Heather Gibson (HG): Today is July 23, 2003. This is Heather Gibson. I’m talking with Lo Mao Moua. Let’s start talking about the things that you have made for your family since we have them sitting in front of us. Can you tell me about the money belt and what it was made for?
Lo Mao Moua (MM): This is one I made for my daughter. The money belt, they usually come out with two bags on the sides. The money belt in Hmong custom is just part of the jewelry you prepare for your sons and daughters for weddings and special occasions. It is passed from generation to generation. Each family member should have something like that.
HG: Can you tell me when you made this?
MM: Well, I’m not finished yet. I’ve put it together for the last couple of days, and I haven’t been working on this one since then. It’s a lot of work.
HG: Can you tell me the steps involved in making this?
MM: First of all you have to cut the white part here as a snail. It’s about two and a half inches of white fabric. Then you cut and you appliqué a very, very fine stitch under. This is just embroidery, like a snail embroidery. You embroider that, and after that you put the stripe outside here. This is also done by hand in a very fine straight line. After you finish, you put the bead and the silver coin on so it will come out like this. Usually you always wear two belts and two on the side. Some people like to wear three bags, two on the side and one on the back. It doesn’t mean everybody has to have one. But another part we use on our regular outfit. One set of the outfit has to have two of this to go on the red panel. The green panel goes in the front and the red panel goes in the back. The needlework goes in the front and shows all the Hmong needlework. The jacket usually we do for the boy. Back in our country because we are not wealthy, usually we don’t put the silver coin on. But in this country we are okay because we work hard and we do put silver coin on. In our culture, every mother that has a daughter has to get one of the baby carriers to pass onto the first grandchild. It doesn’t matter ten daughters you have. So this is just a regular single block that you cut and piece together. You make it as a snail to become a baby carrier.
HG: Tell me about the colors you used in this.
MM: Our color is black, red, green and yellow. That’s our color. So this is the traditional color.
HG: Is that for Hmong in general or White clan?
MM: Pretty much for Hmong in general. The other Hmong group is the Stripe group. They don’t use a lot of bright colors like this. They use more toward black and navy. Mostly Hmong people use these colors. Sometimes a little bit paler colors or darker colors. The colors are always red, green, black and yellow. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s always that color combination.
HG: Is each baby carrier you make different?
MM: No, pretty much the same.
HG: Is that just for your family?
MM: Well, everybody does pretty much the same. In this country, we have more outfits for the daughter. In our country we at least had one. The needlework we usually work to put like a belt and another panel in the back is for like a special occasion like a New Year or wedding. Whoever can’t do that that means they are not a very good mother or very good daughter. I learned when I was very young, maybe about five or six years old. We see our mothers sit down and do it and we just go and start doing it. In this country every boy and girl has to go to school, but in my country every boy has to learn farming and every girl has to know how to do needlework, cook and clean. It’s just two different lifestyle traditions.
HG: So in this country, is it still a sign of respect to sew for your family or is that changing?
MM: It has been changed quite bad but we still keep tradition a little bit going to the children, to pass on to the children. Especially to our children. We don’t care what the children are going to do especially because I’m still generation from Laos, and I need to pass to my children.
HG: Did you teach all of your children to sew?
MM: They are not interested. I teach. See, I do the Amish quilts. They would help me to mark my quilt. They would quilt for me. Because it’s something just plain working on. They would do my drawing for me if I teach them. But would I put them to sit down stitch by stitch, the answer is no for my children. I have two girls, they not interested.
HG: What about when they were smaller?
MM: When they were smaller they were interested. They want to know what you are doing. After they go to school, intermediate school on, they just forget about it.
HG: Do you think they will become interested as they get older?
MM: No. The answer is totally no. Not for my children. But I like to keep a piece. This I keep for my children. [holding up story cloths.] I always keep traditional like this, and the big piece up here, is a lot of these pieces.
HG: Did you make these story cloths?
MM: I make some smaller ones because I don’t have time to make the big ones. This is made by my aunt. I told her to make for my children.
HG: Did she make this in the United States?
MM: I think this one she make in California. No, no, this one was made in Thailand because I told her to make for me. This one I keep for my two sons because it has a lot of the traditional everyday Laos, the refugee story to Thailand, all of it ended up in this piece.
HG: What is your aunt’s name?
MM: My aunt is Me Lo Thao.
HG: What are some of the things going on in this story cloth?
