The founders of Hmongstory Legacy are working with the Fresno State Library to preserve and make public its collection of stories, photos, documents, and videos about the Hmong journey from Laos to the United States.
The Galen Beery Collection is the first to debut in the Fresno State Hmong Digital Repository, available now on the library website. Beery was an American humanitarian aid worker for the International Voluntary Services, a precursor to the Peace Corps, and the United States Agency for International Development during the Secret War in Laos. The collection includes his biography, stories about people and locations during the war, and photos of his experience and that of the Hmong people he met.
Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and Hmongstory Legacy founders Lar Yang and David Lee announced the partnership and the website’s debut during the Hmong New Year Celebration on campus Nov. 14.
“History creates the framework for you to build your own identity,” said Yang, Hmongstory co-founder and owner and creative director of Yang Design, the Fresno graphic design company that he founded in 2000. “What we’re hoping to do through this is to take the experience and give it to the viewer in a very authentic way — from the source in their own words.”
Documenting History of the Hmong
For more than a decade, Yang and Lee have researched, interviewed, and collected artifacts from Hmong families, military, and aid workers to record the history of the Hmong. The effort resulted in interactive multimedia exhibits that debuted in 2015 as Hmongstory40 and again in 2023 as “Vinai, the Hmong Refugee Experience,” as part of the Hmongstory Legacy project.
With more than 30,000 photographs, over 100 in-person interviews, declassified historic documents and more, the Hmongstory team worked to digitize and categorize the information. Then, they wanted to share it.
“The stuff we got has been entrusted into our custody. We don’t own it. We feel the only right thing is to share with the public and put it into something that’s public for everybody to view,” Yang said.
With the help of the Fresno State Library, archive specialists received the digital data from Hmongstory and built a webpage to host the content and make it available to all. The goal is to create a database where students, educators and anyone from around the world can access the information. Future collections from Hmongstory will follow with a plan for the library to host a larger database of southeast Asian history.
“We are set up for a great opportunity to synergize this information,” Lee said. “We hope to one day have these services used by educators. We hope curriculums are built around them. We also hope it streamlines communications between higher education institutions and local K-12 public institutions.”
Valley Is Home to Hmong
There are about 35,000 Hmong living in Fresno and the surrounding region. In fall 2023, there were 1,172 Hmong students enrolled at Fresno State. They make up 5% of the university’s student population, one of the largest proportions in the California State University system. Hmong students make up 42% of Asian students at Fresno State.
“This digital archive aims to safeguard and provide accessibility to the rich history of the Hmong community. Recognizing the profound influence of history on identity and empowerment is central to our mission,” said Bao Johri, vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “I’m super excited that we are going to do this at Fresno State. This has a significant impact on our students, faculty, and staff.”