University of Wisconsin- La Crosse Area Research Center
Joseph Motivans had an amazing life. He was born in 1932 Latvia, a Baltic country in the Eastern part of Europe. He grew up in Latvia, became a refugee in Germany, came to the United States, worked as a sharecropper when he was only 16, was drafted into the Korean War, went to college, and eventually taught at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. The section from his childhood to his eventual service for the United States is particularly interesting, so that is what this FFA will follow. If you are looking for a child’s perspective on being a refugee in World War II, and the immigration process after the war, then this oral history would be perfect for you!
This collection is an oral history, and is available to listen to or read. This FFA follows the typed transcript, and focuses on some of the more amazing parts of his life, like how the threat of communism forced him to leave his home. This Finding Aid is separated into its three focuses: 1) “Childhood in Latvia,” 2) “Escaping the Russians and WWII,” and 3) “Coming to the United States.” Any one of these would make a great National History Day project!
In the first portion of the interview (Childhood in Latvia, p. 1-44) Motivans introduces himself, and talks about his family, and their lives. He then describes life in Latvia, and his childhood. He also goes into detail about school, meals, summer vacation, and life on the farm. It is an overall description of the Latvian culture. In the next section (Escaping the Russians in WWII, p. 56-125), Motivans describes his experiences in World War II. He talks about how the world was so focused on Hitler that Stalin just swept in under the radar to take the Baltics. He talks about the Communist takeover, mass deportations, purges, hiding from the Russians, his family’s escape, life in the refugee camp, riots, and life after the war as a “displaced person.” He also tells how he lived in the camps. You might be surprised to learn that he got an education, and at times he had fun! In the final section (Coming to the United States, p. 125-147), Motivans talks about his life in the United States. He came over when he was just 16. He talks about how he got here, his life in Mississippi, how the WWII refugee and Black population got along, and college life.
Pages 1-11: Motivans introduces himself and gives some basic background knowledge such as: birth place and date, when he came to the United States, and where he grew up. Motivans explains the economic depression that was occurring in Latvia at the time of his birth as well. These are important pages to read for understanding his life and times.
Pages 11-17: This is where Motivans describes Latvia after World War II. Motivans discusses the political climate in each of the main countries that make up the Baltic region. Then he talks about Latvia and how there were many political parties and how communism was rising. (At the time, Latvia was independent and creating its own democracy, but the Russian threat was near.) Read these pages to find out how the Russians threatened Latvia’s new found independence.
Pages 20-33: On these pages Motivans discusses his education, and what school was like in Latvia. Motivans also talks about how he behaved in school and the corporal punishments (physical punishments) used. He also talks about sex education, and how he learned about the birds and the bees. (Oh la la!)
Pages 33-38: In this small, but important section, Motivans talks about medical care in Latvia, and about the role sorcery played. Did you know that there were not many doctors at the time and that people relied on the town “expert” who would use magical powers to heal them? Motivans pulls from past experiences to describe the time he broke his leg.
Pages 38-41: Motivans discusses social life in Latvia in this section. He talks about drinking, pastimes, and holidays. Remember being read to when you were younger? You can read about Motivans’s bedtime stories and cultural events here.
Pages 41-44: This is where Motivans talks about what the Latvian people ate. He talks about how the harder you worked, the more varied your diet became. He also discusses the meals had at certain times of the year, like holidays. Did you know that during certain holidays people had to fast?
Pages 56-60: Motivans begins with the Communist takeover in the Baltics. This was all done legally, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Read here to see what the Motivans family thought about Jewish people.
Pages 60- 69: In this section you can learn about how the Communist takeover affected every aspect of life, even language! He begins telling his memories of his neighbors being deported. He tells who was first to go, what they brought with them, and where they were sent. How do you think this affected Motivans’ daily life? Read here to find out.
Pages 69-76: Motivans talks about when his family thought they were next on the list to be deported to Germany. Their saviors were the German Nazis! If you think you have heard everything about the German and Russian armies; read here for a new perspective.
Pages 76-89: Here is where Motivans and his family escape Latvia. (They decided that being in Germany would be better than going to Russia.) Read here for the heart-racing escape of Motivans and his family.