MM: The story cloth right here is everyday life. This is where they forced the Hmong people to get out of Laos, so people are walking or by car, crossed by Mekong River, Communists come fighting them and then they moving out. They cross the Mekong River, that’s the capitol of Laos. They cross the Mekong River to Thailand. When they get to Thailand side, they stay in the camp. The Americans came and interviewed them. They are boarding a plane and they end up in the United States.
HG: It’s so interesting how it moves from one side to the other. Were the other ones she made pretty similar to this in size?
MM: Let me get the other one. [brings out other cloth of similar size, gray with blue trim.] This one is just everyday life.
HG: And this is also made by your aunt?
MM: Yes, the same person.
HG: How much time would this take?
MM: This one she made in California because when she had the children go to school, the children still little. She told me it was almost a year before she was done because the children go to school and stay home. This is the Stripe Hmong. The uniform is black and blue. This is everyday, New Years celebration. That’s a treasure for these big pieces, I tell you the truth.
HG: Is your aunt a Blue Hmong?
MM: White. That’s the Blue Hmong, the White Hmong, and the Stripe Hmong. [pointing to various embroidered figures on the cloth.]
HG: How do you use these?
MM: Just put them on a wall.
HG: Have you had them hanging in the house before?
MM: Not in this house. I’m saving them for my children. If anyone wanted to buy, I could sell them, too, because I can always have her make another. The only problem is I have to pay more for her to work on a big one like this because I myself don’t have time.
HG: Is she still sewing?
MM: She does a little. You know when they not making Pennsylvania [quilts.] they do a little. She lives in Wisconsin. That’s my aunt, my father’s sister. I do a little one. I just don’t have time to do the big one. I still do some.
HG: Is there a type of sewing that you enjoy the most?
MM: I still enjoy to do appliqué. Something like this one. I enjoy piecing together.
HG: Do you use a sewing machine for piecing?
HG: Do you do the quilting, also?
MM: I do some. As you know, I do as business now. I have a helper, an Amish lady.
HG: Do you bring things to them or do you work together?
MM: I bring items and she brings them back to me.
HG: What is this pattern?
MM: Country Bride.
HG: Can you tell me about it?
MM: Country Bride is the name of the magazine coming out in 1982. She designed this pattern [referring to Rachel Pellman]. They have this pattern on the cover in 1982, or 1981.
HG: So it’s not an old pattern.
MM: No. No earlier than either 1981 or 1982.
HG: How do you choose fabrics?
MM: Well, I have been working for a long time with the Amish people. You just have to know how to choose what colors will blend together. It is very hard, but when you work you learn how to put it together. The colors are very important. Sometimes you follow the market. Whatever colors are on you just have to catch those colors to put into a quilt.
HG: You mean whatever is popular at the time, you use?
MM: Yes. Like back in ’80 until ’90 the pastels, blue and peach, were very popular. After ’90 the darker colors were very popular. Two years ago the watercolors, the teal, the green were popular. You just have to catch them in the market to sell.
HG: This is lovely. Is this pretty typical of what you do?
MM: Oh yeah.
HG: What about the size?
MM: You can make all kinds of sizes because people look for all kinds of sizes. My husband is a very, very conservative person, so even I make quilt but he doesn’t allow me to put quilt on the wall. I say, ‘I made quilt, I should put quilt wherever I want.’ He say, ‘Oh no, the house is going to stay as open as possible.’ I couldn’t put a quilt on the wall.
HG: So is it not traditional for Hmong people to have things hanging in their houses?
MM: No. It depends. Some people you might. Like Pang Xiong. She likes to hang a lot of things on the wall but not my husband. My husband will hang very nice pictures on the wall but not paj ntaub. I say, ‘My paj ntaub is a lot of hard work.’ He says, ‘Not in the house. We can use as a quilt but not in the living room.’
HG: What about your daughters and your sons? Do they have paj ntaub hanging in their homes?
MM: Yes, my daughter does because I have some for her because they bought a new house and they have a big hallway. Everybody loves it. She has open stairs above and you can see the whole story cloth. My husband just doesn’t want to, and besides, this house doesn’t have much wall. Maybe someday in a new house.
HG: Would you ever use the bright pink that you use for the paj ntaub in the Amish quilts?
MM: That’s not going to be marketable. Like those colors are special to the market [pointing to the blue and gray story cloths.]. Our colors would be bright color like those [pointing to photograph of children seated on bright red paj ntaub.]. That was made by my mother-in-law for us. Those colors we make special for the market. Slate blue, pretty much we use a lot of slate blue. Our whole entire house comes with slate blue because that’s the color they choose for the market. That’s the color I choose. You can tell my house is in tans and slate blues, that’s why I make those colors.
