I BEGIN MY LIFE ALL OVER by Lillian Faderman


The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience
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An oral history that strongly conveys the searing social and emotional upheavals faced by tens of thousands of Hmong people who have fled communist Laos to live in this country. Faderman (English and Lesbian Studies/California State Univ., Fresno; Surpassing the Love of Men, 1981, etc.) and her translator and intermediary, Ghia Xiong, interviewed 53 Hmong immigrants, ranging in age from 11 to 66, over a two-year period, beginning in 1994. The words of 33 of the Hmong—most of them residents of central California—appear here in edited form. Faderman uses the testimony effectively to tell representative stories that shed light on the experiences of the some 130,000 Hmong who have come here since the American war in Indochina ended in 1975. Many fought for this country in the so-called “secret war” in Laos. Faderman’s goal is to use the Hmong expatriates’ words to represent the entire immigrant experience in the US. The Hmong story, Faderman says, reveals “the fabric that has gone into the making of Americans.” Faderman’s Hmong tell sorrowful tales of a nomadic tribal people forced from their homeland into horrific detention camps in Thailand, only to struggle in every imaginable fashion once they reached the US. Most of the Hmong speak of severe social dislocation and generational confrontations between traditional elders and rebellious young people. Many of the stories, though, contain some positive news, usually involving the younger generation. In her chapter introductions Faderman weaves in stories about her immigrant mother that often abruptly interrupt the otherwise smooth narratives. She also includes intimate details of her own life that seem decidedly out of place in this otherwise enlightening book. These often painful stories expand on the cultural collision described by Anne Fadiman in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997).

Pub Date: April 6th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8070-7234-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998


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