Stitching Identity

Hmong Narratives of Transnational Identities

It is easy to imagine globalization as an anonymous force in which nameless goods traverse national boundaries at increasing "warp speeds."

However, Hmong textiles suggest that globalization is also the story of war and human migration, personal agency and international endeavor, change and continuity, and the creation of new identities in transnational, culturally heterogeneous societies.

 

The Hmong, who live today in Southeast Asia, the United States and Europe, produce textiles not only for profit but also to construct memory, chart changing identity, and link diasporic communities.

The history of the Hmong inevitably goes through the Vietnam War and its aftermath, when the United States recruited, trained, and used Laotian Hmong in the fighting. Both Vietnamese and Laotian governments subsequently retaliated against the Hmong, violently displacing many who scattered in fear from their homeland and settled in disparate communities on three continents, the victims of upheaval that transformed distant regions and cultures in an increasingly globalized world.

 

The Hmong, who live today in Southeast Asia, the United States and Europe, produce textiles not only for profit but also to construct memory, chart changing identity, and link diasporic communities.

The history of the Hmong inevitably goes through the Vietnam War and its aftermath, when the United States recruited, trained, and used Laotian Hmong in the fighting. Both Vietnamese and Laotian governments subsequently retaliated against the Hmong, violently displacing many who scattered in fear from their homeland and settled in disparate communities on three continents, the victims of upheaval that transformed distant regions and cultures in an increasingly globalized world.

Hmong artists navigate, recreate, and narrate this complex history in the medium of cloth for themselves and for others. In doing so they disrupt simple models of global exchange. By stitching their evolving identity in cloth, the Hmong remind the world of globalization's human face and of its lengthy, complicated, and sometimes painful history.