Fall 2022 Workshop: The South and Southeast Asian Refugee Experience in Wisconsin

Featured speakers:

  • Chong Moua (Lecturer in Asian American Studies and PhD Student at UW-Madison)
  • Stephanie Taylor (Refugee Wellness Coordinator, Jewish Social Services of Madison)
  • Mai Elliott (Pulitzer Prize Nominee, Author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family, Consultant for the Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War)
  • Mai Neng Vang (Doctoral Candidate in Educational Policy Studies at UW-Madison)
  • Tou SaiK Lee (Poet, Hip Hop Artist, and Master’s Student at UW-Madison)

Resources from the workshop will be posted here at a later date.

For more information on this event, please contact Mary McCoy at mccoy2@wisc.edu or Andrea Fowler at assistantdirector@southasia.wisc.edu.

The South and Southeast Asian Refugee Experience in Wisconsin

November 19, 2022, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM 

A Curriculum Development Workshop for Community College and K-12 Educators

This workshop was designed for current K-14 educators who are seeking ways to incorporate discussions and material on refugee experiences in their classes. As part of Madison College’s new Hmong Studies Initiative, our featured speakers focused primarily on Hmong experiences and comparable experiences from Afghan and Vietnamese perspectives.

Presentations offered educators a variety of ideas and concepts for easy mapping and adaptation across a variety of subjects. Topics included reading and writing memoirs, in addition to accounts of Hmong, Vietnamese, and Afghan refugee experiences. Educators had the opportunity to participate in breakout discussions throughout the day to exchange ideas and develop lessons.

Sponsored by: Madison College Center for International Education and UW-Madison’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Center for South Asia, and Asian American Studies Program.


From participants:

  • “This was well-organized, and every session was well-prepared and relevant to my needs as a teacher at a predominantly Hmong school in Milwaukee. I can’t thank you enough for your hard work!”
  • “Really appreciated the ability to engage with a wider network of educators, particularly cross-institutionally.”
  • “Thanks for the people…invited to present to us and help us in our journeys of becoming better educators… more inclusive… culturally competent… etc.”
  • “I loved the different lenses and perspectives of each person. I learned so much, which was my hope.”
  • “I appreciated the broad range of topics, lunch, breakout groups giving new ideas and networks, great communication, and new ideas to try tomorrow.”

NOTE: Each lecture is 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A.


Refreshments, door greeting, sign-in


Welcome remarks


     Chong Moua – “Teaching Hmong Studies: History and Belonging”

This will be an interactive workshop that uses close reading of Hmong literature and/or folktales to explore what belonging means to Hmong people. The workshop will introduce the concepts of statelessness and oral literacy and how these relate to Hmong perceptions of home and belonging.


Refreshment break


     Stephanie Taylor – “Education and Wellness in Refugee Resettlement – Afghanistan and Beyond”

This presentation will include best practices in supporting refugees throughout their resettlement journey, specifically in relation to education and wellness. I will start by explaining how our agency, Jewish Social Services, resettles our clients and what their journeys look like to get here, including the way that most of our Afghan clients have come to Dane County. I will discuss ways to support students and their families who are enrolled in your schools. You will also learn about our Wellness programs that include our Refugee Mentorship program (Aljirani) and our Mental Health and Psychosocial Support groups.


Breakout session — participant discussion & takeaways




     Mai Neng Vang – “Doing HMoob American Studies: The Struggle, the Research and the Future”

In this talk I will highlight how student activists at UW are using participatory action research as a tool in their activism to advocate for HMoob American Studies. I will share findings from our research as well as insights from our advocacy work. I hope that this information will generate discussion with audience members about the future of HMoob Studies.


Breakout session — participant discussion & takeaways


     Mai Elliot – “Writing a Memoir”

In this workshop, Mai Elliott will discuss issues to consider when writing a family and personal memoir.


Refreshment break


     Tou SaiK Lee – “S.irens of G.eneration U.nity: Creative Seeds of Hmong Refugees”

Tou SaiKo Lee’s presentation is focused on intergenerational healing through artistic expressions of Hmong refugee experiences of the Secret War in Laos & the Vietnam War. This multi-media demonstration includes rhythmic storytelling of trauma and triumph of the Hmong people, creative engagement, decoded transcripts, hip hop and spoken word performances.

