Through the thousands of years of human history, different cultures have chosen to preserve their stories through cave paintings, cuneiform, pyramids and mosaics. The Hmong people tell their stories by embroidering detailed, vivid scenes on cloth and this is the autobiographical story of Dia Cha and her family.
After the Hmong fled China and established themselves in Laos, they lived peaceful lives carrying on long-held traditions. Then, war came to Laos and the Hmong had to flee that country to save themselves. This book is a story cloth that shows the journey from Laos to the refugee camp in Thailand. The careful stitching talks of violent, angry soldiers who overcame the Hmong men by shooting them or forcing them to fight.
The glistening threads speak of families fleeing in the night and of the struggle to cross the Mekong river into safety. Many lives were lost. Many people suffered. The happy ever after ending comes when the family is able to get to the United States and begin to make a new life for themselves. The presence of danger, fear and hardship are woven into the story but the Hmong, an immigrant people who choose freedom, once again prove themselves resilient and overcome the incredible challenges and oppression they faced. 24 pages
Recommended by: Barb
“Hmong” means “free people,” yet the story of these people, who long to be free and to enjoy their particular culture, has been filled with escape from oppressors and lives lived in refugee camps. In “Dia’s Story Cloth,” Dia Cha has told simply and in ways children can understand the story of her people and how desperately they have tried to live in freedom. Dia’s family history starts in Laos, where her family and many others lived peacefully in houses made of wood and bamboo and palm leaves. They were farmers until war came to Laos. Dia’s father sided with the loyalist troops, and her family began moving from village to village to escape the communist soldiers. Her father was captured and was never seen again. The war brought bombings and killings. Dia’s mother wanted the family to be safe so she took the family to Thailand to live in a refugee camp, where they lived for four and a half years! Dia’s family was fortunate to be chosen to immigrate to the United States, but she was already 15 years old and knew no English—and she had never been to school! Dia had to start all over, but amazingly, thirteen years later, she graduated college with a master’s degree in anthropology. She used her hard-earned education to give back to her people, returning in 1992 to Laos to work with Hmong and Lao women in the refugee camps in Thailand. Dia’s story cloth is an amazing example of a cultural craft that has become synonymous with the Hmong people in the United States. Several pages appended to the end of the story give a more thorough description of the Hmong people and their art. The bibliography contains reference works at the adult level. A free teacher’s guide is available at leeandlow.com. The wonder of this book is that the story quilt tells the story in sections, sparing children from some of the graphic violence of the war while still making clear that danger and violence were prevalent. Dia’s story is a testament to the courage and determination needed to survive loss of culture and society in one’s homeland and the motivation to be successful in an entirely new world. It also speaks volumes about personal expression and using handcraft to record history and to help people deal with emotions.
Recommended by Shari Shaw, Librarian, Michigan USA