Minnesota Humanities Center

America’s Secret War: A Multimedia Workshop Designed by and for Educators

Posted November 7, 2019

In the shadows of the Vietnam War, the CIA conducted a secret war in Laos that relied on Hmong soldiers to prevent the threat of communism from spreading deeper into Southeast Asia. Tens of thousands died, both in the fight and in the escape. The Twin Cities PBS (TPT) documentary, “America’s Secret War,” explores the untold, turbulent history and honors the stories of Hmong veterans and families.

The local documentary was broadcast nationwide as a companion to the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick series, THE VIETNAM WAR, adding important context to the broader Vietnam War history.

Salute to our Hmong elders who have sacrificed their life for us. Most have passed on but some still live among us, carrying the most heavy wounds in their heart and soul. My heart is full.
-Hmong community member

Community-led storytelling & education
TPT’s documentary team included the Hmong community in doing research, recording voice-overs, and conducting interviews for the film. Hmong composer Shu Lor recorded his parents singing traditional songs and playing Hmong instruments like the qeej to create a one-of-a kind soundtrack for the film.

In response to the tremendous reception of the film, TPT and the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC) turned to community once again after the broadcast to think about how we could create ways to engage communities on a deeper lever with this history.

TPT and MHC hosted a series of community gatherings with Hmong elders, youth, SGU veterans and community leaders as well as educators to identify what was needed most and the key themes that were most important to amplify.

It was clear that the need for educational resources based on the film was essential. The result? A brand new collection of resources based on “America’s Secret War” that empower educators to bring this story into their classrooms in fresh and engaging ways.

As an educator and Hmong community member, I am grateful for your efforts to be inclusive of my community in making history. Importantly, I appreciate your prudence and care to make sure it is done well. You make me proud to live here.
-Hmong educator

The resources were designed by and for educators. The working group includes:

Chong Thao, a high school English Language Arts teacher for Saint Paul Public Schools; Michael Paulson, a high school social studies teacher for Intermediate District 287; Thown Va Thor, a middle school social studies teacher at New Millennium Academy; and Chia Xiong, a former elementary teacher at Roseville Area Schools.

First-person storytelling, interactive maps, and accessible guides make themes like duty, sacrifice, migration, and freedom relevant for all of us. Activities also embrace concepts of the Humanities Center’s approach to engagement through absent narratives– those voices often left out or marginalized—with the goal of helping students engage others with respect and empathy.

The partnership between TPT, MHC, and the educators allowed community voices to shape the toolkit, while offering a strong foundation of storytelling and experience bringing absent narratives into focus in thoughtful and meaningful ways.

TPT, MHC, and the working group of educators designed a multimedia workshop to empower educators to use the “America’s Secret War,” and companion toolkit to bring this important history into the classroom. These tools will spark dialog, encourage critical thinking and exploration, and will build deeper understanding about the Secret War’s link to the Vietnam War, Veteran and refugee experiences, and Hmong identity and culture today.

The workshop will feature several interviewees from the film, including Lee Pao Xiong and Dr. Mai Na Lee as well as Hmong chef, Yia Vang, who will cater lunch, and Story Cloth creator, Suzanne Thao.


Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 | 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. | $90*

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Katie Carpenter Headshot
By: Katie Carpenter

Katie Carpenter is currently the Impact Producer at TPT and previously led the development and production of the station-wide and statewide project Minnesota Remembers Vietnam. She is an Emmy Award and Murrow Award-winning multimedia producer with a passion for creative storytelling and community-building. In this role, she is working closely with community organizations, veterans groups, and other PBS stations across Minnesota and the country to extend the impact of the initiative and create new opportunities for meaningful dialog, education and storytelling.