Why Music Matters: Hmong Immigrant Cher Veng ‒ Music Connects Me To Others

Cher Veng is a Hmong woman from Laos. She grew up without ever knowing her parents, who were both killed during the Vietnam War and the C.I.A.’s Secret War. Today, living in Washington State, she’s isolated from her family, who have been scattered all over the world. But there’s a way she finds comfort. She calls into Hmong teleconferences where people all over the country swap news, ghost stories and sing traditional Hmong songs.



Listen to the story:

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Here’s some background: Hmong are an ethnic group from Southern China and Southeast Asia. They have a strong tradition of music, including a genre of vocal songs with poetic lyrics suited for different occasions such as funerals, courtship, and New Years.

Yeng Lee Cha at Hmong New Year
sings a kwv txhiaj New Years song

During the Vietnam War, the C.I.A. recruited Hmong people to block the North Vietnamese Communists from extending the Ho Chi Minh Train into Laos. It’s estimated that thousands of American soldier’s lives were saved and 30,000-40,000 Hmong died during that time. At the end of the war, many thousands of Hmong people fled retribution from the communist Laos government, and resettled in the United States, France, Australia and elsewhere.

Hmong-American youth toss balls at the Seattle Center Hmong New Year celebration

To learn more about Hmong people check out the Hmong Association of Washington and the Hmong Cultural Center.

Here is a girl in Laos singing about how Hmong people have become dispersed across the world:

Music used in this piece: Kwv txhiaj songs sung on the teleconferencing line and by Cher Veng.

Check out the other stories in the Why Music Matters story series.

Produced by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, 2010 AIR Live Interactive Resident. Editorial oversight by Kevin Cole. Mastered by Matt Ogaz. Live Interactive is a collaboration of KEXP and AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio with financial support from AIR members worldwide, Recovery.gov, and the National Endowment for the Arts which believe a great nation deserves great art.

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6 Comments

  1. Jay
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Very powerful! I lived in Thailand from ’88-’96,’ in the North, and had Hmong friends and students. (I was a teacher.) Music is such a great part of Thai society, and singing is often a part of socializing. As for those who were removed from there homeland, I’m glad that technology and music and connect them. I love this series and the collaboration with AIR.

  2. Ben Harthun
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this article. It’s good that such a small culture gets more recognition, especially for their struggles and what they’ve done for us. My girlfriend is Hmong and I couldnt be more appreciative of what she’s done for me and my family in the years I’ve known her. I’d like to get to know more of what her background is about and her familys culture since they feel that their Hmong background will slowly diminish. It’s understanding but it’s also a hard thing to accept that raising their children in America they aren’t going to always fall in love with someone from their culture. It’s a struggle I’m sure a lot of Hmong Immigrants to America face

  3. Bob Antone
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Cher Vang , her husband and children have been setting up a fruit/vegetable/flower stand in front of my house during the summer months since 2008. (North Bend,WA) I am so happy to hear my friend Cher tell her story and you folks did an excellent job! I actually called Cher this morning after my friend Patricia Perez sent me a link to this blog. I played the audio recordings over the phone for Cher and Kee and they LOVED it! GREAT JOB!

  4. ia Cha Cleveland
    Posted January 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Cher Vang is my mother and I can understand how hard it is to be here in America. I’m so glad my mom got to tell her story. She is one of the strongest people I know. Being in America almost my whole life and then living the Hmong culture at home I see sides, the hardships and struggles, the understanding and love. I love you mom and I’m glad you are able to share your story now and know that you are not alone. I was also very excited to see this mom it was aswome to be able to hear your story.

  5. april
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Great piece! Just wondering though…Cher speaks great English, why is there a voice over???

  6. Posted April 7, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Hi April,
    Thank you for the compliment. Cher does speak great English. The problem is that when people listen to the radio, they’re often in their car, or making dinner, or doing other things at the same time. The voiceover is there to make sure that her words don’t get lost for some people who might have trouble understanding her accent and are listening to the radio with other background noise. The hope was that it would help communicate her message across the radio boundaries.
    I hope that answers your question.
    Thank you,
    Anna

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