Photo courtesy of
Craftsperson, Community Organizer, Folklorist
Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun
Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun, a path-breaking Hmong craftsperson and community organizer, introduced her community’s traditions to the nation while strongly sustaining culture for generations of Hmong Americans.
Born in the mountains of northeast Laos in Xieng Khouang Province, Pang’s earliest memories and first three decades of her life were shaped by war in the region. The oldest of fourteen children, she carried many family responsibilities after her mother died. From the women in the family, she learned to make traditional clothing and Hmong paj ntaub, delicately pieced and folded reverse appliqué that conveys Hmong history and culture. Her father, a traditional healer and leader, introduced her to aspects of Hmong culture not ordinarily shared with young daughters. She was always an avid learner, a researcher extraordinaire.
Forced by escalating war to evacuate their family home, Pang became a businesswoman, setting up a roadside food stand in Pa Dong. There she met and married her first husband, Charoon Sirirathasuk.They moved to Sukothai, Thailand, where they lived for fifteen years with Charoon’s family, raising six children. In 1975, when many Hmong people were forced to flee Laos, Pang and Charoon took jobs at the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand in order to support Pang’s family who had sought refuge there. Between 1976 and 1979, Pang worked as a teacher, student, healer, organizer, entrepreneur, and artist at Ban Vinai. During this time, Hmong women’s needlework was mobilized as artistic expression, economic development tool, and as a means to share Hmong stories in cloth. For the rest of her life, Pang stayed connected to Ban Vinai art and artist networks, building artistic and economic avenues for Hmong people.
In 1979, Pang and her family moved to Philadelphia to join her brother. At this time, more than 3,000 displaced Hmong people were resettled in neighborhoods where they often faced anti-Asian violence. Many families moved away. Pang and the Xiong clan were among those who chose to remain. She became a motivating force for this community because of her tireless cultivation of Hmong traditions and lifeways. Pang and her work live on through the knowledge and practice she vested in so many. Pang has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, Social Science Research Council, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and others. She worked collaboratively with organizations like the Folklife Center of International House, the Philadelphia Folklore Project (PFP) and Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She co-curated PFP’s “We Try to Be Strong,” an exhibition of local Hmong arts (2006), and served on PFP’s Board of Directors and the Board of the Hmong United Association of Pennsylvania.