Theresa Tarpey

The Pen Is Mighty

Hmong American writers reclaim role as cultural storytellers.

FOR GENERATIONS OF HMONG, the written word was considered dangerous.

The Hmong maintained a rich oral- history tradition, but they had no written language. Stories, as told by skilled storytellers, served both to entertain audiences and to impart cultural knowledge to younger generations. It was not until the 1950s that Christian missionaries introduced into Laos, along with Western religion, a Latin-based writing system — the Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabet — that displaced old ways of storytelling and communicating.