Book Review-The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
It's a thought provoking book and certainly proves the perseverance and sacrifices the Hmong made to move to America. In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to America. But lacking a written language of their own, the Hmong experience has been primarily recorded by others. Driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, The Latehomecomer is Kao Kalia Yang’s tribute to her grandmother whose spirit held them all together. It is also a firsthand account of a people who have worked hard to make their voices heard.
Beginning in the 1970s, as the Hmong were being massacred for their collaboration with the United States during the Vietnam War, Yang recounts the story of her family’s captivity, the rescue undertaken by her father and uncles, and their narrow escape into Thailand where Yang was born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. She relates in vivid detail the first six years of her life, spent in a Thai refugee camp, as a time of family and joyfulness, despite the utter poverty and deprivation she and her family suffered as escapees. She is always buoyed up by her family, no matter how difficult their lives were.
When she was six years old, Yang’s family immigrated to America, and she writes about the challenges of adapting to a new place and a new language. In the final sections, Yang describes her family's move into a transition camp and then, with thousands of other Hmong families, to St. Paul, Minnesota, where she spent the rest of her childhood. Placed in the first low-income housing units in the state, Yang remembers wanting to be invisible as they endured stares and people yelling for them to go home. She describes the challenges of school with her sister, speaking infrequently but learning to write. At the end of the memoir, Yang graduates college and begins her book, and says goodbye to her beloved grandmother amidst an elaborate funeral.
The group really enjoyed the book esp those who heard it on audible which was narrated by Yang herself as a tribute to the Hmong Tradition of story telling.