HG: Where do you purchase the fabrics that you use?
MM: You can purchase in town here. I can get wholesale a lot because I do a lot of Amish quilting. A mile from here there are a couple of stores that sell.
HG: And your threads and needles as well?
MM: The thread is no problem, but embroidery thread I cannot get in this country. I have an aunt who lives in Thailand. That was back before 1990 that she was living in Thailand. I can always get thread, each time I buy a lot and now I have enough to use for many years.
HG: Is it special because it is silk?
MM: It’s just nylon thread, but the colors do not fade. It dyes very good and the colors are very strong. Like my embroidery, the thread is very strong. When you wash, the colors do not fade. Like those I can wash many, many times and the colors do not fade. [pointing to story cloths.] But this you wash and the color will go. [pointing to Country Bride.]
HG: How did you learn to sew?
MM: Just like I told you before when I was about four or five years old I saw my mother doing it and I just learned it. Even when we lived in Laos, we had a business like a little department store. You just make a couple money each piece, we don’t really sell. Until you get in Thailand. I had a year in Thailand that was just eat, sleep, and that’s it. Nothing else. We did a lot of hand embroidery. Our costume, everything is embroidered.
HG: Was that to sell?
MM: In the beginning it was just for ourselves because we lost everything back in Laos. We were the first 2,400 Hmong flew out from Laos. We come out and just settle. Whatever you can carry to get in the plane. In the first couple of months we just replaced what we lost. But after that, a lot of tourists come to the camp, too, so we start doing it for the market. When I came to this country, I worked for ten years before I went back to needlework. I came to the states in ’76 and in ’77 my husband and I got married. I was working until 1980. At that time a lot of the Hmong in Lancaster were sponsored by the MCC. [Mennonite Central Committee.] Because we do needlework all the time, they say, ‘But it’s too little for the market. Can you do something bigger?’ The sponsor just taught Hmong women to put pattern together. They have a group that formed the group in Pennsylvania here from Philadelphia. They called it Pennsylvania Hmong Craft. It had a grant from the state to run a program until ’81, when the grant was over. We still have a lot of the Hmong needlework that we collected from this area to sell. They asked if anybody would like to take over the business to help Hmong sell. Nobody else do it so I decided I’d take it. I take it and help Hmong to sell for many years. Even now I still help to sell some. Until ’87 when I quit my job and started to do my business full time. Between ’80 to’90 I just did part time, like I did maybe a show once a month or special occasion. I had a lot of children home.
HG: Where did you learn your business skills?
MM: I had experience back in Laos because when I was eight or nine years old I was already helping my mother in the market. When I was twelve or thirteen my older sister got married and I had to take the business over. So I do have the idea of how to run the business. Even though I did not go to school in this country because when I came here in 1977 my English was poor. I didn’t even know A, B, C. I didn’t have the choice to go to school because of my age. I was seventeen at that time. They wouldn’t put me with little children to learn A, B, C, but I couldn’t go to high school either because of my language. My parents were in Thailand at that time, so I just decided to go to work at the Hilton Hotel as housekeeping. I just picked up the language from where I worked. I went to ESL classes for three months. Back in Laos, I went to school. When you go to school, you learn how to pick up how to read and how to write.
HG: Do you plan on teaching your grandchildren to make the paj ntaub?
MM: I would love to, but I don’t know how much they will be interested.
HG: Has your work changed at all in recent years?
MM: The business does go down. Everything go up but when you finish the [inaudible.] it just go down. I don’t know why. It must have to be the economy and maybe things going on. Business does go down. I used to have a little business. I opened a little quilt shop for seven years. By that time I had four kids in four different schools. My older daughter was not driving yet, and I had to run them back and forth to their activities between school hours and weekends. I just really couldn’t do the business. Some days I had to close the shop three times to drive my children back and forth to school for sports practice. I just decided it was too much. We talked with the children, ‘What do you want mom to do?’ The children said ‘Why don’t you close the shop? Come home and go to craft show every once in a while and we’ll help you to do it.’
HG: What year did you close the shop?
MM: I think ’82 to ’89.
HG: Would you ever open up a shop again?
MM: No, I’m ready for my grandchildren. A lot of people probably say ‘[don’t worry about it?].’ But when I came to the United States, we have to work to fight to survive. My husband and I had to fight a lot to work hard and raise children at the same time, try to survive in this country. We know that if you don’t have a babysitter, it’s very, very hard to survive in this country. So I’m ready for grandma. If I have grandchildren, I’ll take care of my children. My children will go to work and have a better life than I do. That’s how I plan to do it.
