Southeast Asian American Life Stories

Mary Louise Buley-Meissner, Professor

Course: ENGLISH 192, SEM 012
Class Number: 30691
Credits: 3 CD, HU&
Time: TR 3:30 PM – 4:45 PM
Place: CRT 108

Course Description:

This seminar emphasizes active learning through extensive reading, collaborative class work and individual research projects as we look into the dynamic development of Southeast Asian American identities from the 1970s until now.  Through our study of autobiography and family biography, we will learn how political forces intersect with personal circumstances in shaping individual identities, family bonds and enduring community values.

Work Involved:

As we read life stories by Southeast Asian American writers, our goal will be to develop an in-depth understanding of the histories and the hopes of people who have come to this country from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to build new lives. Essential to that understanding is learning how the Vietnam War and the Cambodia Holocaust have affected entire generations. For example, what inner resources do people draw on as they struggle to survive during times of war and political turmoil?  On what basis can identity and integrity be strengthened as people face the challenge of rebuilding their lives after war?  When refugees have settled in the US, why has it been difficult to bridge differences between traditional and modern views regarding the interrelationship of self, family and society?  Films and documentaries (including “Heaven and Earth,” “The Killing Fields” and “Split Horn”) will provide background for our discussions.  Basic course requirements include class participation (25%); quizzes on the assigned reading (25%); an analytical essay on one course book (25%); and an individual (or pair) research presentation (25%).  Overall, through our work together, we will learn how life stories offer new views of the past; important questions about the present; and valuable lessons for shaping the future of our multicultural country.


When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip; First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung; and The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang.

About the Instructor:

An enthusiastic advocate of cross-cultural education and travel, Mary Louise Buley-Meissner has enjoyed working with students in China, Japan and Germany and would like to work with students in Southeast Asia and India. At UWM, she has been involved in Hmong and Hmong American studies for fifteen years; her courses on Hmong American literature and life stories have been among the first in the US to integrate Hmong American studies into higher education. With Vincent K. Her, she recently co-edited Hmong and American: From Refugees to Citizens, the first interdisciplinary essay collection to address contemporary Hmong American identity formation and cultural development.