Weaving Women’s Voices Across Generations
by Kathi Matthews-Risley
In 2013, her second year as a graduate student at UW-Madison, Jacqulyn Teoh taught English 100 to about 19 students. It was her first college teaching experience. Teoh had a Hmong-American woman in her class who wanted to write about the issues Hmong women face for her final paper. Teoh felt that this was too big a topic for a four to five page final paper so she suggested the student write about something else. But that student sparked something in Teoh; an idea that would eventually become a web based, oral history project highlighting the stories of Hmong women.
Teoh was the first to admit she really didn’t know about Hmong culture or history, even though she grew up in Malaysia. It wasn’t until she came to graduate school in Wisconsin that she was introduced to a fairly large Hmong community.
In that community were many young, female Hmong-American, first generation college students. The university provided a place for these young women to voice their feelings about patriarchal Hmong society, the role of women in Hmong culture and their place in their communities.
In the spring 2014, Teoh attended a panel discussion about the evolving roles of Hmong women. The panel was held by Ian Baird, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Department of Geography.
Teoh walked away from the event with a clear idea of what she wanted to do next.
She envisioned a project which would bring together young Hmong-American women with their elders to record the experiences of the older women, experiences they had before coming to Wisconsin. These oral histories would be turned into narratives and posted on a website.
As the idea for her project took shape, she started reaching out to female Hmong students. She found eight UW-Madison students interested in the oral history project. A ninth student at UW-Stevens Point also agreed to participate.
Teoh applied to and received funds from the Public Humanities Exchange, formerly known as Humanities Exposed (HEX).
In fall 2014, Teoh planned a number of writing workshops that the nine students attended. They also learned how to conduct oral histories through Troy Reeves of the UW-Madison Oral History project. The students conducted their interviews that fall and started writing their narratives in spring 2015. The stories on the website are laid out like the floral, embroidered pieces of paj ntaub, the traditional needlework sewn by Hmong women.
Teoh launched the website in summer 2015. She thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating this anthology for the web.
Teoh was honored in April 2015 with an Excellence in Service Learning award from Wisconsin Without Borders (WWB) for the project. The WWB is a partnership between the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the Global Health Institute, and the Division of International Studies.