HG: Will you go to where your grandchildren are?
MM: No, my two sons will probably live here with me. Our people, you probably know a little bit, that the son stays with the parents. Not live together anymore, but close by so we can have the children and wherever the son goes, the parent will follow. Live close by and we take care of the children. My daughter, she has in-laws to take care of her children. So for my two sons and my in-laws, I will take care of their children.
HG: Do you communicate often with the in-laws that are taking care of your daughter?
MM: Yes, we give a call every once in a while, ‘How are the kids.’ Last month we had my grandson for ten days. My daughter and son were going back to work and he is only nine months old. But we miss him, so we said, ‘Okay, leave for us.’ Since we were going to the wedding we took him back. We share the children. We feel that my daughter’s children belong to their in-law’s family, and my daughter in-law’s and my son’s children belong to us. We love the children, but that’s how we feel.
HG: Do you travel often?
MM: Oh, yes.
HG: Where do you go?
MM: All over the place. We have family all over the country. My daughter lives in Georgia and my parents live in South Carolina. I have ten sisters and three brothers, so they live in almost every state that we travel to. Saturday we leave for California, and we were in Minnesota the first week of July. In March we were in South Carolina, and we were in Georgia. So we travel a couple weeks. We go to Washington D.C. I have a sister there.
HG: Do you try to schedule your craft shows around family visits?
MM: No. When I go for visit, it is just a visit. No business. We have larger family. We like to go, just sit down, talk, eat, laugh, do things together.
HG: The income that you create from your business, does that go towards buying more supplies or anything specific?
MM: The quilt business we invest a lot of money in. On average, we invest at least 450 per quilt. For me, I only sell for 550, so I make very little profit. I don’t pay the rent for the shop anymore. When I had the shop my quilts had to be more high priced. But now that I have my business here, the average you put into the quilts is 450. The money will go right back. I make very little profit on the quilts, but it’s something I enjoy, piecing the quilt, appliqué, creating new designs. I enjoy doing it.
HG: You said you create some of your own designs?
MM: Yes, like this one [Country Bride.]. The original design is only the pattern in the center. But if I want to do more, that’s my own creativity. And like with this one [larger Country Bride.], the pattern itself is only the center part. I created my design, put more outside, to make the quilt look more pretty. And I create more corner to the quilt to make it a combination of appliqué and piecing. This I call Country Bride combination. So, that’s my creation. You just do whatever to make the quilt look so pretty. Really, when you buy the pattern, it’s just the center part. They don’t have patterns that come out like this. I do what I need to do to make the quilt look better, nicer when you put it on the bed.
HG: What about this appliqué at the top? Is that typical?
MM: This comes with the pattern. When the lady does the design for the center, she does this, too. If I want to make it a little bit different, I can do that.
HG: So this part would be where the pillow is?
MM: Yes, where the pillow is. If you want to see how it goes on the bed, I can show you.[interview continues upstairs, looking at a quilt in Mrs. Moua’s guest room.]
MM: [tape begins mid-sentence.] …usually individual pattern. But because I liked it I just made more pattern, put together and called it “Dream of a Sampler.” See, you have one quilt and you have nine different pattern.
HG: Did you quilt this one, also?
MM: Yes. I do a lot of quilting myself.
HG: Is that by hand or machine?
MM: By hand, everything is by hand.
HG: How important is that to you?
MM: You have very nice appliqué, but you put a couple stitches from the machine, it costs less. Like this one is 99 percent done by hand. The only part done by machine is the block like this, putting the blocks together, but the rest is done by hand.
HG: If you are selling it and the value would go down, is that because the customer would know?
MM: They would know. You have to let them know what kind of quilt they got. Like this one I would say 99 percent done by hand because appliqué, quilting done by hand. But the other one I would tell them 80 percent done by hand, because the corner here is pieced by machine. So they pay for what they get. Like that one will go to 660 but this one will go to 550.
HG: Even though this one is larger?
MM: It’s the same size, but just a different style. This one the corner is not done by hand. The quilting only is done by hand. The block is piecing by machine. But if the four corner done by hand, you’ll go up to 650, also. Usually, when you use the machine a little bit it will lose value a little bit.
HG: Do you talk to your customers directly, or do you go through a quilt shop?
