Diaspora, resilience and common ground: Library Gallery celebrates Hmong culture in latest exhibit

‘Cloth as Community’ on display through May 19


Alyssa Branum

A group of models posed together in front of the “Cloth as Community” sign in the Library Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The varied ensembles express Hmong culture through textiles.

Hailey Valdivia and Jasmine Ascencio

Patterns of brightly colored cloth, textile and artifacts line the wall. Each artifact holds a unique and rich history with a  significant cultural impact that weaves the past and present for the Hmong community. Beyond the intricate textiles, stories and history are embedded within each piece, representing a people with no homeland. This is ‘Cloth as Community: Threading the Needle of the Past, Present, and Future.’

The exhibit, which has been in development for three years, celebrated an opening reception Jan. 24th in the University Library Gallery and the Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives.

The exhibit in the University Library Gallery will run until Feb. 25th and in the Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives until May 19th.

‘Cloth as Community’ comprises two exhibitions organized by Project HMONG and Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives. It serves to showcase textile traditions and fashion of the Hmong people.

The gallery space buzzed with excitement while various community members wore their Hmong cultural artifacts, as was encouraged by the event organizers. Some wore a paj ntaub or ‘flower cloth,’ a traditional form of Hmong needlework. 

Nkauj lab Yang, Executive Director for the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs, spoke during the reception.

“You don’t get to go to institutions or public places and feel like you’re acknowledged,” Yang said. “I feel and I know that I belong here.”

Story continues below gallery.

Dr. Chao Vang, Equity Strategist and Director of Educational Equity Access said it was important for future students of Sac State to see themselves being represented.

But also for Hmong students to actually feel like they belong,” Vang said. “And in this case, to belong is to be seen through arts and for the Hmong it was through cloth and I also want to share you know the beauty of our culture to the campus community.” 

A clear testament of community effort, the exhibit was curated by two members of the Hmong community: Mai Yang Thor, executive director of Hmong Youth and Parents United and Pachia Vang, founder of “Paj Ntaub: Culture through Cloth.”

It was Thor’s personal research of Hmong clothing that sparked her curiosity to discover more about the woven identity of Hmong people.

The event was originally scheduled for 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Vang said that even the challenge of COVID-19, helped Project HMONG reflect and ensure that they knew what they wanted people to take away from the exhibit. 

“We really wanted to showcase the history of our young people, but not just in a way where it’s literal artifacts of history,” said Andrew Yang, APIDA Center Coordinator & Student Academic Success Counselor. “And I think ultimately, the decision came through textiles.”

The exhibition is a mixture of clothes, artifacts and textiles that were donated by community members, borrowed from private collections and from the university’s collection.  

“It’s been amazing because I didn’t expect that many donations,” Yang said. “Some of [the artifacts] dating back to the 1900s are very old family souvenirs.” 

In the face of their diaspora, the Hmong people showed their resilience to keep their identity alive through their very own clothing. These textiles became their way to pass down their history throughout the generations. 

“You see symbols on our clothing, our bags,” said Pachia Vang. “We continue to carry this legacy of who we are on our clothing.” 

 Thor is a Sac State alumna and previously coordinated the Hmong fashion show in honor of the Hmong New Year.

 “I hope that this [exhibit] will inspire you to spark some sort of curiosity within yourself to search and find the beauty of our culture and all the cultures here in Sacramento,” Thor said.