cultures collide

presented by ITVS

presented by NAATA

When Cultures Collide

The Thao family's struggle to balance the traditional and contemporary in the New World reflects a tension experienced by many immigrant families. While Paja and his wife Yer Vang are eager to hold on to the values, customs and religious practices of their homeland, their children embrace American culture. The older generation struggles with what they would call "soul loss," and what Americans would label "depression," alienated first from their country and now from their own families.

Chai Thao in Traditional clothes
Chai Thao
Chai Thao with basketball
"Dad wonders if the spirit of the shaman will go to his sons or his grandsons when he dies, like it was passed to him, by his ancestors. In America, there's hardly any new shamans.... I have a friend who's a shaman. He's only 12. But he's the only new shaman I know."
-Chai Thao

Chai, Paja's daughter and the film's narrator, guides us through this clash of modern and ancient worlds. With equal enthusiasm, she plays on her school basketball team and performs Hmong traditional dance. She embodies the challenges of being both Hmong and American.

"My parents, especially my mom, was against my friends and Amber. And they wanted me to follow tradition. Like date Asians, have kids with Asians."
-Xue Thao

"In my culture and my religion we're not supposed to date out of our race. We're supposed to marry Caucasian. My grandparents I know feel strongly about that."
-Amber Matthias

Xue and Amber
Xue and Amber

Kia Thao Vang
Kia Thao Vang

Kong Pao
Kong Pao Vang

Paja and Yer Vang Thao
Paja and Yer Vang Thao

Paja's 16-year old son Xue is too busy to help with his father's ceremonies. After school he works at the pizza parlor and would rather hang out with Amber, his Caucasian girlfriend. Xue's parents are upset that he is dating a non-Hmong, while Amber's Catholic parents remind her that she should not marry outside her race. One night after leaving their high school talent show, Paja's son, Xue and his girlfriend Amber reveal that she is pregnant. Both families discourage them from keeping the baby.

"Now I'm baptized so I'm like Christian right now, but because mostly for our tradition, when the woman gets married, they're supposed to follow what their new family is going through."
-Kia Thao Vang

"Most of the young generation, when they find out that their culture is actually very hard to follow, they start deviating to other paths, they start going towards the American path. They start learning American values."
-Kong Pao Vang

Paja's older children have started families of their own, turning to Christianity and severing ties to their ancient Hmong traditions.

"We don't want to give up our traditions, because when you get old and die, the Christians just say a few prayers, then go on their way. And no one watches over you. We want the drum and the flute to guide us to our destiny. By the time you are old, your children should have made you a funeral coat already. But you can't be sure that they will love you. Just in case my sons and daughters don't love us, I sewed one for Paja and one for myself."
-Yer Vang Thao

"Right now, my family is getting smaller. It's not like back in the old country when we had celebrations, the children always helped out. Now, the kids can't help you. In America, when they finish their education they're going to look for jobs."
-Paja Thao

The intergenerational rift causes Paja to despair as he struggles to maintain his ancient traditions even while cultural upheaval is occurring in his house and across the Hmong community.

Cultures Collide The Journey Resources The Film Talkback Hmong Culture Shamanism The Story The Split Horn