Being Hmong Means Being Free - Oct. 27

closeup of two women's faces

Prime Performance - Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 4:30pm

Focusing on a Hmong immigrant community in Wisconsin, this documentary offers a comprehensive look at many fundamental concepts and practices of the ancient Hmong culture – weddings, funerals, the “ball toss,” the shaman, clans and the “flower cloth” – and relates how those traditions have framed the Hmong culture and community. Acknowledging the difficulties that have arisen from trying to follow those traditions in a new country where the language barrier, limited employment opportunities and xenophobia present everyday challenges, the film explores how dramatically life has changed for Hmong in the space of a generation.

This screening is part of a project Celebrating Hmong Culture Through the Arts which also includes a Paj ntaub display and a performance of The Latehomecomer.

Presented in collaboration with the NYS Writers Institute.  Funding support provided by University at Albany Foundation, University Auxiliary Services, Office of Intercultural Student Engagement and the Alumni Association through the Grandma Moses Fund.


A Celebration of Hmong Culture Through the Arts is a multi-discipline project celebrating Hmong culture and history  with literature, theatre, film and art. The schedule of events, all taking place at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center on the uptown University at Albany campus, is as follows:

1)   A display of Paj ntaub (also known as Hmong story cloths or flower cloths) - In cooperation with the Hmong Museum in Minnesota, there will be a display of Paj ntaub, an integral part of Hmong culture for centuries, for two weeks in the UAlbany Performing Arts Center lobby.  The Hmong place immense importance on the creation of these intricate textiles.  The creation of a story cloth begins with the selection of fabric and images outlined onto the fabric. Long satin stitches of multi-colored threads fill in the image, while details are applied with intricate satin stitches and borders pieced together and hand-stitched. Topics include history, traditional life in Laos, Hmong New Year, folk tales and neighboring people.  The quality and diversity of content of the story cloths build upon one another to help provide a holistic understanding of the Hmong culture and history.  The display will be available for viewing on Monday, October 24 through Friday, November 4, 2022 from 11am to 4pm daily on weekdays, with extended and additional hours on event days.  Admission is free. No reservations are required.

2)  A screening of the documentary Being Hmong Means Being Free - Focusing on a Hmong immigrant community in Wisconsin, this documentary from PBS Wisconsin offers a comprehensive look at many fundamental concepts and practices of the ancient Hmong culture – weddings, funerals, the “ball toss,” the shaman, clans and the “flower cloth” – and relates how those traditions have framed the Hmong culture and community. Acknowledging the difficulties that have arisen from trying to follow those traditions in a new country where the language barrier, limited employment opportunities and xenophobia present everyday challenges, the film explores how dramatically life has changed for Hmong in the space of a generation.  It looks at Hmong life in this country as seen through the eyes of the program host, seventeen-year-old Lia Vang.  The screening will take place at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 4:30pm.  Admission is free. No reservations are required.

3)  Performances of The Latehomecomer - Directed by Elise Thoron, this theatre play starts as author Kao Kalia Yang is born in the Ban Vinai Refugee camp in Thailand and eventually arrives in the United States.  The book and stage presentation follow her journey from a quiet, reticent student struggling to speak English while facing racial discrimination to a self-empowered young woman claiming her voice to tell the untold story of her people. They tell a universal story of immigration through the specific lens of this ancient culture inextricably bound to the history of the war in Vietnam.

Driven to share her family’s history after her grandmother’s death, The Latehomecomer is an eloquent, firsthand account of a people who have worked hard to make their voices heard. In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand, finally emigrating to America. Winner of a PEN USA Literary Award for Nonfiction and Readers Choice Award, The Latehomecomer is the first memoir written by a Hmong-American to be published with national distribution. A Hmong written language was not taught or used until the 1950s so the author plays a significant role in bringing the culture into the realm of literature.

The history of American Place Theatre (APT) is rich and varied with a consistent commitment to nurturing the talents of American authors, playwrights and actors. Having received more than 30 Obies and 16 Audelcos, its Literature to Life series offers professionally staged theatrical adaptations of significant American literary works. APT’s Literature to Life works which have previously graced the UAlbany Performing Arts Center stage include: Sherman Alexie’s Flight, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Lemon Anderson’s County of Kings, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

The Latehomecomer is performed by Gaosong Heu, a performance artist, musician, vocalist, published writer, educator, arts administrator and entrepreneur based in Saint Paul, MN. She received her B.A. in Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and her Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Columbia University. Gaosong has over 15 years of training in Western Classical music, as well as training in traditional styles of Hmong folk music.