KIA VANG, author of the new book, The Home We Built on 46th St., always knew that she needed a creative outlet to keep herself balanced at home through writing about her feelings and life experiences with a large Hmong family. As the youngest daughter of thirteen siblings, Kia knew that she had the advantage and opportunity to stray from the path and live earnestly. “I wanted to be famous, as any other kid, and I would pretend to be a news anchor. Another day, I was a KPOP idol. And sometimes I would start an art project and sketch and doodle in a notebook. Even now, I am writing, teaching, and making TikTok videos all at once. I just needed a creative outlet to keep myself calm and balanced,” said Kia.
Diverse teachers in the education field are those who inspired students of color to chase their educational dreams, specifically in the case of being mentor and inspiring students to write about their own life experience. As Kia recalled from her mentor, Ms. Jackson, who she looked up to and who inspired her to pursue writing story: “In the 10th grade, I had an English teacher, Ms. Jackson, who I looked up to, and she was such a prominent figure in my life. She was a strong independent Black woman who taught AP literature. She was so composed and professional, and looking back at her, she really taught as if she was a university professor. Getting praise and acknowledged by her is really what jump started me to pursue writing.”
Through this special teacher, Kia learned to focus on her writing and decided to pursue postsecondary education after graduating from high school. “Ms. Jackson wrote me an awesome letter of recommendation that helped me attend college, and she made me realize my talents and self-worth. It wasn’t until college that I realized the white Eurocentric pillars of my major, English. Thanks to some educational policy courses, and with my own experience, I learned that I needed to add immigrants and voices of Hmong and BIPOC to mainstream school curriculum because there were none in my life growing up,” vocalized Kia.
The Home We Built on 46th St. is Kia’s first book published by the Hmong Educational Resources Publisher. The inspiration for writing this book actually came from a statement made by one of Kia’s favorite authors, Sandra Cisneros. As Kia described: “In an interview, Sandra once said something similar to, what can a 22-year-old who's sheltered, who has never traveled write about? Well, you write what you know. And for anyone, the most obvious topic you write about, and what you know most about, is yourself. So, I began writing pieces for my book during college, when I realized my life experiences were drastically different from my peers.”
Writing a great book also comes with a great title that represents the experiences of the author. The initial title of the book changed a couple times to reflect the authentic experience of Kia and her experiences with her family, culture, community, and the street where she grew up. As Kia gave voice to her book’s title: “The title was changed a couple times. So, with the help of HER Publisher, we came to the agreement of The Home We Built on 46th St. I thought it was so great because of its symbolism. The title might seem simple and insignificant, but I think it reflects the many immigrant stories that take place in the United States. And this book, this story is just another one of those stories. It makes the book seem relatable as immigrant experiences can happen on any street, on the reader's street.”
In the writing process of The Home We Built on 46th St., Kia has been collecting and recording her writing since she began college in 2015. “It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I knew I wanted to create some sort of anthology of my work. So, it’s been a long time coming. My final semester of university is when I had an English mentor guide me through the editing and publishing process. And within that semester I finished the first manuscript of The Home We Built on 46th St.,” announced Kia. A true authentic life experience, The Home We Built on 46th St. is an atypical narrative of a young Hmong immigrant family. The perspectives of the stories change, and, as the book goes on, the format changes along with deep themes of culture clash, social belonging, and critical immigrant experiences. All of the stories inside this book are what built a young Hmong American woman.
When asked what Kia loves most about the writing process and what she learned from writing The Home We Built on 46th St., Kia shared the following experience: “The writing process is always difficult and stressful when you have deadlines and workshops about your work. You express your deepest thoughts on paper, while others critique it and judge it. But the most enjoyable thing for me, is the excitement of writing itself. There were times where I literally could not stop writing because the ideas and stories in my head needed to be put on paper. Looking deeper at the memories in my childhood and writing it out, getting the work done, and having fully flushed out my head was the best feeling. When you do something, you should enjoy it!”
One of Kia’s favorite parts of the story in The Home We Built on 46th St. is the passage about “Laos 1980.” As remarked from the writing of her story: “When I see old photos like that, of when my family was still in Laos and Thailand, I always get a rush of curiosity. Who is who, when was this, what was happening in this photo? And this passage is literally a stream of consciousness writing style, that puts my thoughts on paper. Aside from having fun writing this, the piece itself is great because it comes with a photo. The book lets the reader imagine the characters and settings, but this is the first real concrete image. And it appears halfway into the book, which really makes you conceptualize that these stories you have been reading are as honest as the resilience seen in this picture.”
When it comes to Kia’s writing, her family is the most supportive system in her life. “I am not confident in my writing. I think I still have a lot to learn, and I still have a long way to go for perfecting the craft. With this in mind, my family has always been supportive in my endeavors. Even if I weren’t writing, they would still be here for me. Writing is just one of my many creative outlets, and I don’t think I have actually shared any of my writing to my family. They just trust me and believe in my success, and that support is really good for me,” observed Kia.
If Kia could share one thing about her writing experience with other students or future writers, she would suggest them to write down their thoughts, ideas, feeling, and whatever comes to mind on paper and then review those drafts again later, adding more details and explanations of arguments or topics. “I write down my thoughts when my brain is too overwhelmed. I write down notes when I meet people. I write down little glimmers of life everyday, and that, I think, has pushed me really far. I’ve done so many types of writing, from scholarly to prose. And I think that is what has made me realize what types of writing I prefer. And aside from that, writing itself is such a useful skill. Being able to thoroughly write out a paper and explain your arguments using jargon and precise diction can be the difference of an A or F on a paper. Always put down your thoughts and ideas on paper and review again and again, slowly the story comes to live with full detail,” declared Kia.
When Kia is not writing, she likes to watch TikToks, binge Netflix series, or work. “I work with City Year Milwaukee, in a ninth grade English class, co-teaching courses, and tutoring students. I really enjoy my work because I once was a fledgling high school student myself, needing some help and opportunities. It’s so rewarding to see young people succeed and give back to the community,” vocalized Kia.
In the future, Kia hopes to become an iconic writer. As Kia shared: “To be the next Stephanie Meyer, or the next Virginia Woolf. I am planning to release some novels across genres, contrasting this book release. And in five years, I would like to have an agent and be a full-time writer. But I would also love to have a role in community affairs as an influential Hmong woman. Working in the entertainment business can last a long time. In five years or so, I hope to have a book series on the New York Times best seller list, and let fate run its course after that.”
Kia would like to thank the Hmong Educational Resources Publisher for publishing her book and for providing a space for Hmong students, teachers, and writers to share their stories. Kia also would like to share with her readers that The Home We Built on 46th St. is only the first chapter of her writing career: “It’s solely an introduction to my talents and interests. And I hope that you, readers, will enjoy the book, and relate to some part of it. I would love for you all to read it and see if I did my job and it reached you. Please look forward to my future projects and thanks again,” voiced Kia.
The Hmong Educational Resources (HER) Publisher believes in the power of education and the impact of stories. HER is an independent publisher of books about Hmong people, culture, and life experiences. To get a copy of Kia’s book or read more about The Home We Built on 46th St., please visit www.herpublisher.com. If you would like to know more about Kia Vang and her work, please feel free to connect her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Kia on Instagram @vangkiah.