessee, Knoxville for my MLIS degree.

When asked about the satisfaction she derives from her professional position as a librarian, Heawon asserts getting great satisfaction in guiding and supporting her professional and paraprofessional staff to excellence. It is little wonder that Heawon states mentoring as among her greatest professional interests.

I want to see future potential leaders succeed in their career path… push them and guide them into that direction.

Someday, Heawon would like to work as the director of a library system, in which she can make a greater difference in the lives of library patrons and staff members.

Heawon is an avid reader and movie viewer, especially of British mysteries. She has an extensive personal collection of novels and DVDs. Though Heawon enjoys company over a nice meal or afternoon tea, she admits to also enjoying quiet time at home. Driving long distances is one of the things she avoids when she can. However, the prospect of being with valued friends and colleagues makes such effort worthwhile to her.

Heawon is definitely among the most approachable, interesting and engaging members of APALA. Be sure to say hello when you see her in library conferences, meetings, and social gatherings.

“The Asian American Experience: Is It Normal to Help Me Help You?” by Raymond Pun

The month of May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. I will start off with that. What I want to say is that I follow the creed of financial expert and television personality, Ms. Suze Orman: “People first, then money, and then things.” I live by that order and almost always execute it in anyway I can. I don’t know if that’s normal. People don’t usually give up their time for others to an extreme, or do they? I volunteer in homeless and soup kitchen shelters because I want to. I help my friends or anyone in need of my “brain” or “time” because I want to. When people need my support, I am willing to sacrifice or “invest” my time on their behalf.

It’s kind of infectious, you see. I do my best to empower people around me because that’s what I seem to be good at. I love inspiring and motivating people to do their best because I believe in them, I see that they can do their best, and they deserve to be recognized for that. They, in turn, do the same for others.

However, this is ironic because I also see that I am unable to empower or inspire myself. I am constantly discontented and  largely dissatisfied with myself. I see, all too clearly, how my life turned out differently from my own vision, which was largely borrowed from my parents. It seems that I have set an almost impossibly and invisibly high bamboo ceiling of expectations that no one can see or break, even myself. I don’t know, maybe it’s how I was raised: a defense or survival mechanism?

The drive to succeed and be “overly” or “super” ambitious is quite a common “gene” in Asians and Asian Americans. It is not a totally exaggerated stereotype in popular culture. There’s some truth to it. We were natured and nurtured to be workaholics of perfectionism, or at least in the eyes of our parents.

Like most Asian immigrant parents raising Asian American children, my parents expected my “academic and behavioral perfectionism” as forms of “normalcy” or “normality” or “normativity.” It is normal to get 100s in calculus exams, write perfect essays on literary epistemology of Victorian novels, and to greet and pay respects to your grandparents, even after the derision and irrelevant criticism you receive from them. On the contrary, it is not normal to refute your parents’ wishes, not normal to not go to Ivy League schools, not normal to not go to law or medical school, not normal to not be perfect.

Anything less than the ideal perfection is an insult to your family history and reputation. It questions your identity, the very essence of who we are. I learned to cope with that the best I could. The ever-present voices in my mind say: “You are not good enough. You will never be good enough. Now get back to work. Don’t waste any more time.” Those voices belonged to my parents, but I have now “embraced” them as my own. Maybe I like playing librarian because helping people allows me to escape from my own personal misery, self-loathing, and defeatist attitude?

From time to time, I think I did something right with my life at one point, though I did not fulfill my parents’ expectations. I didn’t go to Ivy League schools. I am not a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker. I am not making six figures now or having children at the moment. Those factors are not important to me, but somehow I feel I am missing something here. Maybe I feel like a “loser” because I’ve disrespected my parents and that makes me lack something–self-dignity, perhaps?

Is it normal to feel lost or strayed from your parents’ idealization of your life or am I simply living a normal life beyond the confines of my parents’ expectations? I don’t know and I don’t think I really want to know.

Amy Chua’s work, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked a lot of anger and debate over the years. The infamous Tiger Mom. Yes, my parents were indeed Tiger Parents. I don’t need to say more about that.

If I have kids in the future, I’d drive them insane, too.  I am not here to put the blame on my parents. They are who they are. They probably went through a similar hell with their parents, too, for all I know. I don’t pry, but I do theorize: is there a perpetual cycle of parental condescension from one generation to the next? Maybe or maybe not. It also doesn’t help that I think like an American, but embrace my Chinese cultural roots. I am an amphibian. I can switch my mind from Chinese to American to Chinese again, but I do not share the same mindset with my parents.

This reflective essay is not supposed to heal or relieve myself or anyone else’s emotional burdens from their childhood roots. It is to illustrate that we may or may not share similar life experiences. Our parallel memories and experiences define who we are and our relationships to our parents and to each other.

If this somehow made you question or at least made you concur with what I had written, then I’ve said what I needed to say. I’ve “contexualized” my “normal life” experience and perspective to best fit the reader’s needs and understandings of life, or at least the life that I have. It is and isn’t normal, depending on when you ask me.

So far, life as a librarian is quite a “normal” life because I like the work. I get to help people (anyone, really) in an extraordinarily (non-social, work-like) way: I empower and encourage them to read, research, and think differently about things beyond their own horizon.










Raymond (Ray) Pun is a writer, librarian, and thinker in New York. He has written essays for The Huffington Post, Colleges and Research Libraries News, World History Bulletin, Business and Finance Bulletin, and more.



Some Resources on the Asian American Experience Worth Checking Out:

Asian American Biography edited by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall

Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context by Elaine H. Kim.

Asian American Psychology: The Science of Lives in Context edited by Gordon C. Nagayama Hall and Sumie Okazaki.

Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity edited by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Language, Identity, and Stereotype among Southeast Asian American Youth: the Other Asian by Angela Reyes

The Asian American Movement by William Wei

Asian-American Pacific Heritage Month: History and Resources at The NYPL by Raymond Pun

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