Pages 89-98: In this section Motivans describes being transported in Germany, packed like sardines in railroad cars. Once in the refugee camp, he talks about how he and his family got supplies and survived. Read here to see what it was like.
Pages 98-102: Here Motivans discusses riots in the camp, and how they got started. Next he tells how he and his family were sent to a different camp, and almost got sent to Siberia!
Pages 102-125: In this portion, Motivans talks about what happened after the war. He and his family could not go home so they continued to travel west to another camp. He describes his education, the Black Market, gangs, books, alcohol, dental care, and what it was like living in an American Zone. Motivans talks about how he handled all the changes, the mixing of rural and urban populations, and the segregation within the camps. Could you imagine moving to a new place with a lot of different people who speak different languages? Read here to see how Motivans handled this.
Pages 125-130: Motivans discusses how the immigration process worked in 1948. Oftentimes when you think of immigration, you might think of Ellis Island. See how different Motivans’ experience was by reading here.
Pages 130-135: Here is where Motivans talks about his life in Mississippi. He and his family were sharecroppers on a cotton plantation. Working on a plantation was hard. Do you think Motivans still got to go to school? Read here to find out.
Pages 135-138: Here Motivans discusses the relationship between the Black population and the refugee population. He then goes into the relationship that the refugees had with the Southern Whites. How do you think refugees were welcomed after World War II? Read here to find out more.
Pages 138-147: Here is where Motivans discusses his family moving to Walls, Mississippi. Motivans talks about high school, junior college, and cultural influences that changed his life, like smoking. During the 1950s you might think about greasers and poodle skirts. Read here to find out how Motivans fit in with this!
Reviewed by: Katie Buika
> Location: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Area Research Center
> Oral histories referenced in this collection:
Women’s sewing group. Interviewed Ge Vang. 2001. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
Koua Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
Romain Lor Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
This collection is made up of three interviews: 1) a women’s sewing group, 2) Koua Vang, and 3) Romain Lor Vang. It’s part of a larger collection of Hmong oral history interviews by Ge Vang. The Hmong are an ethnic group that can be found in Southeast Asia. Today many Hmong live in the United States because of the Vietnam War. During the 1960s, the Hmong were recruited by United States military to fight secretly for us. We lost the war, and the Hmong had to flee. Between 1975 and 1980, over 42,000 Hmong political refugees resettled in the United States. Today, Wisconsin has a significant Hmong population, some of whom can be found right here in La Crosse! These interviews discuss the daily lives and struggles of Hmong Americans, especially the differences between the old ways and the new. Ge asks a lot of questions about the survival of Hmong culture in the United States.
The collection consists of three folders that each contain a separate typed and easy-to-read transcript for each interview. There are also audio recording CDs that are included with each transcript that you can listen to and follow along with the transcript!
NOTE: Ge Vang conducts all of the interviews. He is not closely related to Koua and Romain Vang.
In the interview with the women’s sewing group, Ge Vang talked with a group of Hmong women some related as sister-in-laws, aunts, and mother-in-laws. The group discussed their family and lives in Wisconsin, living in the U.S. as members of the Hmong community. Children are a topic throughout the interview. They are becoming Americanized and what many of the women consider rebellious. The women are very concerned because they want to preserve the Hmong culture and identity. Their children however seem uninterested. The children’s rebellious behavior and their disinterest in traditional culture shows the growing differences between the Hmong parents and their Americanized children. Ge Vang’s interview with the women’s sewing group is 15 pages long. Also, the transcript of the women’s sewing club abruptly ends mid-interview for unknown reasons!
Pages 1-7: The group of women introduce themselves and discuss the future as they see it. They talk a lot about raising children in America, and their kids’ assimilation to U.S. culture.
Pages 7-11: The women address dating and marriage in the community, and how it is different in America. They also talk about their children’s education.
Pages 12-14: The women discuss how they discipline their children and household rules.
The second transcript is an interview with Koua Vang. Ge and Koua discuss Koua’s early memories of life in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States, and his adjustment to life in La Crosse. Koua and Ge talk a lot about living in the Hmong community, and how Koua faced challenges balancing life as a Hmong man and living in the United States. Toward the end of the interview Koua confesses he believes that eventually the Hmong language and culture will disappear in the United States because the younger generations will not learn traditional practices and language, and because of the clash between the U.S. and Hmong culture. The transcript of Koua Vang’s interview with Ge Vang is 22 pages long. This transcript’s questions and answers have been translated into English from Hmong!
