Bamboo Among the Oaks certainly offers a wide array of talented, but lesser known authors in the emerging Hmong literary scene. With its rapid expansion throughout the upper midwest there are many assumptions and stereotypes about the Hmong people and Bamboo Among Oaks does its best to confront them through an anthology of short stories and poems that capture the experience of first generation Americans caught between an intensely traditional culture and a rapidly evolving America.
The works within the anthology are wildly uneven. Some offer gorgeous retellings of personal experiences, others simply dwell on stereotypes in unexplained native dialects. Though all the authors have grown up with the challenges of life as Hmong-American kids, their writing often adopts the tone of paternalistic or lecturing adults (a sure-fire way to frustrate current teenagers). As befits a group of “young writers” the style of most pieces is still developing, soon to be great, but still a little way off from that.
Still there are some great individual sections particularly Va-Meng Thoi’s scathing satirical skit “Hmoob Boy meets Hmong Girl” and Ka Vang’s great short story “Ms. PacMan Ruined my Gang Life”. These stellar selections are great glimpses into a vital new voice in what some scoff at as “the bland mid-west” and I look forward to seeing more from Hmong writers in the years to come