MM: If my customer come to me, I will tell them what kind of quality they get. When I put the quilt for consignment in the shop, the shop is responsible. I have nothing to do with those because they have them made perfect, and that’s the explanation they give to everyone. All the quilt is all hand quilted. Like this one is hand quilted. The value will be there. You just tell them the corner is piecing by machine, but the quilting is still done by hand. So I still say 89 percent done by hand. Just a certain part of the quilt is done by machine, piecing by machine.
HG: Do you make any labels for your quilts with your name on them?
MM: No, because I do to the market. Like what I have here is a Country Love. That one’s a Country Love. Also all done by hand on that one.
HG: Those bows are wonderful.
MM: Yes, that’s the most expensive quilt in town.
MM: It used to sell for 1600 dollars.
HG: The way that I found you was through John Volk’s website, and he has your name on there for the quilts that you’ve made. So, that’s a unique situation? Most people don’t do that?
MM: Right. Just like many years ago–I tell you the truth; the Amish people here don’t do appliqué. They only do quilting and piecing but after ’80 Hmong women settle in this area, the appliqué quilts start and they make lots of top to supply for the shops in this area. But since the Amish people doesn’t want the public to know that the appliqué tops were made by Hmong women, they hiding their secret for many years until a lot of people find out that that’s not true. They should give credit to Hmong women in this area, and they make an article and they find out. Did you read that article?
HG: Well, Jean Henry wrote one [1995.] and Trish Faubion wrote one [1993.].
MM: That’s why I picked up the business, from Jean Henry.
HG: Did you meet her through ESL?
MM: No, with the grant is always Jean Henry and Doris. They hand the business out to me. A lot of people find out that the needlework is not done by the Amish people but made by Hmong women. They feel that the credit should go to the Hmong women. They keep hiding. John Volk is one of the people not hiding from the public whoever do the top or do the pieces. John usually comes here and purchases the quilts from me. He usually comes and pays 550 because it’s still much lower than the market out here.
HG: And he buys them from you finished?
MM: Yes. Some finished, mostly finished.
HG: May I ask what other shops you quilt for?
MM: I do it for a lot of shops in this area. I do an average of 50 to 100 quilts per year for Kutztown Festival.
HG: When is that?
MM: In July. It depends. Some other year if I have a lot I send lots, if I have little, I send little. My quilts I do mostly for Kutztown. Good quality, hand quilting. I consign to the shop in town here. Since I had a shop for a while, I still have customers coming back to me; buy a couple for their children. And I go to craft shows. I bring traditional Hmong needlework. Most of the Hmong needlework I do now is purse, that type of thing.
HG: Do people still bring paj ntaub for you to sell for them?
MM: They still bring some for me to sell to them.
HG: Where do they come from?
MM: This area pretty much. We still have a few elderly. I have a sister in Wisconsin. Wisconsin doesn’t have a big market for Hmong needlework. Still a lot of older people do the needlework and they send them to me. I send their money back to Wisconsin.
HG: You said Wisconsin does or does not have a big market?
MM: Does not have a big market. Minnesota does.
HG: Why do you think that is?
MM: I guess everybody goes outside to work. It’s not something that you earn income easily from needlework. It has to be people know the needlework by you. You said you went to the Houston quilt show?
HG: Yes, in 2000.
MM: There should be a Hmong woman in that show. Did you see her?
HG: I didn’t see her that year, but I wasn’t aware of Hmong textiles at that time. Do you know her name?
MM: I only know one person that travels around to quilt shows, a cousin of mine from Michigan.
HG: What is her name?
MM: La Yang.
HG: What about when you first moved to Lancaster? Was the community very receptive?
MM: Oh yes.
MM: Friendly. Their culture is pretty much the same as our culture because especially we live surrounded by Amish people. The woman stays home and does cleaning and has children. That’s what Hmong life is all about. The wife is home, raises children, does cooking and cleaning. The husband is the one responsible to go out and work and come home.
HG: Do you ever sew with them?
MM: They come here for picnic. I’m probably the only Hmong people they invite to their own wedding. Usually, Amish people don’t invite outsiders to participate or wedding but because I’m very good to them. I usually help take them to work, pick them up, whatever they need, and I do a lot of quilt work for them. When she got married, I was invited to the wedding, but I’m still not allowed in the Amish section. I have to go to her grandma, her aunt and uncle left the Amish, and they come. I can watch them, but I’m just not allowed to eat with them. Then I invite them out here for picnic, for barbeque.
HG: Speaking of weddings, you recently told me about the wedding you recently prepared for. Can you tell me the steps in preparing for a wedding?
