Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
This paper examines how new Hmong textile forms that started in Ban Vinai refugee camp have served as dialogical performance, spiritual and political agency, and transnational commodity in the diasporas. These textiles create a hybrid social language that draws from a diversity of linguistic consciousnesses in a culture where there was not a universally understood writing system until the mid-20th century. Traditional paj ntaub (flower cloth) garments in Laos were a primary indicator of Hmong identity and can be seen as an alternate text. The complex, layered geometric patterns in paj ntaub established ethnic group identification and offered passive resistance to state-making projects. Hmong women helped impede appropriation into national majority culture with an active but informal strategic dimension. However, politics of the Vietnam War brought radical change to Hmong textile production and aesthetics as the Hmong fled into Thai refugee camps and immigrated to the United States or other countries involved in the war. New textile forms developed in the refugee camps traveled back to villages in Laos: story cloths with escape narratives embroidered in pictorial representation, messianic scripts that were transcribed into reverse appliquÈ and embroidery, re-purposed paj ntaub into Western garments. Mediators of the refugee experience hybridized Hmong textiles serve as a liminal site for staging identity as a displaced people. Simultaneously, they maintain a specific textile tradition upholding a compelling linguistic or narrative capacity, Bakhtin's "single utterance" that is global and transnational for Hmong in Southeast Asian villages or Minneapolis/St. Paul.