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.
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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.
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.
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.