MM: Especially for our Hmong culture, always have negative and positive, it depends on how the girls behave and depends on how the family petitions. Like if you have a daughter running away, that means you’re not going to have a big wedding. You just going to kill pig and boil it and eat it. [side one of tape ends, interview continues mid-sentence.] Then you need to go to the house. You need to have two elderly people on our side, and the girl’s family has two elderly person. They discuss how the wedding will go. Usually a lot of Hmong people pay a little price, a dowry. Usually, a lot of Hmong people, I don’t know if you call it a dowry, will pay a little price for the girls because if you pay a dowry that means the girls parents will have to do the dinner. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small, they do it and it’s done and that’s it. Then when they take the girl home, they will do a reception to welcome the daughter in-law home but if that person, the girls and the boys, for us, us because we are Christian. I told my children, sex is not allowed in the family until you get married. I want to have white wedding, but you must be good girls and good boys. In April, my husband and I and my son went up to Minnesota with the two elderlies to discuss with her parents that, ‘My son like your daughter, and your daughter like my son, and we’d like to get her for our son.’ The settlement has been done on April. Now we set up a wedding date, when would be a good time? Like my daughter, I don’t pay dowry. But they say ,’Because we only have one daughter, we want to have a good reception, no matter how big or small.’ In that case, my husband and I get the reception. We have to do to value what they give to us, so we just have to prepare as best as we can. We go to restaurant and have a good buffet there for a couple hundred people. We don’t have a lot of entertainment going on because we are Christian, no alcohol allowed at the wedding reception. They have a nice wedding at a church. We do not take the girl home when we settle the wedding. We leave the girl home with her parents for a couple of months, until everything is ready. That’s one way. But if you run away and follow the boy, then you come and pay and there will be a little dinner. The boy’s parents pay for the wedding.
HG: Do you usually speak Hmong at big occasions like that?
HG: Will you teach your grandchildren?
HG: Will they speak that with their parents in the house?
MM: Yes. My four children speak Hmong fluently. I do not feel that you should lose your language. You always have to know your language. If you are Hmong and you do not speak Hmong that means you aren’t Hmong anymore because you lost your language. That’s the most important thing in life. That doesn’t mean you can’t speak English. You live in this country; your language will be the second language. English will be your first language but it is still not your language. It doesn’t matter how many generations.
HG: What other things would you like future generations to remember?
MM: First of all the language, and also the culture. They should keep as much as possible. My husband and I raise four children in this country. It’s very, very hard. You have to compromise with the children and the children have to compromise with you. The children have to compromise to do things together. We do not allow you to go out at night, and if you want to go, go as a group and you’ll be fine but not one by one. Our people–one thing that I dream and I wish that we never lost is we entertain a lot of people. Do you care for a glass of water or tea?
HG: Sure.[interview pauses as Lo Mao Moua goes into kitchen.]
MM: One thing I would not let my children forget is to entertain your guests. With Hmong people, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re the same people. At lunchtime, you should cook lunch. Dinnertime, you should cook dinner to entertain people. That’s one thing that’s very important to Hmong culture.
HG: What about the cooking? Is that something that you want your children to remember?
MM: Yes. My children have to know cooking. I have two daughters and my older daughter is a pharmacist, she is getting her doctor degree next June. She wanted to take the first four year medical student. Before she go to college, I said, ‘You can have all the money in the world but if you don’t know how to cook and you don’t know how to clean, I don’t think you will have a happy life.’ Unless you want to marry to different people. But if you wish to marry Hmong people, first you have to know how to clean and how to cook, second thing you have to be able to have children, third thing you have to be able to take care of them plus your job. That’s how hard Hmong woman is. You can make all the money in the world, but if you don’t know how to cook or clean, and don’t have children for them, to Hmong people you are worth less to them. That’s one thing that I teach my two daughters over and over, that’s the only way they are going to have a happy life. It is very important to our people. Cooking is very important.
HG: Would you start teaching them to do things like that when they are very small?
MM: Very young. My daughter I start when she was five years old to do the dishes side by side with me. Until they know how to pick up the knife, how to chop the vegetables, how to cook the rice, they have to do it. My two sons, they have to know how to clean the house. The only part I don’t allow them to do is the toilet. Other than that, you have to know how to clean. Not for us, but for their own benefit. In our country, usually men, their responsible to make money for their families. But the wife is home, not working. They can do that. In this country both of you have to work to survive. The husband, he helps. But if the wife knows how to clean and how to cook, she’s home and she can pick up from there, but if she comes home late, gets home and it is late, work eight hours and come home late and wait for your wife go eight hours, come home and raise the children, clean the house, do the cooking, it’s not fair.
