A couple of months ago, when Erin gave a training workshop for young Asian Americans at the Rise Conference in Denver, she asked the assembled youths their ethnic backgrounds. One woman stod up and said she was Hmong. She said all hger life, she's had to explain her heritage when people ask "What's a Hmong? There's no country called Hmong!"
But now, she said, "I just tell people, H-M-O-N-G. Google it."
That got a big laugh out of the crowd, most of whom were familiar with the history of the Hmong. But most people in the U.S. are woefully unaware of the Hmong.
Clint Eastwood's mostly terrific movie from earlier this year, "Gran Torino," exposed more people than ever before to the history of the mountain tribe of Southeast Asia, and how the CIA recruited them to fight a shadow front out of Laos during the Vietnam War. When the US pulled out of Vietnam, we left the Hmong hanging, and the Communist Pathet Lao government rained retribution on the Hmong.
Although we've relocated many Hmong refugees in various communities in America, thousands are still trapped in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand where they escaped from Laos. The communities are where the US government resettled the Hmong include Michigan, where "Gran Torino" takes place, California, Texas, Colorado (we have a thriving Hmong population in the Denver area) and Minnesota, where the first-ever Hmong American elected to office is a state senator.
So, Erin and I are thrilled to announce the next guest on visualizAsian.comâ€™s AAPI Empowerment Series: Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua. The interview will be held Tuesday, July 7 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT).
Clint Eastwood, who looked at one of the most famous battles of World War II through the eyes of doomed Japanese soldiers in the 2006 film, "Letters from Iwo Jima," is now lookng at Asian Americans and racism in an upcoming movie, "Gran Torino."
Eastwood plays a racist Korean War veteran and retired Ford factory employee, Walt Kowalski, who's been beaten down by life. The only two steadfast things in his life are his 1972 Gran Torino, an artifact from the glory days of Ford muscle, and his M-1 rifle, an artifact from the glory days of American muscle. Everything else around him is going to hell: his wife has recently died, he's estranged from his grown kids, and to his dismay, his rundown neighborhood is becoming over-run by Asians.
The incoming foreigners are Hmong, not Korean. Eastwood's character gets to know the Hmong family that moves in next door after their 16-year-old son tries to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. Predictably, Eastwood at first hates them but then grows close, and protects them against the gang.
The movie's trailer shows some typical interactions between a cranky white man and black neighborhood punks and scary-looking Asian gang members. Knowing Eastwood, I bet the plot is more complicated than the predictable scenes in the trailer, though.
This is the first time a Hollywood movie has taken a deep dive into the Hmong community, so it's an opportunity to teach Americans about their history and culture, and of the AAPI culture of second generation Hmong Americans.
Besides Eastwood, the movie stars a group of first-time actors, most if not all Hmong (no hiring of non-ethnically accurate actors just for the right "talent" or "star power" a la "Memoirs of a Geisha"), and the casting was featured in a series of interviews in a Hmong news site, Suab Hmong Radio:
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