October 28, 2004

The Mai Neng Moua Case Study

Since the beginning of the term I have been certain that I wanted to devote my case study to Mai Neng Moua. Mai Neng is the founder and long-time editor of Paj Ntaub Voice, the only literary arts journal for Hmong writers. She has been at it for ten years and has been responsible for a dozen issues of the magazine, an anthology (Bamboo Among the Oaks), and the sponsorship of 135 writers to date. She is a primary force in the emerging movement of Hmong (American) literature; she is a potent visionary with unswerving determination.

Mai Neng is also a poem and memoirist. She is preparing to take a year to return more purposefully to her craft through the Bush Fellowship. For the better part of her adult life, Mai Neng has been an activist and an advocate for literacy and literary arts in a community that has been otherwise occupied by the demands of being refugees and immigrants in America.

Mai Neng is bilingual but experiences distinct tensions between her linguistic abilities—specifically the disparity between her English fluency and flagging Hmong ability. She speaks often of her desire to record and translate Hmong language rituals and orature, but she also expresses the dismay of her linguistic limitations. She feels that she is missing something, that something is in danger of being lost. When she addresses these concerns, she is clearly referring to the communal and cultural losses, but it is also apparent that she harbors certain personal anxieties about what such losses will entail for her own identity.

She and I are very close friends and have worked together for more than four years on a wide variety of projects. This case study provides the opportunity for us to focus our conversation—and to record its outcomes—and incentive for both of us to return to the transcript and analyze its content. As a key figure in the world of Hmong (American) literature, I would be pleased to see a chapter of my dissertation develop from these focused conversations.

I have scheduled three one-hour conversations with Mai Neng that I will transcribe and share with her for her corrections, clarifications, comments, and for further conversation.

FOCUSED QUESTIONS

You have spent ten years creating and sustaining a literary arts movement. How has this shaped your own identity? To what extent does this work define how you conceive of yourself?

In the beginning you seem to think of yourself as a writer. Now you write less, organize and administer more. How have your changes purposes for your literacy (writing poetry versus writing grants) affected your identity?

Your own writing has waned in the past years. Now you are preparing to take leave on a fellowship. How will you structure your writing? What writing tasks will you tackle first?

What are your writing goals for your fellowship? How will you measure those goals? What mechanisms have you built to facilitate achieving those goals?

When you write, how do you write? What tools/technologies do you use? How do you structure your time? What process do you take? How does it differ between different purposes/genres?

What are the connections between basic literacy skills and literary production?

You have written often about your mother. What can you tell me about her literacy practices? How has she been a literacy teacher to you? How has she facilitated your writing? How has she impeded it?

You have written about the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. Think about inscription, memory, and memorializing. What is the significance of the names in that wall? Comment on the Hmong Veterans Memorial that has more recently been erected.

Writers assume a certain role in society. What is your role as a writer? Do you define that role within a Hmong society, or society more generally? Why one over the other? How do writers function differently in the Hmong community now? What role will they play in the future?

Much of your work has been focused on building up Hmong writers and giving them opportunities to succeed. You are impressively positive. Are there any ways in which Hmong writers are failing themselves and their community at this time?

Trace your own basic literacy--in each of the relevant languages. How did that literacy develop? Describe the tools, spaces, programs, people, and institutions that contributed to (or impeded) that development.

Consider a hypothetical (albeit impossible): If you had to choose between reading and writing—meaning that you would completely lose the skill not chosen—which would you choose? Would you produce texts or consume texts? Why? How does your answer relate to your sense of your identity?

Who are you? Who do you write yourself to be (in a poem or in a grant, for example)? How does the self that you write shape the self that you are?

[The interview guide that follows was a tool I developed for a literacy study I developed for a previous class. The project was influenced profoundly by my exposure to Deb Brandt’s Literacy in American Lives. I set out to write the beginnings of Literacy in Hmong American Lives. I may use these questions—or forms of them—in the current case study.]

INTERVIEW GUIDE:
“EXPERIENCES WITH AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS LITERACY IN THE HMONG COMMUNITY”

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS
What is your name? (this question is strictly to identify the respondent and will not be used in any report. All names will be altered and the principle investigator will have sole access to the key.)

Where were you born?

When were you born?

Where have you lived since then and how long have you lived there?

When did you arrive in the United States?

What languages do you speak?

FIRST LANGUAGE (L1)
What was the first language that you learned to speak (L1)?

Can you read and write in L1?

If not:
Have you ever tried to learn?
What were the experiences of trying to learn?
Why do you feel you have not been successful at learning to read and write L1?

If so:
Please explain how you learned to read and write L1.
What was difficult about learning to read and write L1?
What impressed you about learning to read and write L1?
How have you used your literacy in L1?
Would you like to improve upon your skills in L1? If so, in what ways would you like to improve them?

SECOND LANGUAGE (L2)
What was the second language that you learned to speak (L2)?

Can you read and write in L2?

If not:
Have you ever tried to learn?
What were the experiences of trying to learn?
Why do you feel you have not been successful at learning to read and write L2?

If so:
Please explain how you learned to read and write L2.
What was difficult about learning to read and write L2?
What impressed you about learning to read and write L2?
How have you used your literacy in L2?
Would you like to improve upon your skills in L2? If so, in what ways would you like to improve them?

[REPEAT THIS SERIES OF QUESTIONS FOR EACH SPOKEN LANGUAGE]

APPLICATION QUESTIONS
How is reading and writing, in any language, important to you? To the Hmong community?

How is reading and writing in Hmong important to you? To the Hmong community?

How is reading and writing in English important to you? To the Hmong community?

What is the most important thing about being able to read and write in any language and in any particular language?

How does the ability to read and write in a language affect your speaking and listening abilities in that same language?

How does the ability to read and write in a language affect your speaking and listening abilities in another language?

How do you use your literacy on a day-to-day basis?

Posted by ogde0004 at October 28, 2004 1:50 PM