HG: Is that how it is with most other families?
HG: I’m sure it helps them remember it later in life.
MM: Yes. Like on Saturday we have 250 out here for lunch. We do all the cooking, cleaning, everything. We prepare ahead for the reception here.
HG: You said your daughters helped with your sewing sometimes?
MM: They do the marking of the design.
HG: That would be to help you with your business?
HG: Do they have your quilts on their beds? The ones you’ve made in the Amish style?
HG: What did you use on your bed when you were in Laos and Thailand?
MM: Blanket. No sheet.
HG: Would it be a blanket decorated with paj ntaub?
MM: No. Just a regular blanket. It’s too much time to do paj ntaub. Back in our country, we don’t have time. The only thing you can do is your outfit, that’s it. You work year round on your farm, raising pigs and chickens. You didn’t have time.
HG: Do you send things you’ve made to your relatives around the country?
MM: Oh yeah.
HG: What types of things would you make for them?
MM: All my brothers and sisters each have a wedding quilt which I made.
HG: And you have ten sisters? That’s a lot of quilts.
MM: When the wedding comes I make them a quilt. Some, they get more than one.
HG: What types of designs would you make for them?
MM: Mostly my family has those Country Bride designs because that’s what I like the most.
HG: Do any of your brothers or sisters make quilts or paj ntaub?
MM: I have three sisters that make purse, clothing. My number five sister, she helps me to do the appliqué work.
HG: They have businesses as well?
MM: They work and do this as a hobby.
HG: Okay, so they work jobs and then in addition to that and taking care of their families, they…
HG: How do they find the time?
MM: Our women work hard. Like myself, I get up at 7 o’clock. I clean up the kitchen, whatever dishes we have then just start working. At dinnertime my husband gets home and I make sure he has dinner. After dinner clean dishes, no TV, then go right back to work. That’s what all my life is like. Very few times I feel tired.
HG: Do you have relationship with other Hmong women that make Amish quilts in Pennsylvania and Ohio?
MM: I know a few women here who take the tops to Ohio, but I myself don’t do it.
HG: When I was talking to Pang Xiong, she showed me how she measures without any tools for the paj ntaub. I’m sure that you do the cutting by memory. What about the Amish quilts? Do you use measuring tools for those?
MM: Yes. The Amish quilt has to be exactly inch-by-inch. The appliqué doesn’t but still it has to be the same pattern all the time because how you work for the market. For the Hmong work, you just cut whatever you want.
HG: But it’s so much more difficult, it’s hard to believe.
MM: Usually you just cut the first pattern and you put that pattern over top and cut from that. In this country you use tools, but mostly for Hmong work you don’t.
HG: So did you have to learn to use measuring tools when you came to work for the Amish?
MM: If you go to school, you learn math. That’s very important. A lot of Hmong women here don’t do the piecing by themselves because there’s a lot of math. A lot of Hmong women don’t know math. They’d rather do the appliqué than the piecing. The piecing is also very important because you have to have the exact measurements to have it come out. Mostly the inch must match one inch to another. You cannot make it shorter or longer.
HG: I read about a woman, [Tong Lor.] who combined paj ntaub blocks with Amish-style quilts. Does that sound familiar to you or is there a market for that kind of thing?
MM: No, the only lady who does that is Emma Witmer. She does that. For myself, I do some. When I sell it, that’s it, whatever I have.
HG: In Jean Henry’s article, there was one picture where you had a quilt; your daughters might have been holding it up. It had paj ntaub blocks and hearts quilted in it. Is that correct?
MM: I have to look at the picture. I don’t know which one because I do for many groups. I do for Time Magazine. I do for Philadelphia Inquirer.
HG: Do you have a record of things that you’ve done for magazines?
MM: Yes, I do. Let me see. One lady from China came and studied about Hmong culture. [Lo Mao Moua leaves to find her folder of articles.]
HG: Tell me about your project for the United Nations.
MM: These three people [pointing to article.] collect all the fabric around the world and they do the design to put into the quilt. They bring to me, and I’m the one who put the appliqué stitch together. They do their own design. They collect all the fabric, whatever they want the quilt to look like, they cut the pattern for it, then they bring it to me and I finish the quilt.
HG: Where is the quilt now?
MM: I have no idea. It’s been around the world. I know after United Nations it went to Canada and went to Europe. After that, I don’t know.
HG: [looking at photograph taken of Lo Mao quilting on porch with buggy in the background.] I think I’ve seen this picture online. What quilt is this? Flower Basket?
