This is a Hmong story cloth. Hmong people are native to southeast Asia, and have a long tradition of embroidery and textile work.

Story cloths, however, are not traditional Hmong textiles. Hmong story cloths were only invented in the 1970s, when thousands of Hmong were interred in refugee camps.

Hmong had allied themselves with American forces during the Vietnam War. When Americans withdrew from Vietnam and Laos in the 1970s, the governments of those countries, which had opposed U.S. intervention, targeted the Hmong. In this story cloth, Hmong flee these armed soldiers.

In refugee camps, Hmong were encouraged to manufacture textiles for sale abroad. Hmong women developed story cloths, which depicted pastoral Hmong life before the war, Hmong legends, or harrowing tales of forced migration.

Hmong story cloths were made purely for the marketplace, and helped families establish a reliable source of income. Refugees sent the textiles to relatives and friends in the U.S., where most Hmong eventually settled.

  1. Areas with the largest Hmong populations, in both Asia and the United States, are depicted in white on this story cloth. What Asian nation did most Hmong flee in the 1970s? (Use this map to help you identify southeast Asian countries, as well as American states.)

    • Answer

      Most Hmong fled Laos. However, most Hmong trace their ancestry back to China. The Hmong endured a forced migration from southeast China in the 1700s.

  2. The story cloth depicts the Hmong fleeing west. Why did they not migrate north or east?

    • Answer

      China, to the north, and Vietnam, to the east, both had communist governments. The Hmong had fought against communists during the Vietnam War and feared persecution from the Chinese and Vietnamese governments.

  3. To what neighboring country did most Hmong flee?

    • Answer

      Most Hmong fled to refugee camps in Thailand. The last refugee camps for Hmong in Thailand closed in the 1990s.

  4. To what U.S. states did the most Hmong relocate?

    • Answer

      California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have the largest Hmong populations. The largest Hmong community in the U.S. is in St. Paul, Minnesota.

  5. What jobs did Hmong refugees seek in the U.S.?

    • Answer

      The story cloth depicts agriculture (represented by the tractor and green crops) and poultry farming.

ally
Noun

person or group who supports and cooperates with another person or group.

depict
Verb

to represent or draw.

embroider
Verb

to decorate with elaborate sewing or needlework.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

forced migration
Noun

the movement of people away from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster or environmental hazard.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

harrowing
Adjective

extremely disturbing or scary.

income
Noun

wages, salary, or amount of money earned.

manufacture
Verb

to make or produce a good, usually for sale.

market
Noun

central place for the sale of goods.

pastoral
Adjective

serene and rural.

Noun

person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.

refugee camp
Noun

temporary shelters built for immigrants who have fled their homes due to environmental or social conflict.

soldier
Noun

person who serves in a military.

textile
Noun

cloth or other woven fabric.

tradition
Noun

beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.