For the third Big Tell Filmmaker Profile, we introduce Paula Yang, a filmmaker and advocate who, for decades, has served as a powerful voice for local Hmong veterans.
Storytelling has always been an integral part of Paula Yang’s life. As a young child growing up in the Xiengkhouang province of Laos, and the daughter of a general who served in the Vietnam War, Paula was regularly regaled with tales of heroism and bravery. These tales were often shared at family gatherings, where her family and neighbors would recount their valiant sacrifices. At one such gathering, it was suggested that these stories be captured on film for posterity, leading Paula to recognize the value in preserving this knowledge for future generations.
Having served the Hmong community as a translator since the age of 10, Paula was asked to become an advocate for Hmong veterans and to share their stories. In collaboration with the Central Valley’s local HmongUSA TV station, Paula made regular television appearances that afforded her the opportunity to interview local war heroes and broadcast their stories for the Hmong community at large. “[The events of the Vietnam War] are a cornerstone of who [the Hmong community is] today, and the reason we are now in the United States,” Paula remarked. “[Telling these stories on TV] was an easy responsibility for me to [undertake], as I am close to members of the Hmong community, the television station stakeholders, and Hmong war heroes.” Paula is so engaged and respected in the Hmong community that she was even consulted for the casting of local Hmong actors in Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film, Gran Torino.
Paula Yang makes an appearance on HmongUSA TV channel 31.9 Fresno. (Photo Credit: HmongUSA TV on YouTube)
(Photo Credit: HmongUSA TV on YouTube)
A jump from television to film was not a stretch for Paula. From an early age, she recognized that messages and stories could be shared with large audiences through film. She grew up watching television shows such as Hogan’s Heroes and MASH, appreciating the accuracy in which they portrayed the lives of soldiers during wartime. Paula’s favorite films are the Rambo series starring Sylvester Stallone, which portray the mental and physical states many soldiers are in after returning home from battle. “As a child, I was surrounded by soldiers who confirmed or negated [the] storylines and behaviors of [the] actors who portrayed active-duty soldiers,” Paula recalled. As she spent many years listening to wartime stories from Hmong veterans, accurate, authentic retellings of these experiences were of the utmost importance.
In April, when the Central Valley Community Foundation announced The Big Tell: Undiscovered Stories from the Central Valley presented by Bank of America, Paula knew this was an opportunity to share the authentic voices of Hmong veterans with an even wider audience. Paula’s mini documentary, titled, “The Secret War in Laos”, will offer audiences a brief glimpse into the lives of three Hmong veterans who served in the Vietnam War, and how the events of the war affected them and their families. “This film is to honor all SGU (Hmong Special Guerilla Unit) war heroes,” Paula said. “[The Hmong people] lost their fathers, husbands, and brothers in war. [Families] were left behind [and their] lives stood still[…] The SGU veterans are the most respected and valuable humans in our Hmong society. Without [their sacrifices], we would not be where we are today.”
To Paula, being chosen as a winner for The Big Tell means a tremendous amount – both for herself and the Hmong community. “[This film] will be [the audience’s] first exposure [to] the true war heroes living among us,” Paula began. “Their stories are crucial to our community, our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, [and it’s important for us] to know that our parents are the pioneers and war heroes who suffered [at] great lengths to give us this freedom today.” The Secret War in Laos will be the first piece of film to ever feature the stories of local SGU war heroes, and Paula hopes that it will be one that the Hmong community will take pride in and that will impact audiences. “This film will be honored by so many Hmong around the country. [I hope that the] audience will be more appreciative of our war heroes [and gain] a better understanding of the secret war in Laos.”
Sadly, one of the SGU veterans Paula wished to interview for the film passed away before his segment could be filmed. The Secret War in Laos will be dedicated in honor of Major Seng Vue, who played a crucial role in the conquering of Mount Pa Ti during the war.
The Central Valley Community Foundation, in partnership with CMAC, wishes to congratulate Paula Yang for being chosen as a winner for The Big Tell, presented by Bank of America. Make sure to mark your calendars for The Big Tell Showcase on October 20, 2017 and come out and support these local creators!
To connect with Paula online, please visit her on Facebook.