MM: I sold that quilt. Yes, Flower Basket. This picture is from Baltimore. [looking at a photograph of Lo Mao at her booth.]
HG: So you sell a lot of animals when you have your booth. Why is it that both you and Pang Xiong do that? Is that something you learned in Laos?
MM: No, it’s just something we pick up easy. You do something. I do something. It’s just easy.
HG: They’re so wonderful. Do they sell well?
MM: We sell for a lot of children. I also do the quilting for that. [United Nations quilt.] I do the quilting and I do all the appliqué.
HG: That’s quite an honor to do a quilt for the United Nations. How did they find you?
MM: [pointing to photograph.] That’s her. She found me. I don’t know how she found me.
HG: What does your husband think of all your success? Is he very proud?
MM: He’s alright. He’ll never be proud of me. Whenever I cook for him, he gets fed, that’s all he wants. Our Hmong men, they are not proud if they have a successful woman. So, you know that.
HG: Are your children proud of your success?
MM: Oh yes, my children are proud more than my husband.
HG: It must be exciting to have a mother who has been written up in newspapers and magazines.[phone rings and Lo Mao speaks to her oldest daughter in English.]
MM: That was my number one daughter.
HG: Number one is the oldest?
HG: I won’t tie you up too much longer.
MM: It’s alright.
HG: Were you surprised to become so successful?
MM: Yes. I wish I could do better, but I’m happy who I am. I can do more if I want to, but I can’t do that because I have to please my husband also. I can’t be Hmong and do what I want to do. If he says I can’t travel, I won’t travel. He’s a very nice guy. He understands. When my children were little, he said, ‘No, the children need you.’ But now I do more travel than before because I can go to Washington, D.C. by myself. I go to Ocean City myself. I go to New Jersey myself for business.
HG: Who else should I talk to in the area?
MM: Pretty much everybody comes to me. With other people there is a language difference.
HG: So it’s a small community here?
MM: No, we have a large community. But mostly they are not interested. They do a lot of work to Hmong people but not to big market, or they’d rather do it for themselves. A lot of people find me here because no other woman will do it.[tape cuts off and restarts as Lo Mao is talking about the large story cloth made by her aunt.]
HG: Did you live in Vientianne?
MM: I lived in Vientianne and I also lived in Long Cheng. [pointing to story cloth.] That’s the general’s house, and my house would be about here.
HG: How did you aunt’s husband get this picture?
MM: Because they lived there.
HG: So he just remembers everything.
MM: It’s not many people who don’t remember.
HG: How many rooms would these houses have?
MM: We only do like three section house. Like a long room, one section kitchen, living room one section, then one section bedroom. You just divide that section into four bedrooms. We don’t do stairs like in this country.
HG: Can you tell me about the interview going on [interview depicted in story cloth.]?
MM: That is the interview to come to the United States.
HG: Is that something that you went through?
MM: Yes, something that I went through.
HG: What was that like?
MM: They just ask you who you are and what is your parents working. Why you want to go the States?
HG: Did you have much choice as to where you would end up?
MM: None whatsoever. After a while you can move wherever you want.
HG: Do you feel like this was a good area for you?
MM: Yes. Especially to raise children.
HG: You were happy to come to the country?
MM: Yes. [interview stops as pictures are taken and restarts.] A lady just called me yesterday and she say, I saw you use your name as a PA Hmong Craft. I say, ‘Everything I do it. I just used that name, but everything I do it.’
HG: How many hours a day are you sewing?
MM: I usually do whatever needs to be done, I tell you the truth. If I need the sewing to be done, I do the sewing. If I need my animals to be done, I do my animals. Mostly at night I usually come and sit with my husband up here to do my batting and my cutting.
HG: Will he help?
MM: He helps sometimes. He works eight hours a day, but he does help. My animals need to be cut, he does that for me.
HG: Do your kids help you with the animals?
MM: Oh yes. They stuff my animals. Just laying down and watching T.V. They want to watch T.V. They have to stuff my animals for me.
HG: Did you ever pay them a little bit?
MM: They never work outside until now. Summertime just do for me. I supply whatever they need, whatever clothes they want, money spending but they don’t get paid.
HG: What about the Hmong New Years Festival? Is that big here?
MM: Not for us because 90 percent of our people here are Christian and we do not celebrate New Years in the traditional way. We go to a more Christian celebration. We still celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year together.
QSOS ID: PH-02
Interviewee: Lo Mao Moua
Interviewer: Heather Gibson
Transcriber: Heather Gibson
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