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The Latehomecomers: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang.

December 26, 2019

The Latehomecomers
The Latehomecomers: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang.  Coffeehouse Press, 2008.

5 stars

The poignant memoir of the author’s life and larger community from Laos and Thailand through her arrival in the United States when a small child, and her family’s settlement in Minnesota.

Kao Kalia Yang sets her memoir in the history of the Hmong people who had lived in the mountains of Laos only to be bombed out and forced to flee during the Vietnam War.  Yang herself was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, moving to the United States when she was six.  She and her extended family settled in Minnesota where she attended school.  Her degrees are from Carleton College and Columbia University.  She has written several children’s books and edited anthologies and been involved with work with other migrants.

Yang opens her book with an account of the Hmong people, an ethnic group who had never had a homeland they could call their own.  They had lived in China until they were moved from there into the mountainous region of Laos.  Bombings and a determination to get rid of the Hmong lead them to escape to Thailand.  Yang describes her parents’ dangerous escape and life in a refugee camp where Kalia was born.  As Yang reports, life there was hard and extremely isolated.  Hope centered on going to the United States, even though almost nothing was known about that country.

For me, the most interesting and useful part of the book was that in which Yang tells about what she encountered as a naïve six-year-old arriving in an unknown land. She captures the innocence and awe of any bright child as well as the surprise at what most of us take for granted.  The same sense of vision of the unexpected pervades the book generally helping us see ourselves in a new light.

The later part of the book recounts Yang’s school years and the growth of her extended family community. Here she emphasizes the high expectations of the parents’ generation for younger ones.  Yang’s grandmother and the rituals of her death are also prominent.  In this section, Yang conveys how the Hmong in Minnesota finally create their own nebulous home they had previously not possessed.

I gladly recommend Latehomecomers.  I also recommend Yang’s more recent biography of her father, The Song Poet,a factory worker and a song poet in the Hmong tradition.

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