NEA Big Read
The Latehomecomer

The Latehomecomer

by Kao Kalia Yang

What happened to the Hmong happened before us and will happen again after us. It is one group and then another.

Kao Kalia Yang (Photo: Shee Yang)

  1. The prologue to The Latehomecomer offers a glimpse of what it means to Yang to be Hmong, in many ways summarizing the story about to unfold. Why do you think Yang begins this way? Why do you think she wrote the prologue in third person when the rest of the memoir is written in first person?
  2. Part one begins with a description of “the biggest covert operation in CIA history” (p. 7) known as “The Secret War” and its devastating aftermath in 1975. Were you familiar with the involvement of the Hmong people in the Vietnam War before you read the book? In what ways can a memoir go beyond mere documentation to expand our understanding of a chapter of American history?
  3. How does Yang describe her parents when they meet, and in what ways do they change throughout the book? Is their story a love story? How does Yang talk about love?
  4. When the Yang family crosses the Mekong River, they're forced to leave their family photos behind. What belongings carry meaning in The Latehomecomer? What objects would you hope to hang onto through such a journey?
  5. In what ways is storytelling important to Yang and in Hmong culture? What can be lost when a story best known in the oral tradition is written down? How does Yang navigate this transition?
  6. “I used to ask all the adults in my life where home was because they kept telling me that Ban Vinai Camp wasn't my home,” Yang told the NEA. What are some of the ways the Hmong establish a sense of home without a written language and “home” country? How do you define “home”?
  7. What surprised you about Yang's experiences living in a refugee camp?
  8. Yang describes the strong bond she feels with her siblings, her parents, her grandmother, and the rest of her extended family. How do these bonds define, support, and/or challenge her? How do the familial bonds in your life define, support, and/or challenge you?
  9. Of the many reasons Yang's grandmother provides for not wanting to leave the refugee camp and relocate to America (pgs. 78-80), which one most resonates with you? What do you think she is most afraid of?
  10. What did Yang and her family have to learn about America in order to emigrate? What do you think it would be helpful for newcomers like Yang and her family to know before they arrive?
  11. Tens of thousands of Hmong refugees moved to California, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the 1980s and 90s. How does Yang describe the ways her family was treated? What measures do they take to both fit in and stay invisible?
  12. “The only way to live in America was to learn of its possibilities, and the way to do that was school,” Yang writes, paraphrasing her father's attitude (p. 139). What was the transition to school like for her and her sister, Dawb?
  13. The conditions in the camps were “hard for those who knew more than I did,” writes Yang, “but for me, the hardness in life began in America” (p. 151). Why? How does she regain her “voice,” as represented in both her native language and in English?
  14. The memoir's last section is devoted to descriptions of her grandmother and how the importance of honoring one's elders in Hmong culture. How does this compare to the ways elders are honored in other cultures?
  15. The book ends with sentiments of hope and determination directed at her family and her “Hmong brothers and sisters.” How are her “dreams” for them similar to or different from what you think of as the collective “American dream”?

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