Utah is a fine place to grow old together, she said. It’s secure. In the darkness, they were rounding the Point of the Mountain when the lights of the valley floor rolled into view, and she said that. They had just come from attending a session at the Draper temple, because the one nearest them was closed for cleaning. Gripping the wheel, he felt his wanderlust well up. Visions of traveling the world, expatriating to further his career, serving a mission in a foreign land faded in and out just beyond the focus of his headlights. Nothing is so settled in life, he thought, as God’s unsettling a contented life. So much can happen in so few years. Disease, disaster, death. They descended into the valley homeward. He couldn’t decide whether the dark mountains on all sides kept the World out or walled them in Zion, but he reached for her hand, squeezed it, and said, Yes, it’s secure.
While I was serving as a Hmong-speaking missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 90s, I learned of Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws, a publication of the Hmong Community Association of the Hmong of French Guyana. For a young missionary who wanted to absorb everything he could about scholarly Hmong, this little magazine was a super find. Most issues had 60 pages or so of scholarly articles, stories, poems, songs, all in the Hmong language. It was wonderful!
In chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, the text describes an individual who is “despised and rejected of men,” who has “borne our sorrows,” who has “no form nor comeliness…that we should desire him,” and so forth. The Christians (Mormons included) interpret these verses to be prophecies of Christ and his mission, while most Jewish scholars recognize the individual mentioned as a stand-in for the House of Israel. Either way, these verses are known as the “Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant,” the other three songs occurring in the preceding chapters of Isaiah. The “Suffering Servant” endures abuse and mistreatment, sometimes even unto death, and because of his suffering, redeems his people as a whole.
The Hmong people have their own “Suffering Servant”: The Orphan. In Hmong media, the orphan is front and center. The orphan’s plight is one of the primary motifs running through Hmong folktales, novels, stories, sung poetry (kwv txhiaj), and movies. Like the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah, the Hmong Orphan can be viewed both as an individual, Christ-like figure and as a representation of the Hmong people and how they view their situation in the world.
Last Saturday, the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) held their annual conference at Utah Valley University. Unlike previous years, it was a one-day affair, instead of two, but despite its reduction in scale, it was a lot of fun and well worth the four hours. I’m sure that many will join with me in extending a heartfelt thanks to James and Nicole Goldberg for their efforts to organize the conference and bring it off so smoothly. Continue reading “What Happened at the 2015 AML Conference?”