A Celebration of Hmong Culture

The annual Hmong Month Opener tells stories of the culture’s experiences.


Kelly Holm

May Lee Yang and the members of the Hmong Student Association after the opener.

The Hmong Student Association kicked off November’s Hmong Month with a bang in Sundin Music Hall on Friday night. This year’s opener featured “playwright, poet, prose writer, and performance artist” May Lee Yang, who performed two original stand-up comedy pieces, “Adventures with OG’s” and “Ten Reasons Why I’d Be A Bad Porn Star”.

In between Yang’s pieces, members of the HSA performed several skits detailing the hardships and triumphs the Hmong people have experienced- in their homeland as they struggled with what to do during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, in the United States as they adjusted to the new culture and language, and later, the experiences of their children, second-generation immigrants, as they learn the importance of family tradition despite wanting to blend in and be the typical American teenager.

Originally from China, the Hmong people traveled south to Vietnam after clashes with the Chinese. The CIA recruited them to fight alongside the United States during the Vietnam War in opposition to the Viet Cong. When the war was over, many came as refugees to the United States, no longer able to live alongside the victorious Viet Cong due to their dissent. Today in the United States, the Hmong live predominantly in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Yang, who teaches theatre and creative writing through the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Mu Performing Arts, and COMPAS, shared insight about her culture through humor. Her first piece, “Adventures with OG’s,” was the story of her time working at the Hmong Elder Center and the lessons she had learned from the older generation. The primary conflict she outlined through this piece was about how the Hmong youth are going to know the story of their culture first-hand after the older generations are no longer around to share it with them. Like the student skits that complemented Yang’s comedy, the story sought to build a bridge between the two cultures.

Her second piece, “Ten Reasons Why I’d Be A Bad Porn Star,” offered more than just an attention-catching title. It provided witty insight into traditional Hmong views on sex, as well as the differences in stereotypes between Hmong men and Hmong women- not to mention the eternal pitfalls of living as a “starving artist,” as Yang described it.

In addition to comedy and teaching, Yang’s original plays have been performed around the Twin Cities and at various venues and festivals across the nation. She also wrote a children’s book titled The Imaginary Day, which tells the story of twin brothers Tou Cher and Tou Bee, who are forced to use their imaginations after their mother confiscates their video games on the first day of summer vacation, and has been published in numerous literary journals.

The Hmong Month Opener was a valuable opportunity for Hmong-American Hamline students to take pride in their heritage with those who share it, as well as a good chance for non-Hmong students to learn more about another culture’s perspective.