Cartographic Quilt

Cartographic Quilt

Hmong story cloth tells of a 20th-century migration.


6 - 12+


Arts and Music, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

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This is a Hmong story cloth. Hmong people are native to southeast Asia, and have a long tradition of embroidery and textile work.

Story cloths, however, are not traditional Hmong textiles. Hmong story cloths were only invented in the 1970s, when thousands of Hmong were interred in refugee camps.

Hmong had allied themselves with American forces during the Vietnam War. When Americans withdrew from Vietnam and Laos in the 1970s, the governments of those countries, which had opposed U.S. intervention, targeted the Hmong. In this story cloth, Hmong flee these armed soldiers.

In refugee camps, Hmong were encouraged to manufacture textiles for sale abroad. Hmong women developed story cloths, which depicted pastoral Hmong life before the war, Hmong legends, or harrowing tales of forced migration.

Hmong story cloths were made purely for the marketplace, and helped families establish a reliable source of income. Refugees sent the textiles to relatives and friends in the U.S., where most Hmong eventually settled.

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Tia Lee
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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