Pages 1-7: Koua introduces himself and discusses his early childhood, including a few memories of escaping into Thailand! Ge and Koua also discuss the difficulties of coming to the U.S.
Pages 7-10: Koua talks about his wife and son, and his marriage. He also talks about college and his career goals.
Pages 11-15: Koua and Ge discuss traditional Hmong practices and modernity, as well as his own self-identity as a Hmong person. He also brings up his thoughts on his clan and family.
Pages 15-22: Ge and Koua address gender roles and equality in the Hmong community, as well as the future of the Hmong culture.
The final transcript of this collection is an interview with Romain Vang. Romain, who was a college student at the time of the interview, recounts memories of his childhood in the United States and Southeast Asia. Throughout much of the interview, Ge and Romain talk about Romain and his family moving to the United States. They also discuss some the conflicts that resulted from the differences between the U.S. and the Hmong community. Romain confesses that he doesn’t think that the Hmong culture will last in America, and that it will eventually disappear in the coming generations. Romain Lor Vang’s transcript is 28 pages long.
Pages 1-4: Romain Vang introduces himself and talks about being born in Laos. He also talks a little bit about life in Thailand in the refugee camps, and moving to the United States when he was eleven. (Take Note: This means that Romain could remember life in Southeast Asia and what it was like to adjust to life in the U.S.)
Pages 4-10: Romain tells about school and dating in America, and problems such as racism. He also discusses getting a job while in high school.
Pages 10-14: Romain compares Hmong culture to American culture, and how these differences can sometimes cause trouble! He also talks about his family’s clan in Eau Claire.
Pages 14-20: These pages cover Romain’s college and career goals. Ge and Romain also examine the future of Hmong culture in the United States, including religion.
Pages 21-28: Romain examines the generation gap in Hmong culture and his relationship with his parents. The two also discuss family relationships and marriage.
Reviewed by: Ashley Schwartz
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Murphy Library Area Research Center
Imagine yourself traveling across the Atlantic Ocean without anyone you knew by your side. You are on the same ship for five weeks under tough conditions and are dreaming of home cooked meals every night. In addition to this, you are sailing to an unknown land. Somewhere that holds the promise of a new life.
In 1856, twenty-one-year-old Friedrich “Fritz” Tillman did just that. He left everything he knew in Europe and made the famous voyage to America. During his travels, he wrote in a diary explaining his hardships, challenges, and fun times on board. In this collection, you will find Tillman’s original diary (yes, from 1856!) written in German. Don’t worry, however, another historian translated the diary into English for easy reading. No need to learn German to have fun with this primary source!
Tillman’s diary covers his five-week trip aboard the ship as it sailed to the United States. This FFA only covers Box 1. It details the full diary and divides it into two parts: difficult and enjoyable experiences. The historian who translated the diary from German to English followed Tillman’s original page numbers. As you read the translation, look for headings that say “Page I” or “Page II.” Each page has a lot of information about the trip. Please note: the translation is written in cursive, but don’t worry, after a little while your eyes will become used to it!
This folder has an article from Then and Now, a monthly publication of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The article, written in January 1966, is a summary of Friedrich Tillman’s journey to America as written in his diary. This article is a nice starting point to decide if you want to read the real diary.
This folder has the original pages of Friedrich Tillman’s diary, laminated to protect the yellowing, fragile parchment. The pages are written in German, but nevertheless are very interesting to see. Remember, this was written in 1856 aboard a ship!
Page 1: Tillman expresses his frustration when he is not given enough water. Also, he struggles with preparing his meals because there were, quite literally, too many cooks in the kitchen!
Page 2: Tillman is having a difficult time sleeping on the ship because the other passengers are too loud. Tillman also talks about passengers getting very seasick.
Page 3: After a huge storm, Tillman faces a flooded cabin and a very wet mattress. It was so bad that he had to carry the entire mattress on deck for it to dry!
Page 4: There are a lot of bad things that happened in this section. Much to Tillman’s surprise, someone had broken into his belongings. He searched and searched for the thief, but had no luck. Tillman seems to be frustrated with almost everything that is going on. It also does not help that the weather is horrible and is frightening other passengers.
