Monday, August 1, 2011

Documentary Revisits RI's Hmong Refugees 25 Years Later

Better Places: The Hmong of Providence a Generation Later is the sequel to The Best Place to Live, a 1981 documentary about the early resettlement of the Hmong community in Providence, Rhode Island. The documentary debuts on WSBE Rhode Island PBS on Saturday, August 13 at 7 p.m. as part of the station's exclusive series, Rhode Island Stories. The 52-minute film will replay on Sunday, August 14 at 11 p.m. On WSBE Learn, the documentary will air on Wednesday, August 17 at 10 p.m.

The Hmong in the original documentary came as refugees from Southeast Asia, where they had fought alongside the United States during the Vietnam War. In Better Places: The Hmong of Providence a Generation Later, RISD filmmaker Peter O'Neill and Rutgers University anthropologist Louisa Schein pick up the story 25 years later, pursuing longtime friendships to take a look at what has become of the families they had documented a generation earlier. This sequel, shot over five years, features personal and vivid footage of the daily lives, ceremonies, and ongoing relationships of Hmong Americans from one small city. Completed in collaboration with Hmong editorial consultants and translators, the sequel updates four of the original families: two families from the younger generation were just getting married in 1981, and now have grown children; two families from the middle-aged generation have continued to innovate in places to live and strategies for making a living.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Associate Professor of History Chia YouYee Vang said of the film, "Better Places is a captivating view of what has become of Hmong refugees from Laos. Not only does it chronicle recent Hmong history in Southeast Asia and the reasons for their migration to the United States, but the film also invites viewers into the daily lives of these displaced people from war-torn Laos."

The film incorporates footage from the 1981 film revealing dramatic changes both for individuals and for Rhode Island life. Scenes of weddings and funerals, gardens and farms, sprawling landscapes and South Providence interiors come together in a panorama of changing Hmong experiences.

"The comparison between the early days of their settlement in Rhode Island and their current lives - told primarily by the participants themselves - provides unique perspectives about what 'home' means to them," observed Professor Vang.

Although Providence Hmong families have dispersed to many parts of the United States, they maintain their sense of close community across long distances through family events. The documentary also explores new possibilities for Hmong-Americans, including their revisits to Laos, their former homeland.

"Inclusion of Hmong Americans' interactions with their relatives in Laos is an exceptional way to understand the transnational ties that continue to bind people of Hmong ethnicity across the globe," Professor Vang added. "[Better Places is] a great resource for anyone interested in Hmong American history."


WSBE Rhode Island PBS transmits over the air on digital 36.1; on Cox 08 / 708HD, Verizon 08 / 508HD, Full Channel 08, Comcast 819HD (check local Comcast listings for standard definition channels); on DirecTV 36 and Dish Network 7776. WSBE Learn transmits on digital 36.2; on Cox 808, Verizon 478, Full Channel 109, Comcast 294 or 312.