Introducing “Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub”

A Poetic Prologue – HMoob not Hmong or Mong

“Hmong” spelled as H-m-o-o-b

​reclaims the HMONG part of the Hmong American identity

HMOOB acknowledges

the authentic pronunciation of the “Hmong” name, heritage, and people

“Hmong” spelled as M-o-o-b

signifies the distinction of Mong-ness: Mong Green, Mong Leng, Mong Blue

MOOB fwm txug (respectfully recognizes)

the multiplicity and brilliance of the Hmoob/Moob mother tongue

“Hmong” as H-M-o-o-b

challenges the history of Hmoob-White dominance in the United States

HMoob: not spelled Hmong, including Moob, and beyond Hmoob

the thread that sews HMoob people throughout the world together 

The Paj Ntaub (Story Cloth)

Paj ntaub (story cloth) is a well-known cultural icon that often represents HMoob Americans’ refugee stories. While living in refugee camps in Thailand, HMoob refugees detailed their perspectives of the Vietnam War onto large cloths or paj ntaub. They often portray their interpretation of trauma, displacement, diaspora, assimilation, and even changes in gender roles. As a symbolic way to continue this art form, we examine how HMoob American undergraduates are sewing their own history through higher education. Rather than a physical story cloth, our paj ntaub draws on the lived experiences of HMoob American college students to expand on the themes of trauma, resilience, displacement, and diaspora. The poem above serves as an opportunity to sew the HMoob American College Paj Ntaub in a more inclusive and culturally specific way.

HMoob people arrived in the United States as Southeast Asian refugees with a long history of displacement, often as a result of political persecution. Today, HMoob people reside in several continents including Australia, Asia, Europe, and North America. Wisconsin has the third largest HMoob population (49,240) in the United States, behind California and Minnesota.[1] HMoob Americans along with other Southeast Asian students, have among the lowest educational attainment in the country. While educational attainment and poverty rates for HMoob in Wisconsin have significantly improved in the past 30 years, they still fall behind that of the state average. Educational literature on HMoob American has documented the racial and ethnic discrimination experienced by HMoob American students in both K-12 and higher education settings and reinforces the need for more research on the educational experiences of this growing population.[2] There are approximately 300 HMoob American undergraduates currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[3] This project will document the educational experiences of these undergraduates.

Our Research

“Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub” is a qualitative research project conducted by CCWT in partnership with a student initiative at UW-Madison called the HMoob American Studies Committee (HMASC). Our study examines the sociocultural and institutional factors impacting the college experiences of HMoob American students. Our research aims to uncover the ways HMoob American students forge spaces to belong, respond to racism, and develop various social networks to survive. A larger part of this project considers how the undergraduate experience contributes to the historical narrative of trauma, resilience, and displacement within the HMoob American community (paj ntaub). A better understanding of these experiences is key to supporting the academic success and future career goals of HMoob American undergraduates.

The research group has come together to conduct a qualitative, community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) project aimed at investigating these issues from the viewpoint of HMoob American students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CBPAR is a term used to refer to a partnership approach to research that typically involves engagement between academic researchers and community actors with the aim of gaining a more grounded understanding of a given phenomenon through shared, collaborative decision-making that positions community members as researchers rather than research subjects. Our study uses interviews and observations with HMoob American college students as well as artifact data from around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to better understand the college experiences of HMoob American students through their lived experiences.

Our preliminary data suggests that HMoob American students face racial micro- and macroaggressions in numerous places on campus including, but not limited to residence halls, classrooms, and public spaces. Many of these encounters with racism are related to the ways UW-Madison’s campus is racially segregated, spatially and institutionally. Another finding shows that pre-college and college support programs play a large part in how HMoob American undergraduates build academic and social networks throughout their college career. Students not involved in these programs seek out other forms of support through student organizations that relate to their ethnic or racial background.

Looking Forward

Our research goals include sharing our project with UW-Madison administration, engaging in critical conversations about HMoob-related curricula, and raising critical consciousness amongst other HMoob American undergraduates. These efforts directly relate to the CCWT mission of using student voice to inform policies, programs, and practices that promote academic and career success.

Anyone interested in hearing about research findings, please join us for a celebration event on Friday, February 1, 2019 (check the CCWT website for details on time and location). We hope to also present our research at the upcoming Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) in April 2019 hosted here at UW-Madison.

Please be on the lookout for our future academic and community events.

Choua Xiong is lead author of this blog with the research team and co-author with Pa Kou Xiong, of the poemHMoob not Hmong or Mong.” The CCWT Paj Ntaub research team is comprised of Lena Lee, Pangzoo Lee, Myxee Thao, Kia Vang, Odyssey Xiong, Pa Kou Xiong, Pheechai Xiong, and their research mentors, Bailey Smolarek, Matthew Wolfgram, and Choua Xiong.


[1] Pfeifer, M. E., Sullivan, J.,Yang, K., & Yang, W. (2013). Hmong population and demographic trends in the 2010 census and 2010 American community survey. Hmong Studies Journal, 13(2): 1–33.; U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). 2010 US Census Interactive Population Search – Wisconsin Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Wisconsin. Retrieved from

[2] DePouw, C. (2012). When culture implies deficit: Placing race at the center of Hmong American Education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(2): 223–39; Lee, S. J. (2005). Up against whiteness: Race, school, and immigrant youth. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

[3] Academic Planning and Institutional Research. (2018). Hmong students enrollment and degree information. Excel. UW Madison. Produced by: Clare Huhn.