Stitched Tapestry of Hmong History to be Unveiled at Multicultural Center

by Heather Gjerde, UW Communications

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Multicultural Student Center (MSC) will unveil a colorful, wall-sized stitched tapestry depicting the history of the Hmong people during a celebration and ceremony from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

The event, which will be held in the MSC Lounge of the Red Gym, is open to students, faculty and staff as well as members of the Madison community.

Txia Vang, the mother of Madison resident Nao Shoua Thoa, created the piece while living with her family in Hmong refugee camps after the Vietnam War. The tapestry, also considered a “story cloth or quilt,” depicts the story of the Hmong people arriving to the United States.

There will be storyboards next to Vang’s quilt explaining and giving context to the different embroidered events.

“When you’re in a refugee camp there’s not a lot you can do,” says May Lee Moua-Vue, student advisor for the International Student Services and liaison to the MSC, herself of Hmong descent. “It was a way of the Hmong people to keep track of their journey.”

It took Vang and her family a long time to create the embroidered story cloth, as well as a long time for the piece to make its way to the United States. The Vang family had worked on the quilt sporadically in the refugee camps after they arrived in 1978. In 1991, when the United Nations decided to dissolve the camp they were staying in, the family returned to Laos. Vang’s daughter, Nao Shoua Thao, who is currently living in Madison with her husband, was the only family to come to the United States.

According to Lee, it’s common that Hmong women would weave together the history of the Hmong people on quilts.

“Overall, throughout the university, you see a lot of pieces that are pertinent to different ethnic groups, but you don’t see a lot that relates back to the Hmong,” Moua-Vou says. “I think this is a really nice gesture to the Hmong students and staff that work at this university. And what a better place to put it then the MSC, where many of these students call home.”

The MSC wants to celebrate the hanging of the quilt and recognize the people who were involved in its creation, as well as recognize Wisconsin’s Hmong community. Moua-Vou estimates that there are about 45,000 Hmong living in Wisconsin.