Bamboo Among the Oaks Turns 20

This year, the groundbreaking Hmong anthology Bamboo Among the Oaks turns 20, published by the Minnesota Historical Society (now Borealis Books) on October 1st, 2002.

With over 20 authors, “first- and second-generation Hmong Americans―the first to write creatively in English―share their perspectives on being Hmong in America. In stories, poetry, essays, and drama, these writers address the common challenges of immigrants adapting to a new homeland: preserving ethnic identity and traditions, assimilating to and battling with the dominant culture, negotiating generational conflicts exacerbated by the clash of cultures, and developing new identities in multiracial America.” Many of the works originally appeared in the long-running Hmoob literary arts journal Paj Ntaub Voice, but many of the writers created all-new work appearing for the very first time in the anthology.

This anthology was deeply significant because until the mid-20th century, the Hmong did not have a written language, and because of the nature of the Southeast Asian wars of that era, few had a chance to be published or to share their creative writing with one another, let alone the globe.

I would certainly take a look at the 2020 anthology that Borealis Books presented as a follow-up, Staring Down the Tiger, edited by Pa Der Vang, which featured many returning writers from the first collection and many of the new voices in the Hmong literary community who came forward afterwards. Another good anthology to have on your shelves would be the Hmong American Writers Circle 2011 anthology, How Do I Begin?

Although Paj Ntaub Voice ceased publication, the editor of Bamboo Among the Oaks, Mai Neng Moua, went on to complete her memoir, The Bride Price in 2017. Many of the writers involved with Bamboo Among the Oaks continued to write professionally, including May Lee Yang, Pacyinz Lyfoung, Dia Cha, and Soul Vang. Here’s to all that’s ahead for the writers and their community!

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