The Tiger on the Page

UWEC grad student makes grandmother’s Hmong story into a children’s book

Abi Zimmer, photos by Andrea Paulseth

YOU CAN’T CAGE THIS TIGER. Pakou Vang published one of her Hmong grandmother’s stories into a children’s book as part of a grad school project.

When graduate student Pakou Vang first held a copy of The Tiger in the Village, a children’s story that she translated and edited, tears sprang to her eyes.

She was excited because she loves children’s stories. She was relieved because the published copy meant the closure of her thesis project at UW-Eau Claire, a project which initiated the book. But Pakou’s response went much deeper than hobbies and graduate accomplishments.
“It’s my grandma’s story; I feel so proud of her,” said Pakou. Her grandmother had passed away in 2008. “She was the head of our family and so valuable. I’m carrying her legacy on.”

In 1985, Pakou’s grandmother, Mee Moua, immigrated to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand. She arrived with Pakou’s parents and older sister, and was illiterate her entire life. But when Pakou needed a story for an undergraduate research project on literacy, Mee was eager to help.

Mee pulled out her paj ntaub dab neej (a storycloth) and told Pakou about a tiger clothed in a man’s outfit that came to a Hmong village during the New Year to trick the villagers. But the villagers knew better and enlisted the help of a young girl, a crow, and the girl’s uncles to defeat the tiger.

The anthropomorphic crow and tiger are common in Hmong stories. “Growing up, when older people tried to give wisdom and guidance through a story, proverb, or riddle, a lot of it was nature-related,” said Pakou.

In her undergraduate research, Pakou used The Tiger in the Village to study how Hmong narratives differed from North American story grammar – elements that comprise a story, such as characters, conflict, and setting. She found that Hmong stories sometimes left out definite endings or information about a character’s feelings.

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