This arts educational workshop empowers creative response and communal exchange. In honor of next generation experiences of Hmong raised by refugee parents who carried collective memories of death, escape and displacement, they unleashed compositions for freedom of voice but oftentimes limited to the dominant society’s barriers in a land where Hmong have resettled to adapt from mountain sunrises to urbanized ways of life. This era of Hmong Americans with hybrid worldviews created content of disenfranchised families of low income areas and young peoples’ loss of cultural identity, barely attached to roots of tradition. Lee’s showcase reveals a timeline of critical reflections by the children of SGU (S.irens of G.eneration U.nity) veterans. These narratives unveil their process to heal and overcome to embrace their complex identities through learning from Hmong elders and cultural revitalization.



Stephanie Taylor joined JSS in the fall of 2021, after spending time volunteering at Fort McCoy with the Afghan Refugees who had come to Wisconsin.   This experience made her realize that working with refugees was incredibly important to her, and she wanted to get back to her Social Work roots after spending time as a Lactation Consultant and raising her young children. Stephanie earned her B.A. in Women and Gender Studies at Washington University in St. Louis and her Master’s in Social Work at University of Chicago.  She also has her M.B.A. from Babson College.  Stephanie has worked in a variety of non-profits where she has spent time in programming, development, and direct service.  She is very excited to be on the JSS Resettlement team. Stephanie spends her time parenting her three children, playing soccer, cross-country skiing, running, doing yoga, drinking coffee and eating Madison Sourdough croissants.  She also has taken up Zumba in the past couple of years and is very interested in finding new dance classes around town!

Mai Neng Vang (she/nws/they) is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Policy Studies program at UW-Madison with a broad research interest in the educational experiences of minoritized students. More specifically, she explores how students and young people organize and respond to inequities and advocate for transformative changes. Mai Neng is currently a research mentor for the HMoob American College Paj Ntaub participatory action research team, working alongside two researchers at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions and undergraduate student activists from the HMoob American Studies Committee. In her free time, Mai Neng enjoys crafting, going on foodventures, and gardening.

Tou SaiK Lee is a Hip Hop artist, storyteller and spoken word poet from St. Paul, Minnesota. Tou SaiK is currently a graduate student in the master’s program of Southeast Asian Studies at UW Madison with a focus on Hmong indigenous identity of Southeast Asia. He founded Street Stops and Mountain Tops, which connects teaching artists and organizers from the U.S. to work with Hmong students in villages and orphanages of Southeast Asia. Lee received the Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship in 2016 to focus on research of the Hmong diaspora including communities in Vietnam, Australia, China and Thailand of how Hmong use traditional and contemporary arts as effective ways to revitalize culture. He released his first Hmong language Hip Hop album titled Ntiaj Teb Koom Tes – Unified Worldwide Summer of 2021. Tou SaiK was selected as a featured speaker by TEDx Minneapolis in 2021 about his current initiatives. Lee’s talk titled “Reclaiming cultural identity and language through hip hop” can be found on YouTube.

Mai Elliott is the author of The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family, a personal and family memoir which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second book, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, chronicles this think tank’s involvement in research about the Vietnam War at the behest of policy makers in Washington D. C. and the impact of this involvement on RAND itself. The New Yorker magazine called her family memoir “as engrossing as fine literary fiction and indispensable to understanding Vietnam from a Vietnamese perspective.” In a 2016 podcast, author Malcolm Gladwell called her family memoir “beautiful” and her book about RAND “brilliant,” and listed both on his podcast website as recommended readings. Mai Elliott also served as an advisor to Ken Burns for his documentary on “The Vietnam War,” which aired on PBS in September 2017, and featured in seven of the ten episodes of the film. She is a frequent speaker and writer on Vietnam. She recently contributed a chapter for a Cambridge University Press 3-volume work on the Vietnam War, and has completed a novel on Vietnam in the early 1960s. Mai Elliott was born in Vietnam and grew up in Hanoi and Saigon. She attended French schools in Vietnam and is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

Chong A. Moua is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department working on her dissertation that explores Hmong cultural production as homemaking and non-state forms of belonging. She also teaches Hmong studies courses in the Asian American Studies Program at UW-Madison.

For more information on this event, please contact Mary McCoy at mccoy2@wisc.edu or Andrea Fowler at assistantdirector@southasia.wisc.edu.

Please visit this link for resources, including videos of the presentations.