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Understanding Kao Kalia Yang’s American Identity

Apr 29, 2023 | 0 comments

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Apr 29, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Kao Kalia Yang, the author of The Latehomecomer, is an American in several ways; first, legally by the fact that she acquired American citizenship, embraced the American system, culture, and dream by embracing American education as she schooled until she became a professor- through assimilation- and lastly the fact that America is the only place she can ever call home as she was born in 1980 in Thailand refugee camp. She has lived almost her entire life in America-growing up, schooling, and currently works in America as a professor besides being a writer and an activist. Therefore, Kao Kalia Yang is an American as much as an émigré.

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Kao Kalia Young is an American citizen legally. Hmong families realized that America was the only country they had traveled farther from and knew they would live in America longer than in any other country.[1] Therefore, to live peacefully in America on the right side of the law as they had felt safe in America since there was no open violence, thus conducive to bringing up children. Besides, they were tired of running and realized it was difficult to find a place to sleep without a country to stand by them[2]. Thus, the Yang family decided to pursue citizenship, which gave them exclusive American membership rights and privileges to enjoy its resources to enhance their living standards. Citizenship also gave them a sense of belonging and a permanent place to call home.

The American system is money-oriented, and this culture made Kao Kalia dislike her as home at first. Watching her family wallow in abject poverty- her parents working several jobs to settle bills put decent food on the table, and take them to schools forcing her sister and her to take care of their siblings[3], a rough experience for a child. Adapting to the American system was difficult as they had spent most of their time depending on donors and ratios at the refugee camp. However, she started being positive when she realized the only way to harness opportunities in America was to become one of them by embracing the American culture and dream. With time she accepted her new home, adopted their culture, and became one of the Americans. Therefore, she is an assimilated American.

Hmong families, Yang’s family inclusive, did feel safe after a long time on their arrival in America. Given their rough experiences of being on the run and spending their time in crowded camps, they found America a place that allowed them to live a normal life. Kao Kalia acknowledges that her people were grateful to America[4] not because life was easy but because their lives as refugees and in a hostile environment where guns and killing on the grass was the order of the day, with women being captured, tortured and raped[5] was finally behind them. Kao narrates her people’s story during and after the silent Vietnam war. Though she found it hard to accept America, she realized that that was the only place where she and her family were safe and comfortable enough to put up a home, given that Hmong families had been searching for a home[6] for a long time and they found one in America. Therefore, Kao Kalia is an American, as that is the only home she knows.

Moreover, Kao Kalia Yang has most of her life spent in America since leaving the refugee camp at a tender age. She has grown, is schooled, and is currently working in America. Her entire life has been in America, where she feels safe. America is what she has grown up calling home, and she had the opportunity to explore her potential, capabilities, and abilities and chase the American dream through education[7]. Learning English showed her acceptance and eagerness to start afresh in America, and she developed dreams since she went to school until she became a professor, writer, and activist, as a normal American child would say, regardless of the challenges she faced, like financial problems.[8] Therefore, Kao Kalia Yang is an American since her actions from when she was young reflect an American citizen as she valued and participated in the American dream.

In summary, Kao Kalia talks about the experiences of her family and the circumstances that led to her becoming an American in her book, The Latehomecomer. In it, she discusses her family’s painful earlier encounter with a hostile, violent environment during the Vietnam War that made them flee their ancestral home in search of a home they later built in America. Life in America was challenging, but with time, they learnt to keep up, embraced the American system, culture, and dream that motivated Kao to school, and later became a professor, an activist, and a writer after the family decided to apply for American citizenship. Thus, Kao Kalia Yang is legally an American citizen and given that America is the only place, she can confidently call home.


Yang, Kao Kalia. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2008.


  1. Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Minneapolia: Coffee House. Press. 2008), 139
  2. Ibid., 203
  3. Ibid., 202
  4. Ibid., 178
  5. Ibid., 60
  6. Ibid., 4
  7. Ibid., 210
  8. Ibid., 214
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