Using Traditional Hmong Arts?

I  learn to sewed my first stitch at the age of 8. I used a traditional technique to create x with a green thread. Not even before reaching the end of the small practice cloth, I stopped and left it untouched with the needle still intact. I kept it all these years, still untouched and unfinished. This piece is special because it was not just cultural reasons but because it was a moment with my mother.

I use to think that sewing was like a form of oppression for Hmong girls. Because it was for the female role, I didn’t find any interested in the time consuming of sewing. Every time, my mother said that I have to do this and that, because I am a girl, I loath to become a traditional good Hmong girl. But my mother never said that I have to sew because I am a girl. Is it because it is not needed anymore now that we are in America? My mother never forced and pressured us to sew. No one in my family know how to sew, my mother have already sew all the necessary clothes for special occasion already. Was this something that she sacrificed so that we can study and go to school?

Only a few years ago that I  started to understand the importance of sewing. Our Hmong textiles are our identity, culture, arts, history, and stories. I read somewhere online that a long time ago, Hmong women would record history, languages and events in their clothes due to oppression and destruction of their written language. During my time in Thailand, I researched about story clothes and found very interesting results. I am much more intrigue about the current story clothes being made. Why are story clothes being created today?

Hmong story cloths in Thailand are created now mainly for tourist consumers to gain an income. Hmong story clothes began in the refugee camps of Thailand maybe for a different motive but it was for that same reason. It was a way to survive in the camps. People valued arts. Where have those story cloths now? It has been 40 years. Are the Hmong that have resettle in Thailand still creating story clothes for money? Are the Hmong taking advantage of the tourist consumers?

I believe so but why? In my research, minorities in Thailand are oppressed in some ways.  Some are not permitted citizenship while others have their land become national parks. The Hmong have found ways to make a living. They sent their daughters and sons to school while they work in low paying jobs or sell their fruits and vegetables in the markets or create items to be sold with their skills in crafts, and embroidery.  I think that some groups in Thailand are not protected and assisted from the government, resulting Hmong to seeking illegal jobs, labor work, therefore repeating the cycle of poverty.

I have thought about using embroidery in my arts before but I feel like I was cheating myself. I have only sew once, so why sew now? Is it to help me sell my arts? Am I using traditional arts for my benefits?

I feel that if I created a piece using traditional embroidery and sold it, then I have sold my Hmong people. I have exploited my Hmong identity. In the movie, Grand Torino directed by Clint Eastwood, was the first movie made in the United States using Hmong casts. I came closed to finishing the movie but it was boring. The cultural references was incorrect and was made to look like out of this world. If you take out the Hmong people and use another minority group, it would of been the same movie. When Hmong people don’t write and create their own arts and stories, other people will. I feel that Clint Eastwood used the Hmong people for his movies. He doesn’t care about them, it was all about business. He had exploited the Hmong people.

I am Hmong and I care about the Hmong people but if I sold an art piece using traditional embroidery for money, then wouldn’t I be selling myself and my parent’s culture and history? I would be taking advantage of being Hmong.

If I ever sew again, using traditional Hmong designs, it would be made not for sell. In a way, I refuse to use traditional Hmong arts because I want to create something new, something that is me and original. I can see myself using thread but I will not copy full Hmong design and story clothes. Hmong designs and textiles are symbolic and a cultural identity and pride. But during the camps and afterwards, Hmong textiles which are clothes to wear and such, are now placed on the walls or tables as an art form. The Hmong’s identity and pride are now in displayed for owners to admired because of it’s modern colorful threads and designs. Hmong people have began sewing and designing not for themselves, not on their clothes but on pillow case and table clothes, and etc, for consumers.

Where are all the story cloths that have been created in the refugee camps?


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