To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and the contributions and culture of the Hmong people in the United States, UC Merced will host a symposium Friday entitled “Southeast Asian American Legacies” that will include speakers, a poetry reading and theater performances.
The symposium will serve as a precursor to the opening of the Hmongstory 40 exhibit in Fresno on Dec. 12. A selection of artwork from Hmongstory 40 is on display at the UC Merced Art Gallery through Jan. 26.
Ma Vang, a professor at UC Merced who helped organize the symposium, said it gives a broad picture of what the 40th anniversary means to the Southeast Asian community, not just the Hmong.
“It’s a different perspective to the anniversary event,” Vang said. “It’s not just what the U.S. did, but about who these people are and how they are still trying to talk about their history.”
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The Hmongstory 40 exhibit is a result of an intense, three-year effort to document the Hmong journey from Laos to California through photographs, written stories, fine art and artifacts.
Nearly 387,000 Southeast Asians live in the Central Valley, Vang said in a university news release, and 82,000 of them are Hmong. Merced is home to 7,200 Hmong people. Vang was UC Merced’s first Hmong studies professor, arriving in 2014. She was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and immigrated to the U.S. when she was in the fourth grade.
Vang said the symposium also will highlight the connection between past and present refugee situations, referencing the mass migration of refugees from Syria. “It’s not just about Vietnam,” she said. “It’s also about the refugee narrative. It goes beyond Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Europe.”
The symposium will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the California Room. The keynote address, by University of Connecticut professor Cathy Schlund-Vials, will be at 11:15 a.m.
The evening performances will begin at 7 p.m. in the Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium and are open to the public.