Printer Friendly Version

Making Peace

Imagining Peace



Think about the places in your life that make you feel the safest and the happiest.

In what ways is this scene, by Minnesota painter Cy Thao, like a place you've been? What about the picture appears peaceful? What does not? With bright, warm colors and images of children playing in a schoolyard, Thao depicts a life unimaginable to members of his Hmong family—and to him, before arriving in Minnesota at age 7. Prior to emigrating, most Hmong children had never been to a school, making it difficult for them to fit in once in the United States. Thao's depiction of two children bullying a Hmong child because he looks different and does not speak English reinforces the continuing need to secure peace.

This picture is one of a series of 50 paintings by Thao that tells the 5,000-year history of his people, the Hmong. As a student at the University of Minnesota, where he studied art and political science, Thao yearned to learn about who he was and where he came from. And he wanted to share those stories with Hmong children to remind them—and himself—of their brave ancestors. He tells this complex history in a colorful storyboard format, with each scene expressing an emotion—fear, betrayal, delight, anger—he felt as a young person without a peaceful home.

Thao started the series by painting the Hmong people's creation stories from their origins in China. Then he followed their migration to Laos, where they helped the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) fight a secret war in Southeast Asia. When the Americans left in 1975, their enemies punished the Hmong for aiding the Americans. No longer were they safe in Laos. Thao's family landed in a refugee camp, where they stayed for five years. For entertainment, Thao drew pictures in the sand with a stick. Later, as an adult, he used that same child-like quality with a birds-eye view to depict Hmong history.

In painting his Hmong series, Thao shows us how brave, resourceful, and resilient human beings can be in seeking a home that is safe, secure, and peaceful.

spacer related images 1.  + 2.  + 3.  + bracket spacer
1. In image #24 of his series, Cy Thao shows the last American C46 taking the Hmong military officers from Laos to Thailand, leaving the rest of the Hmong behind.
2. In image #33 of his series, Cy Thao illustrates how Hmong people blew up plastic bags or made bamboo rafts to cross the river to escape Laos.
3. In image #43, Cy Thao pictures the Hmong celebrating the New Year in snow-covered Minnesota.


November 2011