Page 5: As a result of the constant motion and rocking of the boat, Tillman experiences some headaches that force him to rest.
Page 1: Aboard the ship, Tillman is surprised at the variety of food he is given for the journey. He is given different meats, biscuits, coffee, and even cigars!
Page 2: Tillman comments that the ocean looks beautiful and is similar to a giant mirror.
Page 5: During a big storm, passengers and sailors socialize inside the ship. There is music being played and the sailors put on a comedy show to entertain the passengers.
Page 6: Tillman awakes to gunshots! Alarmed, he finds out that the sailors were celebrating America’s Independence Day. The rest of the day was full of activities and battle reenactments. Also, another ship passes by and is a sight to see, according to Tillman.
Page 7: Passengers flood to the top decks to see whales pass by the ship. Tillman is excited because there is a full ship-cleaning day. Finally, the harbors of New York are in sight!
Page 8: The ship gets to the harbor and Tillman is impressed with America. The voyage had finally ended!
Reviewed by: Olivia Roehri
Created by Kaley Brown
Thai Vue was born around 1953 near the Vietnam border in Laos. He grew up during the Vietnam War era and the American funded “Secret War” in Laos. The Hmong supported the Americans fighting against the communists during the war, but because it was secret, few Americans knew about what the Hmong did. America lost the Vietnam War, and so Thai Vue and the rest of the Hmong population had to go into hiding to avoid being killed by the new government. As a result, thousands of Hmong risked their lives to escape Laos, and many, like Thai Vue, immigrated to the United States.
UWL professor Charles Lee interviewed Vue during the summer of 1994. The interview covers all of Vue’s life until that point. He discusses everything from his childhood in Laos, to hiding from the Communists and escaping to Thailand, to his experiences in America after immigrating in 1978. The recorded interview lasts for over six hours! This finding aid concentrates on the interview’s written transcription and digital version, and covers just the sections that relate to Thai Vue’s life during the war, escaping Laos, the refugee camps, and the cultural differences between America and Laos.
The collection consists of a 160 page typed transcript, several tapes, and a digital audio recording.
Listening to oral histories allows the researcher to become more familiar with the subject. Thai Vue shows a lot of emotion and laughs a lot during the interview, and the transcript does not capture that. He also repeats words or phrases that are important to him, and the transcriber cut a lot of those out. However, listening to the tapes can be difficult since they are frequently recordings of earlier recordings. The tape numbers do not match up with the ones written in the transcript and they can be very fuzzy at times. Tape players are also difficult to use if you are not familiar with them. The digital recording might be easier to use since it is on the computer and allows the user to jump to a specific spot in the interview.
If you decide to listen to the interview, the numbers below will help you locate topics on the digital version. Use the numbers to pick sections for listening – listed below – and quickly jump from subject to subject.
1. Personal Background (pgs. 1-5)
3, 10. Vietnam War (pgs. 5-8 and 26-28)
5. Education (pgs. 8-12)
6, 7. Parents (pgs. 12-17)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
11. Communist Soldiers
12. American Evacuation (Fighting Communists) (pgs. 32-53)
13, 14. Hiding in the Jungle and Deaths (pgs. 53-57)
15. Marriage (pgs. 57-65)
24. Hmong People and the Government of Laos (pgs. 95-96)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
9. Experiences, Prison Camps (pgs. 24-26)
16, 17, 18. Leaving for Thailand, Prison and Refugee Camps (pgs. 65-86)
21. Resettlement Interview (pgs. 86-92)
23. Refugee Camps and Thai People (pgs. 92-94)
25. Finances, Family separation (pgs. 97-98)
4. American Impressions (pg. 8)
25. Finances, Family Separation (pgs. 97-98)
26. United States (pgs. 98-101)
27. Cultural Differences (pgs. 101-105)
30. Employment/ English/ Winter (pgs. 105-109)
35. Opinions, La Crosse (pgs. 115-122)
36. Parenting (pgs. 122-131)
37. Shamanism (pgs. 131-132)
38. School Board Membership/Hmong in Public Schools (pgs. 133-153)
39. Social Issues, La Crosse (pgs. 153-159)
Reviewed by: Kaley Brown