Lee talked about the progression of art in Hmong culture. For most Hmong, art is functional. People such as silversmiths, blacksmiths, weavers, singers, musicians, storytellers, and embroiderers created beautiful things that served a purpose. The most well known of these was a paj ntaub, which originally was a "flower cloth". This was the type of garment that was abstract and colorful; it was meant to keep the spirit interested and remaining with that person. One such example would be a hat covering a baby's head; the Hmong believed it would protect the baby from evil spirits who want to steal the baby's spirit. This was the traditional type of Hmong art. In the refugee camps, however, the paj ntaub evolved into a "story cloth". This was a gigantic piece of embroidered cloth that depicted the Hmong's journey from their homeland, across the river, and into the refugee camps. This would be something that would be sold and would help provide the family with an income so that they would be able to eat. Now in America, the paj ntaub is being found in sculptures, paintings, photographs, graphic design...everywhere. The basic "job" of Hmong art is to now tell a story about the history of the Hmong people, and to communicate their plight to the rest of the world.
Lee also told us of his personal journey to America, and how the clash between the Hmong and the American cultures has influenced his art. He said, "Many may say that living with the collision of two cultures is a burden, but I find it a blessing in disguise." He was able to find a balance between his heritage and his current country. That is something that is important for everyone to find in their lives.
This is an old picture of the dam that runs across the Mississippi River in my hometown, Elk River. Every year the city sets off their 4th of July fireworks from the fairgrounds by the dam, which makes the dam a perfect spot to view the show. Going to watch the fireworks there when I was little will always be a fond memory for me...even though I was barely tall enough to see over the guard rail that was exactly my height... :)
This is a personal lesson for me; although I did not personally immigrate from a foreign country to America, I did emmigrate from my hometown of Elk River, MN in Sorta-Northern MN to CSP in St. Paul, MN. This may have very well been an immigration, as the difference between the two places are substantial enough. Sometimes it is hard for me to assert by difference from my home community, and yet at the same time retaining my roots while at college. I'm working on finding the best of both worlds and learning how to assert my unique balance to everyone else. While my personal and ancestral history might not be as accessible as Seexeng Lee's is, I already am able to find the beauty of both my new and my old home. Communicating that invisible beauty and making it visible to everyone else is the work of a true artist, which I think everyone could be if they tried.