Let’s talk Hmong!
No I didn’t mean, “Nyob zoo.” I meant let’s have a candid conversation about the Hmong people.
It amazes me to ponder how far Hmong people have come, yet still so far behind. Let’s start with the
positive things first, Hmong owned businesses, Hmong charter schools, Hmong studies, Hmong newspapers, radio, magazines, Hmong this and Hmong that – you get the picture. This is particularly true for Hmong people living within the Twin Cities area. Also, let’s not forget the Hmong politicians elected to public
office. Plenty of growth and opportunities for Hmong people, that’s exciting and invigorating to see and
witness – I may also add, claim! You see within the life span of 30 plus years, Hmong people have
accomplished many great things yet there is always room for improvement. So it’s 2013, where do we go from here?
Before we think about the future, let’s remember our history and how or what has brought us to this great place, America! We, the Hmong, fled from the mountainous juggle of Laos, crossed the Mekong River, and lived in the refugee camps in Thailand for many years before arriving to the United States. My father and uncles fought alongside with the U.S. CIA during the Vietnam War and so did many of my Hmong friends’ father and uncles. We had escaped the war to come to America for prosperity and a better life for ourselves and for our children’s future. The war forever altered us a group of people.
The first wave of Hmong immigrants came to the U.S. in the mid to late 1970’s. My family arrived to
California in 1980. With the kind hearts of White Christian Americans who gave us basic necessities such as
kitchen ware and clothes, they were the first impression of what we knew of this place called America. Stories of not knowing how to turn on the kitchen faucet and getting water out of the toilet were common and laughable memories shared years later from parents who first settled in the U.S. After seeing so many of our family members dying from gun shots, babies being over dosed with opium to keep the silence from being found by the enemies and countless bodies drowning in the Mekong River, we remain a strong and dignified group of people who sacrificed so much. You see the majority of Hmong people were agriculturist in the mountains, only the privileged few received an education. Learning English was tough; I remember
being in ESL class with the rest of the Hmong kids studying the language. It was hard to imagine but by fourth grade I was already interpreting for parents and community members as a senseless act of volunteerism in my early adolescence years. Little did I know language was part of survival, if you know the language you can communicate – ask for food, shelter, health care benefits and all the other basic necessities to live. I was too busy surviving rather than thriving in school, which may have contributed to how far I had come or not come in reaching my full potential – only to add that many of my peers had similar experiences as I did growing up Hmong.
So what happened to the Hmong after the hardship of the war and transition to the hard life in America?
Not much has changed. Hmong children continue to fall behind in academics as compared to their white
peers. There are still very few Hmong people in white collar jobs, mostly working in blue collar, manufacturing or agriculture jobs. Most families are trying to make ends meet, living in poverty. Many elders in the community speak little or no English. Gangs continue to be prevalent in the community. Early marriages are quiet static. Boys are valued more than girls, and yes, patriarchy is still very prevalent.
So what does this ALL mean to us?
There is no clear answer to a complex story cloth of the Hmong. However, I do think that we, as a community, Hmong and non-Hmong, can work together to improve the state of the Hmong people.
Don’t let our rich history be our weakness rather let it be our strength. Let us not forget where we come from and the journey that it has taken us through to get to where we are today. There is much needed
work to be done, if we bond together, create a vision and plan for the future – we can work together to make the next 30 years even better than the last 30 years. We can influence and shape it by starting with our own family, our community and at the institutions that already serve the vast majority of Hmong people. Change starts with you and me.