Cameras bring Hmong history to life


During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of Hmong people were recruited by the CIA in the fight against Communism. This war was known as the Secret War (Yang, 2008, p. 238). After the USA withdrew from the war in 1973, however, they left the Hmong behind, and a mass genocide and exile of the Hmong people was initiated by the newly Communist Laos and Vietnam governments.  While many stayed and fought the persecution and onslaught, some were forced to flee to neighboring countries—particularly Thailand—crossing the Mekong River and taking refuge in severely overcrowded camps (“PBS - The Split Horn: The Journey,” n.d.). It was only several months later that the USA came back to slowly relocate these refugees to North America. One of the most popular relocation areas for the Hmong people was North Carolina (Duchon, D., & Wilson, C. R., 2007, p. 157).

To celebrate their heritage and welcome these immigrants, Irwin Avenue Open School, a school in Charlotte that specialized in teaching English as a second-language, started the Hmong Photo Project in 1996. Courtesy of the Light Factory, a photo arts center, Hmong children were loaned automatic cameras to take home and document their daily lives. Through this project, the children who were struggling to both keep their traditional roots and assimilate into American culture were able to better connect and tell the stories of their trauma-stricken families while feeling welcomed into the community.


Duchon, D., & Wilson, C. R. (2007). Hmong. In C. RAY (Ed.), The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 6: Ethnicity (pp. 157–159). University of North Carolina Press.

PBS - The Split Horn: The Journey. (n.d.). PBS: Public Broadcasting Service.

Yang, K. (2008). Hmong American Contemporary Experience. In H. Ling (Ed.), Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans (pp. 236–254). Rutgers University Press.