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Hmong, Lao culture in spotlight in next History Speaks event

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MOSINEE — Retired educator Jim Harris is still learning and teaching, lately through his work with the Hmong and Lao communities.

Harris will share stories of the Hmong and Lao cultures during a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Mosinee High School’s Creske Center, 1000 High St., Mosinee.

His talk is titled “Far More Than Just the Clothes on Their Backs: Stories Shared at Wausau’s ‘Hmong Museum’ by Refugee Families.” It is part of the History Speaks in Your Town series hosted by the Marathon County Historical Society and the Continuing Education office of UW-Stevens Point at Wausau.

Jim Harris, at left, with Hmong elders. Photo courtesy Marathon County Historical Society.

In November 2016, Jim and Marty Harris opened a museum exhibit, entitled “From Laos to America,” to honor the refugee experience of Hmong and Lao residents of our community. Occupying 3,000 square feet of repurposed retail space in the Wausau Center mall, the exhibit soon became known throughout central Wisconsin as the “Hmong Museum,” according to the Marathon County Historical Society.

The exhibit contains the largest collection of Hmong and Lao cultural artifacts in America. The Harris family gathered the items during 20 trips to South East Asia.

Jim and Marty Harris. Photo courtesy Marathon County Historical Society.

What Jim and Marty Harris have learned through their interaction with visitors is that Hmong and Lao refugees may have left their homeland bearing little more than the clothes on the backs, but they brought with them a wealth of stories that reflect a vibrant history and culture.

On Dec. 3 in Mosinee, Jim Harris will display objects from the collection and share stories — some heart breaking, some hilarious — that Hmong elders have shared with him as they have toured the museum. He’ll provide historical background to help participants understand the nature of the “Secret War” in Laos that ultimately resulted in 300,000 Lao and Hmong refugees fleeing their country.

This talk is free and open to the public; donations appreciated. Registration is not required.

More about Jim Harris’ work

Jim Harris also founded We Help War Victims, an organization that assists survivors of war and other conflict to rebuild their lives. Since 2000, the organization’s main effort has been to assist Hmong and Lao families who have been impacted by the Indochina War. Harris’ interest in Hmong culture developed over his 20 years as principal at Weston Elementary School in the D.C. Everest Area School District.

For more information, please call the Marathon County Historical Society at 715-842-5750.

Photos courtesy Marathon County Historical Society.

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